Student fees have massively increased student debt
Students who started university in the UK last year can expect to owe more than £17,500 by the time they leave, according to an annual poll on debt.
The Push survey of 2,000 students also suggests that the average debt tops £4,500 for each year of study - nearly 10% more than last year.
The rise suggests students are being badly hit by the credit crunch.
Another poll of 3,385 students for the National Union of Students found many under-estimated their living costs.
According to the NUS survey of 3,135 current students and 250 would-be students, they spent £710 a year on groceries when they expected to spend £510.
They spent £740 on household bills but thought they would spend £580 and £100 more on travel than the expected sum of £285.
The Push survey revealed considerable differences between universities, with 11 breaking the £20,000 mark for projected debt.
It also revealed differences between students in universities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The average yearly debt was highest in England at £4,729, where students are now charged £3,145 a year in fees.
It was second highest, at £3,453, in Scotland - where contributions from students who live in Scotland were abolished in February 2008.
Before that date, students from Scotland would had to pay a graduate endowment tax of £2,289. So many of the students surveyed in the poll would have had to pay some fees.
Also students from outside Scotland pay the same tuition fees faced by students in England and Northern Ireland.
In Wales, the level of student debt had fallen by 3% to an average of £4,021.
But debt was lowest in Northern Ireland at £3,061 where students face the same tuition charge as in England.
Series editor of Push.co.uk Johnny Rich said increases in the cost of living in Scotland may also have had an impact.
He said: "It's easy to become immune to stories about student debt, but this increase is not just another rise. Some students are facing real financial hardship.
"Even so the advantages of having a degree still outweigh the costs and the Push survey shows that - with high quality advice and information - students can keep their debts while still enjoying the benefits of university."
The NUS survey also showed more students expected financial help than they are likely to receive.
Some four out of 10 believed they were entitled to a bursary to help support their studies, but only 28% were.
NUS president Wes Streeting said: "It is clear that many students are sleepwalking into financial crisis.
"As the credit crunch kicks in, and with food and fuel costs set to rise even further, we can expect more and more students to get into serious financial difficulty, with many having to resort to taking out commercial loans, or being bailed out by their parents.
"Our research shows that prospective students need far more information, advice and guidance about how to manage their own finances.
"When they leave home for the first time, many students are unaware of the costs of everyday life and how debt can mount up."
He also called for a new, simpler national bursary scheme so that support is based on what students need not where they study.
Chief executive of umbrella organisation Universities UK, Diana Warwick, said fear of debt was a real issue that concerned universities.
"Government, universities, schools and colleges - all those involved - must continue to ensure that all those who can benefit from going to university are not deterred from doing so by the prospect of debt."
She added that universities had done much work to raise awareness of the support available and had also made strenuous efforts to get bursaries to all eligible students.