A-level students should prepare a "Plan B", the education minister has said, with exam grades set to fall from last year.
Will Quince said teenagers should draw up alternative options with results at schools and colleges expected to be lower than last year when marks were awarded by teacher assessment due to the pandemic.
Asked how the Government will manage students' disappointment at getting lower grades this year, the education minister said: "I think it's important stress that grades this year will still be higher than 2019, so pre-pandemic," due to the adaptations put in place.
Mr Quince also said that "universities will adjust accordingly" to the lower grades.
He then argued that students missing the grades that they were predicted or hoped for "is not something new".
'You may even go into the world of work'
"That's why it's really important that young people recognise and know that there are loads of options open to you," he said.
"You may still get into the university that was your first choice, you may go through clearing or go to another university - that's why it's really important to have a Plan B.
"You might go down a vocational route or an apprenticeship or you may even decide to go straight into the world of work."
The minister also addressed concerns that the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers will grow this year.
He said: "There's no question that over the course of the pandemic, young people have faced huge disruption and that has had an impact."
Measures such as the £5 billion recovery package for education, the National Tutoring Programme and an extra one hour a week in education for 16 to 19-year-olds are "reflecting the fact that we want to make sure we are closing that attainment gap", he said.
Elsewhere, staff at the country's largest exam board AQA have announced a second walkout from August 12 to 15, sparking fears that results will be disrupted.
Mr Quince criticised the "scaremongering" from unions, saying: "I think young people have enough to worry about and be concerned about, ahead of examination results anyway.
"To add this into the mix as a potential worry about whether their papers will be marked and their results will come through on time is totally unnecessary.
"I've had assurance that they won't have any impact but unfortunately scaremongering of this sort of nature by unions is deeply regrettable."