Pupils are "apathetic" about their options at 16, according to research by the Learning and Skills Development Agency and Oxford Brookes university.
The research was based on focus groups of students aged 14 to 16 and found they believed schools tend to "select" those with the least academic potential for FE.
Once they arrive in further education, their experience of college life is generally positive. They find the environment more relaxed and practical than school.
One student told researchers: "You don't just sit there and work. You can get up and move and there are more ways of doing things."
Students also say they enjoy the more adult relationship with teaching staff: "The way teachers speak to you is different."
Students believe they learn more at college than school - encouraging for FE, although the researchers stress there is "no hard evidence" for this.
Jo Harkin, of Oxford Brookes, said: "Young people at this stage are caught between a drive towards independence and a need for guidance. They value the more adult teacher-student relationship that colleges offer, but many lack the maturity to make that kind of relationship work - possibly as a result of previous negative learning experiences.
"Schools and colleges may need to explore new ways of improving guidance to parents and young people to ensure that their interests are taken into account when planning their education." The LSDA says teenagers' attitudes to college life are a promising sign as colleges move into 14-16 work, with younger students attending college for vocational training.
Mike Cooper, of the LSDA, said the study suggests that there are "potentially very positive relationships and benefits available to everyone involved in working with 14-16s in college settings".