Changes to the university admissions system are being planned by the vice-chancellors' committee, according to a consultation paper sent out this week. This move coincided with renewed appeals from independent school heads to end the admissions "lottery".
The paper sets out an "evolutionary model" which could lead to a system where places are allocated once A-level results are known, said a spokeswoman for the committee.
Speaking at the launch of an Independent Schools Information Service survey on admissions, Margaret Rudland, president of the Girls' Schools Association, said pupils had to apply up to a year before they took up places. "University admissions are a lottery which is giving cause for concern. Some students fall by the wayside."
Janet Lawley, head of Bury grammar school for girls, was worried about the "enormous delay" between applying and being accepted, often from October to April or May, which puts young people and their families under pressure.
The ISIS survey of 21,000 young people from 268 independent schools found that good candidates from six in 10 schools were rejected by universities without interviews. And one in five schools reported examples of racial, sexual and religious prejudice from admissions tutors as well as some prejudice against the independent sector and candidates who had made an Oxbridge college their first choice.
Of the 42 reports of racial prejudice, 25 related to medicine, especially against Asian and Hong Kong pupils. Admissions tutors were said to have made jokes about surnames, and one girl was subjected to innuendos about women's role in engineering.
Tony Evans, chairman of the Head Masters' Conference, said this was unfair because many students were on the Assisted Places Scheme or came from single-parent families. Ms Rudland added that many students were the first generation to go on to higher education.