Students could apply for university after receiving their A-level grades in what would be the biggest shake-up of the system for 50 years.
Under proposals published by the admissions service Ucas, universities would no longer make offers to students based on their predicted grades.
The changes have been put forward after a review by Ucas found that the current application process is complex, lacks transparency and is inefficient and cumbersome.
The new system, which is likely to be introduced in 2016 at the earliest, would have a massive impact on the application system and lead to changes in both the school and university years.
Teenagers would sit their A-level exams earlier and apply for university over the summer, with courses starting in mid-October.
The proposals were given a cautious welcome by university and school leaders.
In a review and consultation document, Ucas warned that the current system asks students to make choices about universities and courses before they are ready, with many needing to make decisions at least six months before they receive their results.
It says: “The cumulative effect of predicted grades, insurance choices and Clearing have led to a system that is complex, is thought to lack transparency for many applicants and is inefficient and cumbersome for higher education institutions.
The review found that fewer than 10 per cent of students are applying to university with three accurate grade predictions.
And an estimated 20 per cent-40 per cent of university applications have predicted grades which fail to meet the minimum entry requirements of the course applied for.
Almost half (42 per cent) of applicants hold a so-called “insurance” or back-up place that require them to get the same or better grades than their first choice course.
In a bid to tackle the problems, Ucas advocated major reform of the system.
The proposals call for the A-level exam period to last five weeks, and end 15 days earlier than at present. Results would be made available by early July.
:: The application process would be split into three “windows”. These are:
:: Apply 1 would be open for students who already have their results (for example those that have taken their exams the year before).
:: Apply 2 would be the main part of the process, opening at the end of June with all offers and replies complete by the third week in September. Students could apply for two choices for which they have met the requirements and submit different personal statements for each.
:: Apply 3 would open from the fourth week in July, with all offers complete by the first week in October, for those not holding any offers from Apply 2 or for those applying after Apply 2 has closed. Applicants would apply to one university at a time.
Ucas also suggests that some alterations could be made in 2014 to improve the current system.
All of the proposals are now out for consultation until January 20.
Professor David Eastwood, chair of the Ucas board and vice-chancellor of Birmingham University said: “The review offers a range of proposals designed to reposition and refine the admissions system.
“The Board is not committed to any one solution, but we are committed to continuing to provide an outstanding admissions service that is transparent, fair, and meets the needs of applicants and our member institutions.”
Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Bristol University, said: “In terms of the proposal to move to a post-results admissions system, there will need to be full consultation on this with all parties, including universities, schools, colleges and applicants. Universities UK will obtain feedback from the sector and respond in full to this consultation in the new year.
“Clearly the key priority must be to ensure that any changes genuinely benefit applicants, and also that they do not hinder widening participation or fair access for students from lower income and other under-represented groups.”
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) said: “The unfairly-maligned admissions tutors can only work with the tools they are given and we hope this report will move us towards a better and fairer system. We shall be consulting with our members who work in admissions.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “Predicted grades are never completely reliable and at the moment students are forced to narrow their options far too early in the process.
“Having to choose up to five different courses long before final grades are known makes the application process complex and nerve-wracking.
“Changing the system will require effort and adjustment on the part of schools, colleges, universities, exam boards and Ucas, but it is in the best interest of our young people.”