Staff at the Preston-based Responsive Colleges Unit surveyed nearly 6, 500 new students in September in the biggest study of retention rates in British colleges.
They found more than 60 per cent did not get the chance to talk to former students before choosing a course and 30 per cent did not manage to talk to tutors.
Only a third of those who enrollled had received information on previous students' destinations after leaving college and more than 20 per cent felt they did not get much advice from colleges.
The survey, designed to establish whether students' concerns at the start of courses lead them to drop out later on, found that fewer than three quarters of students were on their first-choice course. But most were satisfied with college induction procedures and felt that they had enrolled on the correct course.
Other key findings suggest that many people have a difficult journey to college and two thirds have significant commitments outside their college work.
Researchers, who are working with 26 colleges across Britain, will now re-interview students during the year to find if any dropped out of their courses and why. It is hoped the results will help colleges identify how to improve staying on rates - a significant area of concern for principals and ministers.
The researchers' interim report said: "The results so far give a fascinating insight into students' views and perception at the beginning of their courses. It will be useful to follow the implications of such factors as travel, the amount of pre-course advice, the extent to which the current course was a students' first choice and the pressure of outside commitments for retention. "