Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), says that university is sometimes “wasted on the young” because many school leavers end up choosing the wrong degree course.

Too many teenagers, particularly those from middle-class backgrounds, seem to “sleepwalk” into university due to expectations from their parents, teachers and friends. It’s seen to be the “done thing” so sure enough, they end up doing it – and often without giving it proper thought.

In a speech to head teachers Mary Curnock Cook said the penalties for students who choose the wrong course can be severe. Many drop out or don’t do as well as they could. And all are saddled with large debts.

The comments – to a meeting of the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association in London – follow the publication of figures showing that more than 26,000 students dropped out of university last year.

Around one-in-15 undergraduates – 6.7 per cent – failed to complete the first year of their degree, while many more were forced to transfer to another course or university.

On the subject of debt and the cost of university fees, Mrs Curnock Cook said that the introduction of higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 was having a positive effect as it forced more 18 and 19-year-olds to “pause for thought” before making applications. No doubt it is also giving lots of middle class parents a similar reason to question whether university should be the default path immediately after leaving school.

The UCAS chief (who didn’t go to university until her 40s) said more school leavers should consider deferring a degree until their 20s or 30s to ensure they make the right decision. Lots of universities report that older, more mature students generally get better results too.

Of course, at whatever age a student decides to go to university, Oxbridge Essays provides a unique supporting role in helping students to make the most of their time, and to maximise their potential.