Students will be able to apply for university after receiving their A-level results, in a radical shake-up of the system announced by the government today.
Ministers hope to introduce a post-qualification application system (PQA) by 2012, to ensure students have the best chance of going to the university of their choice.
Currently, young people must apply for university places using grades predicted by their teachers, but in 55 per cent of cases these are wrong, leaving many students without anywhere to go, or feeling that they should have applied for a better university.
The problem is a particular issue among poorer pupils - their teachers tend to underestimate their grades, whereas teachers from independent schools are more likely to predict high A-level results.
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The government hopes that changing the system will help get more people from more deprived backgrounds into Britain's top universities, many of which are still taking a disproportionate number of students from the private sector.
"It is essential that the system of applying to higher education is as open and accessible to students as possible," said higher education minister Bill Rammell.
"I believe that the reforms we are setting out today will improve the fairness of the system for all students and help to create the best possible match between students and higher education places."
He added: "With research suggesting that some 55 per cent of predicted grades are currently inaccurate, this is a concern for students, whatever their background and whether they have received under or over predictions.
"Ucas data shows that predictions are more likely to be inaccurate for the lowest socio-economic groups. We need these reforms. I hope the sector will embrace them."
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) welcomed the announcement, but said they were "long overdue".
"At the moment, students who achieve better results than expected have to defer their application for a year or settle for a place at a less prestigious university," said general secretary Martin Ward.
He added: "School and college leaders still would like to see a later start to the application process, which takes too long and distracts students from their studies.
"Many students are not ready to make that choice 12 months before the start of their university career."