In a study discussing university, "expensive," "fees" and "cost" dominated the conversation, but "fun" remained a reason for over half of students opting to go anyway.
In a YouGov and Cambridge University survey of 4,000 people for Pearson, "expensive" had most mentions (775), followed by "fees" (171).
But more than half of those asked why people went to university said "fun" and respondents were still five times as likely to recommend higher education to young people than to not do so.
The survey asked respondents how likely they were to recommend higher education as a career option for young people, on a scale of 0 (not at all likely) to 10 (extremely likely). In total, 69% answered six or above, while 16% answered four or below.
In terms of associations, cost-related words dominated, whereas positive words such as "important" (116 mentions), "opportunities" (107) and "essential" (51) also cropped up relatively frequently. But there was a range of negative associations too, including "elitist" (64) "waste" (77) "lazy" (18), "pointless" (15) and "unnecessary" (14). Alcohol also made an appearance, mentioned six times, together with "drinking" (6), "parties" (13) and "drunks" (5).
As the government desperately tries to reassure students that they shouldn't be put off studying at university when fees rise next year, a spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills told BBC News a degree was an "excellent investment".
"Most students will not pay upfront costs, there will be more financial support for those from disadvantaged families and everyone will make lower loan repayments than they do now once they are in well paid work. It is important that no-one is put off applying to university because they do not understand the new system," the spokesman added.
But Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: "When it is younger generations and those from poorer backgrounds who are less likely to recommend higher education, we really are in trouble.
"There are of course many factors that will influence a potential student's perception of higher education but I would hardly be surprised if the government's chaotic policy of trebling tuition fees isn't a significant one."