Young people considering applying to university are deterred from doing so as they have been "left in the dark" over tuition fees.
Applications for university places have dropped for the coming academic year, "almost certainly in part because of confusion about fees," a study has found.
Around 70% of 16 to 19-year-olds toying with the idea of going to university have a misconception about the amount of money graduates will have to pay back, the University of Roehampton revealed on Tuesday.
Professor Paul O'Prey, the institution's vice-chancellor, said the lack of knowledge was so widespread thousands of gifted young people might be put off from applying.
"The finding is extremely worrying," he added. "Sadly, these results are not a shock. It is in line with what we know from talking to young people.
“But they are truly a cause for concern. Applications for university places are down by almost nine per cent across England.
“We need to get the message across that it is likely that graduates with loans for tuition fees will be paying less year-on-year than graduates who started their university careers in previous years."
The YouGov poll also found 44% thought they would have to pay back their tuition fee loan before they begin their course, with one in five thinking tuition fee debts would appear on their credit files.
More than two thirds of those questioned said tuition fees made going to university less attractive.
O'Prey added: "We need to work harder at getting across the message that university can be afforded by everyone, whatever their situation.
“New graduates will not be financially worse off for doing a degree – and the vast majority will be better off.”
Graduates earn on average £12,000 more a year than non-graduates, according to the Office of National Statistics.