At present, those wanting to start university in the year they take A- levels have to apply during the previous December for entry in September, a few weeks after A-level results are published.
But Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, (UCAS) yesterday said a new procedure could be in place for those starting A-level courses the year after next and aiming at university entry in 1999.
University vice-chancellors will next month decide on proposals for a two-phase entry.
Mr Higgins told a seminar for careers teachers at Wolfson College, Oxford, that the first phase of students could apply during the first half of the spring term, after they had sat their mock A-levels.
One of the reasons why the system needed reform, he said, was that 65 per cent of A-level grade predictions made by teachers were proved wrong.
Under the proposals, students who applied in the first phase would have four choices of university or college instead of the present six and would only be allowed to hold one conditional offer instead of two. "Only 6 per cent of entrants come from their second choice. It is just a waste of space," he said.
The second phase would start in May and continue until the end of September, so that students could wait until after they received their A-level results in August. They would then be allowed three choices, which would be sent in order to the three universities.
The present "clearing" system, in which students have to find out where places are available and join the scramble to secure them in late August and September would therefore disappear.
If the vice-chancellors agree to the proposals, Mr Higgins and his officials will work out the detail and consult interested parties.
Schools are keen to change the system to reduce the uncertainty for applicants who have to gamble on getting the right grades. Universities have so far been cautious. They worry that there may not be enough time to process all the applications after A-level or to interview candidates in those subjects where interviews are essential.
The new proposals are a compromise between the two points of view. Mr Higgins said that, initially, most students would probably apply during the first phase but he hoped that growing numbers would realise that applying after A-level made sense.
He told the seminar, organised by Cambridge Occupational Analysts: "The present system can lead to real unfairness. Admissions tutors start interviewing in the autumn term. Some fill up on the 'first come first served' basis though, if we hear of it, we come down on them like a ton of bricks. Others reject some early candidates because they know some equally good ones will come along later."
n A Government-commissioned report to be published next week will show that higher education applicants with advanced vocational qualifications (GNVQs) are generally well prepared for their courses.Reuse content