Privately funded institutions are dealing with a flood of applications as pupils who face missing out on one of the limited number of subsidised degree places seek a convenient, if expensive, alternative.
Not only are the institutions fielding calls from those who received results from the first Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination yesterday, they are also coping with demand from those who completed the final A-levels.
Thousands are seeking places in privately funded degree courses, as well as associate degree and higher diploma courses that can lead to a university spot.
About 26,000 students meet the minimum grade for subsidised university places but only 15,000 places are available. That leaves 11,000 searching for an alternative. But they will find themselves competing with A-level candidates and those pupils who didn't score well enough for a subsidised university place but still want to study.
While public universities are offering twice as many places to cope with two years' worth of high-school graduates, private universities are making more modest increases.
The private Shue Yan University was fielding applications from 4,600 diploma pupils and 6,000 from A-level pupils. But the number of places available was increased by just 80 - from about 1,250 to 1,330. The university was making only 700 conditional offers for diploma students, and they have all been made.
Space community college, under the University of Hong Kong, is among the most popular choices for students. By yesterday it had received 20,000 applications for places.
Competition was also fierce at the Institute of Vocational Education's Haking Wong campus, a spokesman said. For its higher diploma in applied science, there were 20 applicants for every place, up from about 15 in previous years.
And the courses do not come cheap. For associate degrees, the annual fees are typically about HK$50,000, a level that has attracted criticism from those who say the degrees carry little weight with employers and do not guarantee a pathway to a full degree.
As well as for pupils for whom private education is the only option, some pupils with mediocre results applied to private institutions as a back-up plan. Lam Ching-yee - who scored one 5*, one 5 and four 4s in the diploma - paid a deposit for a course in communications at Shue Yan University yesterday.
'At other universities, I may not be accepted to study for a communications degree,' she said.
Law Pui-ting only met the minimum university entry requirement of level 3 grades in Chinese and English and level 2 in mathematics, liberal studies and one other subject.
She signed up for a bachelor's degree in arts at Centennial College, a new private institution created by the University of Hong Kong.
'I had never heard of this place until my classmates told me about it this morning,' she said. But she welcomes the fact that such courses are available because they give pupils like her more options.
Many pupils took the advice of their teachers and signed up for several courses to keep their options open.
One pupil who signed up at Centennial College said she also applied for associate degrees and higher diploma courses organised by Lingnan University and City University, as well as nursing programmes at other institutions.
It was also an anxious time for parents. One mother who accompanied her daughter to registration at Centennial College said she was determined that her daughter complete tertiary education before looking for a job - despite fees of up to HK$82,000 a year.
Reporters Dennis Chong, Wong Yat-hei, Jennifer Cheng, Helen Yu, Thomas Chan, Chris Lau, Joyee Chan, Jolie Ho, Lilly Zhang, Michael Au, Emily Ting and Elaine Leung
Photographers Nora Tam, K.Y. Cheng, Felix Wong and May Tse