The Higher Education Policy Institute describes a "hierarchy of esteem" in which students apply to the most prestigious places their results allow.
It says there is a widespread and probably accurate perception that degrees from some universities are more valuable in the job market than others.
Although it may be "regrettable", students tend to apply to the most prestigious institutions that they think they can get into, it adds.
Institutions then select the most able and employers favour candidates for jobs from those institutions.
This it describes as "a vicious (or virtuous) circle that perpetuates the hierarchy of esteem".
Link: BBC Education