Signs of sixth-former anxiety about competition for places at leading universities emerged this week, as the UK's admissions service revealed that record numbers of teenagers have registered for degree courses in 2006.
By August 28, a total of 135,912 had registered their intentions to apply for places through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) website, even though applications for 2006 entry did not open until September 1.
At the same point last year, only 59,186 students had registered their details with Ucas online.
The admissions service said that the increase in early registration reflected its efforts to publicise this year's switch to a 100 per cent online application system, which had raised awareness of the website.
But John Dunford general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association (SHA) added that concerns about competition for places may have pushed students to apply earlier than before.
Mr Dunford said: "I think there will be more competition in future for places at prestigious universities that give people a better chance in the job market.
"If you are taking on much higher debt, then you have to be more certain of your prospects at the end of the course.
"It could just be that candidates are much more anxious about the process of university applications because the stakes are higher."
Paul McClure, of Ucas, said the online registration process involved candidates logging personal details on the website and expressing an intention to apply for 2006 entry.
"But most of the 135,000 students have gone further than that and have gone some way towards completing their application," he said.
Mr McClure added: "Under the old paper application system, Ucas distributed the forms in May. Over the summer applicants would have been busy researching their choices and drafting their personal statements if they wanted to submit their forms by October.
"The online system enables them to get well in to the substantial part of their applications in the summer and maybe when they return to school in September, put in the finishing touches," he said.