Only a third of students are seriously worried about going into debt, despite most anticipating owing at least £7,000 by the end of their course, according to a major study of student attitudes.
Those most worried about debt are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, those on sub-degree courses, women and people from state schools.
The MORI Student Living Report , commissioned by student accommodation specialists Unite, is one of the biggest to date. More than 1,100 students from across the United Kingdom were questioned about issues from course content and living arrangements to work.
Although only 36 per cent said they were seriously worried about debt on leaving university, a majority cited financial pressures as the worst aspect of being a student.
For people anticipating such a large debt, many had no idea how to budget their money. Of the fifth of students who started university not knowing how to handle financial matters, 83 per cent admitted to being none the wiser by their third year. Student leaders said this showed a need for more guidance on money matters.
Ben Monks, national secretary of the National Union of Students, commented:
"There is a shortage of awareness about the pitfalls of money management while being a student. Clearly there is a need for better information and promotion of awareness of the current system as well as the wholesale improvement of it."
But a spokeswoman for Universities UK said it was up to the NUS to offer students better services and added that many were on offer. She said:
"These are independent adults. We cannot force anything down their throats."
The average amount students said they owed was £3,326 and just under a third were working part-time to gain extra cash. The research, undertaken in October and November, showed that more than a fifth of first-year students already owed more than £2,000. Fifteen per cent of students starting their third year had a debt of more than £9,000.
Almost a third of students from working-class backgrounds anticipated they would owe more than £10,000 by graduation, compared with just 18 per cent of those from the middle classes.
More than a third of students said they received extra help from family and friends to pay for books, living expenses and food.
One way round the debt problem was to avoid paying rent. Twenty-one per cent of students were living at home. Those under 22 were most likely to live at home, but 16 per cent of those living with their parents or family were mature students. The survey shows a slight upward trend in students deciding to live at home. In the past, 17 per cent of third years had lived at home, compared with 18 per cent who were currently doing so. Fifteen per cent of postgraduates were living at home, compared with 10 per cent who had done so in the past.
Those from more socially deprived backgrounds were least likely to live in rented accommodation. The majority said money played a significant role in their decision to live at home and 31 per cent said they would not live at home if they got a grant.
The NUS is calling for the introduction of targeted grants for students most in need.