Fewer students have found university places through clearing, figures show.
More than 11,000 applicants have been accepted on to degree courses through clearing – down 13% on the same point last year.
The figures come the day after students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their A-level results after exams were cancelled.
More than two in five (44.8%) of UK entries were awarded an A or A* grade, up by 6.3 percentage points on last year when 38.5% achieved the top grades
A record number of students secured a place on their first-choice university course, but youngsters who narrowly missed their offer grades are likely to face greater competition for a place at top institutions.
Ucas figures show that so far 11,540 people have been placed on undergraduate courses through clearing – the process that matches students without a place to courses with availability.
At this time last year, 13,290 people had been accepted through clearing – a fall of 13.2%.
The proportion of would-be students who by-passed the main application system in favour of searching for a course directly through clearing fell from 4,690 last year to 2,840 this year.
The decrease in direct applications to clearing suggests that more students entered into the main scheme this year, according to the universities admissions service.
The pandemic, and the proportion of the population furloughed during last year, likely led to more decisions being made later, Ucas said.
The figures also show that there have been 8,700 main scheme applicants placed through clearing, compared to 8,600 last year.
An analysis, conducted by the PA news agency, shows that the day after A-level results were released, for applicants living in England, there were 25,962 courses with availability between 314 universities and colleges.
It shows that, as of Wednesday afternoon, 12 of the 24 Russell Group universities had vacancies on courses for English residents – around 1,932 courses between them – on the Ucas clearing site.
The numbers of courses listed change frequently as different courses are filled, or become available.
At the same point last year, the day after results day, 16 of the Russell Group institutions had at least one course advertised on the clearing site, with 3,691 courses potentially available.
On Tuesday, Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, warned that some courses at the top universities “may not be able to accept students who narrowly missed their offer grades” this year.
The University of Edinburgh, a member of the Russell Group, said the institution cannot be as flexible as it would like to be this summer due to increases in accepted offers.
It told PA: “Everyone whose results meet their offer conditions will have their place confirmed, but we are unlikely to be able to admit applicants who have narrowly missed their offer conditions.
“We know this will be very disappointing for those who worked so hard but didn’t quite meet the conditions of their offers.”
Meanwhile, Lancaster University School, which is part of Lancaster University, said a “small number” of medical students have been offered deferral.
The Medical Schools Council (MSC), which represents 44 heads of medical schools across the UK, is assisting the Department of Education (DfE) with a “brokerage programme” after more university applicants have met the terms of their offers than forecast following a bumper year for grades.
Under this scheme for oversubscribed schools, students that need to move medical schools will receive a payment of £10,000 “for the inconvenience”.
The organisation had previously warned that some schools may struggle to increase the number of students they admit as they are limited by specialist facilities, despite additional Government funding.
The Department for Education (DfE) announced last week that medicine and dentistry schools in England will receive extra funding to expand courses this year, following a rise in applications.