Half of university applicants 'have no back-up plan'
More than half of students in England and Wales have no back-up plan if they fail to get the grades they need, finds research for Which? University.
Some 54% of A-level candidates with conditional offers say they have not thought about what to do if their results are poorer than expected.
Almost three-quarters of applicants (70%) have not researched the clearing process for unfilled degree places.
Researchers questioned 1,012 17- and 18-year-olds in England and Wales.
Of these, 939 were holding conditional offers of places, dependent on their A-level results next week.
Just under half (48%) said they were confident they would get the grades for their first choice.
More than four-fifths (82%) said they had an insurance choice as back-up - but 40% said they did not want to go there.
A quarter (23%) had an insurance offer with the same or higher entry requirements as their first choice.
Overall, 54% of those questioned said they had not made any preparations for the possibility that they might not get the grades for either their first or second choices.
Last year 12% of applicants got their places through clearing, but the survey reveals some misunderstanding among this year's students of how the system works.
Some 54% wrongly think that if they do not get the grades for their first choice, but do get their insurance choice, he or she can still apply for another course through clearing.
A further 22% said they did not know whether this was true or not.
In fact if a student in this position wants to take their chances in clearing, they would have to give up their second choice university place, something Which? University advisers say can be risky and stressful.
Which? University's Sonia Sodha said a plan B was a good idea "just in case".
Ms Sodha said: "As A-level results day approaches, it's an understandably stressful and nerve-wracking time for prospective students, especially those who aren't confident they'll get into their first choice university.
"Hopefully they won't need a back-up plan, but we advise they research all their options just in case."
Nick Davy, higher education policy manager at the Association of Colleges advised applicants to explore credible alternatives to a three-year full-time academic degree before results day.
"These can include full or part-time higher education offered by colleges, which is often cheaper, and a range of professional certificates and diplomas such as marketing and accountancy.
"There's also the option of an apprenticeship or higher apprenticeship in a range of occupations.
"Students need to weigh up what their employment prospects will be after degree study against the debt they will accrue and seriously consider what an alternative educational and training route may bring in terms of expense, career progression and financial rewards."
Jason Geall, of The Student Room website, also urged planning ahead in case of surprises, either good or bad.
Students who exceed their grade predictions can face having to make snap decisions about "whether they want to change university altogether", said Mr Geall.
"With a week to go until A-level results day, we would advise all students to sit down and understand exactly how clearing works, and start sketching out some scenarios.
"The worst thing would be making a snap decision under pressure that could affect a future career and finding yourself on a course you don't like.
"There's still time, now, to get it right."