Students warned over back-up subject choices.
TALENTED students could be at risk of missing out on university if poor advice leaves them picking back-up courses that are as tough to get into as their first choice.
Under the current university system, students pick a first choice, and are then allowed to pick a "back-up" degree course, as their "insurance".
The "insurance" place would usually require a student to achieve lower grades than their first choice.
But more than two fifths of students are now choosing back-up places that require the same grades, or more, according to UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook.
She warned that the insurance system is not performing as intended.
"The insurance system was originally designed as a back stop," she said.
"The pattern more recently is people are holding insurance offers which are equal or even more difficult than their first choice, in terms of conditions."
Ms Curnock Cook added: "Personally, I do feel we need to have a different approach on how we provide a back stop, that's an important consideration for the admissions process review, which we are still working on.
"If young people need a back stop, which some clearly do, I don't think the current insurance arrangements are performing as well as they could do."
Ms Curnock Cook suggested that students may not be getting good enough advice.
"Personally, I think if they were better advised they would be less likely to make that decision," she said.
Figures suggested a drop in students placed through their insurance offer, with 40,000 taking up this place last year, while 47,000 found a course through clearing.
Asked if students were holding two similar offers in order to keep their options open, Ms Curnock Cook said: "We do see some evidence from our contact centres of young people who want to change their minds during the cycle or at this point.
"This is a time for young people to mature enormously, in their last two years at school or college, and we shouldn't be surprised if nearly a year after they have made their choices that they have changed their minds."
The National Union of Students said moves by UCAS to reform admissions have been welcome, saying they were pleased that recognition of vocational qualifications, and admissions that take account of a student's circumstances as well as grades, were now on the agenda, as well as "post-qualification admissions" (PQA).
Under PQA, students apply to university after receiving their A-level results.
But NUS president Liam Burns said: "Unless applicants are given better advice about how they should handle their applications and universities become much more transparent about the criteria they use to decide between applicants, then mistakes will be made and talented young people will risk missing out on a university place because of poor guidance."