A frantic day of clearing got underway on Thursday morning as teenagers found out their A-level results.
Students across the country are nervously opening envelopes to learn the grades that will shape their future.
A rush was expected through the clearing system, with restrictions lifted on the number of bright students universities are able to recruit.
For many, success in the exams will mean a prized place at university, an apprenticeship or other training scheme, while those who achieved less than expected are likely to be considering their options.
Last summer, the proportion of A-levels scoring at least an A grade fell for the first time in more than 20 years.
Official figures for 2012 showed that 26.6% of the exams were given an A or A*, down from 27% in 2011 - a record drop of 0.4%.
Around one in 12 (7.9%) exams were given an A* grade, down from 8.2% in 2011, while 76.6% of entries got at least a C grade, up from 76.2% the year before.
One education expert has predicted that there could be a slight rise in results this year.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said
it was difficult to say what the pass rates would be this year, but that it was possible the A* - C results could go up by
tenths of a per cent.
''The more practically-minded in the past may have been encouraged to take A-levels, and haven't done well," he said.
"Now they're transferring to practical qualifications and that could affect the overall pass rate."
It has been suggested by others that an increased focus on traditional subjects, such as maths and science, could fuel a slight drop, as youngsters who may not have considered taking these subjects in the past, and may not be as strong in them, are now opting for the courses to help their chances of securing a university place.
Tens of thousands of would-be undergraduates without a university place are likely enter the clearing process - which matches them with courses that have vacancies.
UCAS, the admissions service, said that according to its latest figures, applications have risen by 3.1%, with more students holding offers and more people already securing a place compared to the same time last year.
Fears have been raised that some students who miss an A grade and get three Bs in their A-levels will miss out on university places.
Under a major overhaul of higher education in England, this year there is no limit on the number of students with an A grade and two Bs at A-level that universities can recruit, effectively leaving them competing to attract the best candidates.
A number of leading institutions are expected to offer last-minute places to sixth-formers who do better than they expected and are above the cap.
It is thought around 115,000 bright students will fall into this category.
Nansi Ellis, head of education policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "We hope students get the grades they need tomorrow to enable them to go to university, get a training place or find a good job.
"But we fear for those who don't, because their prospects don't look rosy at a time when nearly a million 16 to 24-year-olds are out of work."
She said the government needed to "give more thought" to the students who did not get A-levels or equivalent qualifications.
"All young people need the chance to show what they've learnt, whether they want to go to university or not, but these new exam proposals won't let them do that," she said.