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Take your places - the rest of your life starts here

There is an ever-widening menu of courses to choose from. Be adventurou s. . .
Today 265,000 candidates get their A-level results. Many will have done as well as they hoped and will shortly have their places confirmed at their chosen university. They can breathe a sigh of relief and head for the countryside or the beach. Some will have done better than they expected. For others, the story will be less cheerful. They will have missed the grades they needed to go to their chosen university and will have to rethink their future quickly at a time when they feel demoralised and shocked.

The pages that follow are designed to help those who are still, for whatever reason, without a university place. Only The Independent has the official up-to-date list of course vacancies which is so important to those who need to change tack at this stage. We are also providing detailed advice on how to ensure that all is not lost, and stories from people who have been through it all before.

Thousands of students fail to match their offers each year, yet many of them go on to universities and courses which they had never expected to consider. Several years on, they are often delighted that they switched from their intended path. In 1995, 47 per cent of applicants were successful at an institution that they had not previously considered.

Since A-levels began in 1951, both they and the university system have changed dramatically. In those days just 3 per cent of 18-year-olds took the exams, and an even smaller proportion went to university. Now around a third go to university.

Universities themselves have been transformed. The "new" universities of the Sixties, such as Warwick and Sussex, are looking long in the tooth. The newest ones now are the former polytechnics, given university status six years ago. Their change of status and that of some higher education colleges means that the number of universities has more than doubled and the system has become much more diverse. There is an ever-widening menu of courses to choose from, including subjects such as leisure and recreational studies and photography as well as traditional ones such as physics or history.

Be adventurous. Leave no stone unturned. Keep trying, as universities may be prepared to reduce grades later in the clearing process as vacancies remain unfilled. And start reading here ...

Judith Judd