Young women are losing faith in the university system with nearly half believing it is not worth getting a degree.
Tuition fees and little chance of landing a good job make higher education an unattractive prospect for them, a study suggests.
It found that nearly half of female graduates would not go to university if they had the chance again.
The research will cause concern because it was carried out before the Government announced that fees will almost treble to ā9,000 in 2012.
The findings have prompted warnings that a generation of ambitious young women will miss out on a high-flying career and the opportunity to continue their education.
Louise Court, editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, which conducted the survey, said young women seem to think university ‘a waste of time’.
‘It’s never been harder to be a young woman with ambition,’ she said. ‘Understandably, women are angry and frustrated about their future and this is having a damaging affect on their self-esteem.
The survey of 1,353 women also looked at the career prospects and financial outlook for women in 2011.
Two thirds of those questioned said they thought it would be ‘almost impossible’ to get their dream job and a quarter were unable to follow their preferred career.
Only 14 per cent said they felt safe from the sack.
And the financial situation for graduates was especially bad, with half saying they had so much student debt they could not save.
The same proportion believed they faced worse financial hardship than their parents.
One in seven women said they had been forced to postpone getting married because a wedding would be too expensive.
And more than one in six admitted that financial constraints had made them postpone trying to start a family.
Vicky Tuck, a campaigner for women’s education and former head of Cheltenham Ladies College, said: ‘The rise in fees is going to make a lot of people reflect on why they are going to university.
‘Before the introduction of fees it was not an automatic assumption that a degree would lead to a good job. It is only recently that we have seen that relationship.
‘I believe that women should only go to university if they have a genuine interest in learning, a precious opportunity. If they go purely to get a job, many will be disappointed.’