A survey of 4,980 applicants to universities and colleges carried out last spring for the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals reveals widespread acceptance of student debt.
More than seven out of ten applicants are prepared to work during term to offset the costs of higher education and virtually all expect to work during holidays.
The principals say young Scots are not put off by tuition fees. Last session was the first time students had been charged but north of the border more than 50 per cent did not have to make a contribution.
The study shows students in Scotland are overwhelmingly more enthusiastic about university than their peers elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They see fees as only part of a bigger bill, although they appear to slightly overestimate the cost of fees and underestimate the cost of maintenance.
Ronald Crawford, the committee's secretary, said: "Scots value higher education and are willing to contribute, but they know that it is living costs and not fees which will make the biggest hole in their pockets and it is this which is driving them towards term-time jobs."
Mr Crawford added: "The committee of inquiry into student finance must face the fact that tuition fees are a small part of the problem and Scots know it."
On average, applicants thought it would cost about pound;4,000 a year before tuition fees to survive at university. Ten per cent thought fees would cost them more than pound;2,500 a year, more than two and a half times the maximum.