At the age of 11, more pupils from poorer, rather than more affluent, backgrounds have ambitions to study at university, research has revealed.
A survey of Year 7 pupils for the Department for Children, Schools and Families found that 85 per cent of pupils from areas of high deprivation want to go to university against 66 per cent of better-off students.
The findings coincided with the release of the Government's new careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) strategy this week, which will develop career advice for primary pupils as a way of encouraging ambition.
But according to Westminster University, which conducted the study, there is "little evidence" of lower aspirations among children from poorer backgrounds when it comes to higher education.
However, there were geographical disparities, with higher proportions of pupils from urban areas expressing a desire to study at university compared with those from rural areas.
Taken from a sample of 27 schools from three different areas of the country, the results show that three-quarters of Year 7 pupils hoped to go into higher education.
The report said: "By Year 7, young people have clearly developed ideas of occupational hierarchy. There is a very strong association between success and university attendance and, in particular, participation in courses associated with professional occupations.
"This view of success is common to young people who do not want to go to university as well as those who do and to different types of schoolsocial background."
The Year 7 pupils are the first cohort to be affected by the changes to school participation age which will mean that students stay on until 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015.
The new IAG guidance sets out to provide careers education up to the age of 18 in line with raising the participation age while piloting schemes to give careers advice in primary school.
The strategy, which was launched with the help of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, will also forge links between primary schools and universities, as well as providing every young person with access to a mentor.
Two "national mentor champions" have been created to increase mentoring opportunities between schools, businesses and universities.
Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, said: "A radical change is needed in the way careers advice and education is delivered. Many people have anecdotal experiences of really bad careers advice and often say if they had their chance again they would have done something different.
"I want this generation of young people to be able to look back and say their careers advice and guidance was relevant and gave them informed options."
Sir Alex added: "All sorts of people can influence children in their career choices, but it is important that teachers, parents and businesses spot talent early on and nurture young people to achieve the best they can."