Scotland's colleges are bracing themselves for a rush on places, as pupils gained a record number of Higher passes but face the toughest competition in recent memory to secure a university place.
Scottish universities are offering fewer places this year but have received more applications than ever - up 4.6 per cent on 2009's record high.
The vast majority of applicants will get a place, said Universities Scotland, which represents the principals of Scotland's higher education institutions.
Pupils who just fail to get the necessary grades would in previous years probably have found a university place through clearing. But this year most universities will already be full and there will be very few places available through clearing, experts predicted.
Linda McTavish, convener of Scotland's Colleges principals' convention, said: "We would advise school leavers to contact their local college sooner rather than later."
The Scottish Qualifications Authority said the pass rate for Higher was 74.6 per cent - up 0.4 per cent on last year. For Advanced Higher, however, it was down 0.3 per cent to 77.5 per cent, the first drop for this qualification since 2006.
The overall proportion of passes was generally stable across the spectrum, from Standard grade to Advanced Higher, with a fluctuation of no more than 1 per cent.
Entries at all levels increased this year, apart from Standard grade where they dropped by 19,270 - roughly 5 per cent - due to falling school rolls and "continued strong growth" at Intermediate 1 and 2.
History was made by 106 pupils who became the first Scots to be awarded the Government's flagship qualification, the Scottish baccalaureate. More than half gained distinctions; the pass rate was just over 76 per cent.
Low uptake of the qualification in its first year has been a cause of concern. Of an initial 246 entries for the bacc, only 138 pupils sat it.
Gill Stewart, director of qualifications development at the SQA, stressed that entries tend to fall for all courses as the year progresses and pupils decide to focus on other things or leave school.
The SQA expected only a modest increase in uptake next year, given funding pressures and the fact the qualification is targeted at only the most able youngsters, she added.
In this, its first year, the science bacc proved more popular than the languages qualification - 119 candidates and 19 respectively. Candidates found the science more difficult to pass, with a success rate of 74.8 per cent compared to 89.5 per cent for languages. The pass rate for the interdisciplinary project was 95.9 per cent.
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