Competition for university places was fiercer than ever before today as Midland colleges reported a dramatic increase in calls from prospective students.
It followed the publication of A-level results in which record numbers of pupils achieved top grades.
But youngsters who failed to make it into their first choice of university were scrambling to find a place elsewhere, before new tuition fees are introduced next year.
The University of Central England, in Birmingham, had received 1,349 inquiries by 2pm yesterday - an increase of 28 per cent on last year.
From 2006/07, many universities will be charging variable tuition fees, known as top-up fees, of up to £3,000 a year.
This appeared to explain the increase in applications through the clearing system, which allows youngsters to apply for a place at any university with vacancies.
The National Union of Students warned this could lead to pupils making "rash decisions".
Spokesman Julian Nicholds said: "Many students are greatly concerned about the prospect of increased graduate debt that topup fees will bring."
Examiners awarded 178,700 A grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland -- up by 0.4 per cent, to 22.8 per cent of all A-level entries.
The overall pass rate increased to 96.2 per cent, up slightly from 96 per cent in 2004.
A spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council said: "Early indications showed A-level results across Birmingham schools are in line with national results."
In Coventry, the pass rate rose to 95.8 per cent.
There were some phenomenal success stories in the West Midlands, such as Bromsgrove School pupil Jasper Law, who achieved six A grades.
CBI director general Sir Digby Jones, a former Bromsgrove School pupil, spoke out yesterday against calls to scrap A levels.
He said: "The A level is a vital component of the education system and we must not allow the repetitive debate around grades and pass rates to become yet another referendum on its future.
"The A-level brand is recognised and understood by employers as the gold standard. The Government is right to stick with it."
But teaching unions warned so many students were achieving top grades that universities were imposing their own entry tests, to identify the best candidates.
These could discriminate against pupils from state schools, said David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.
He warned: "The Government is in grave danger of creating a divide between the independent and the state sector."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said public schools, which had more resources, were better able to coach pupils for extra tests.
But while many results improved, there was a sharp drop in the number of students studying French, German and physics.