The survey findings, from social mobility charity The Sutton Trust, have been released to coincide with the publication of today's A-level results.
Those from low-income families are among the most likely to want to shun university, with 83 per cent of those from affluent families saying they were likely to go to university compared with just 67 per cent among those from poor backgrounds.
Meanwhile among all young people a fifth believe going to university is not important to getting on in life, almost double the 11 per cent who said higher education is not important when surveyed by the charity in 2013.
Among the 2,000 11- to 16-year-olds surveyed 85 per cent said that confidence was more important to get on in life and three quarters said that having connections and "knowing the right people" is more important for success in life.
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While 77 per cent of young people think they are likely to attend higher education, the figure was 81 per cent in 2013.
The common factors for not aspiring to go to university among young people include financial reasons, not enjoying studying or believing that they are not clever enough.
The Sutton Trust said that it is vital that all pupils receive a guaranteed high level of careers advice from impartial advisers "to help them make an informed decision about their next steps".
In addition, grants to help the least well-off young people at university should be introduced and university fees should be means tested and waived for those from low-income backgrounds.
Apprenticeships are seen as a key opportunity to do well in life that two thirds (64 per cent) of young people are keen to take up instead.
The Sutton Trust wants more apprenticeships to made available with a clear way for young people to access them.
"It's no surprise that young people have doubts about the importance of higher education," said Sutton Trust chairman Peter Lampl.
"Young people face a dilemma. If they go on to university, they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in many cases they will end up with degrees that don't get them into graduate jobs.
"Young people need better advice and guidance on where different degrees and apprenticeships could lead them, so they can make the right decision regarding their future."
The publication of today's A-level results show that the proportion of students achieving A grade or higher is 25.5 per cent, the lowest level since 2007.
A report by the National Education Union, based on a survey of members and published this week, criticised recent reform of A-levels that have seen a move away from shorter AS-levels and coursework.
"Our recent survey shows that NEU members have witnessed a very clear worsening in mental health problems among students (55 per cent) since the introduction of new A-levels, and a third (37 per cent) are convinced that they less accurately reflect a student's true ability," said Nansi Ellis, NEU assistant general secretary.
She added: "We are moving away from a system which engages and encourages learners, and this is having worrying effects on the very people the system is supposed to prepare for the outside world."