As the city's new university entrance exam system nears its launch, the daunting competition facing students - nearly 100-1 odds in some cases - has come into sharp focus, according to statistics released yesterday by admissions scheme administrators.
More than 70,000 students will compete for about 15,000 places at universities in the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exam in March, according to the Joint University Programmes Admission System (Jupas).
In some popular subjects, the odds of success are roughly one in 100. For example, Polytechnic University's hotel and tourism management course has received 1,651 applications for 17 places.
Counsellors have warned that students are facing immense pressure, with a completely new syllabus and admission process. The most competitive subject at Chinese University is physical education, exercise science and health, with 1,183 students vying for 20 places.
Kwok Man-fong, a social worker with the counselling service provider Hok Yau Club, said students may be cautious when applying for university places through Jupas, playing it safe by applying for previously less competitive subjects out of fear of scoring poorly on the new exam.
At the University of Hong Kong, science is the field of greatest interest in student applications. To date, 1,888 students have selected science as one of their top three preferences - labelled 'band A' choices on the Jupas application form.
One of the most popular band A choices in the city is Chinese University's nursing course, with 3,676 applicants competing for 197 places.
A Hong Kong University of Science and Technology spokeswoman said more students than usual were opting for subjects that require interviews, where they can stand out in case their exam scores were less than ideal.
Kwok said that since HKU had set a higher basic entry requirement for DSE students, some of them may not be confident enough to select the institution, which would benefit other universities.
A further 15,000 university places will go to students taking the old exam route, the Hong Kong A-levels examinations to be held for the last time this year.