The amount of debt students are graduating with has nearly quadrupled since 2000, figures showed yesterday.
People leaving university this year expect to owe an average of £12,640 each, just under four times the £3,174 students owed in 2000, according to NatWest's annual graduate debt survey.
The bank put the rise down to increases in tuition fees and a jump in the cost of living, but it added that the pace at which graduate debt was rising had slowed, with students leaving university this year owing only three per cent or £460 more than they did in 2004.
One of the main reasons for this easing was a rise in the number of students who received financial support from their parents, as well as an increase in the number of people who had part-time jobs while at university.
Nearly a third of parents give their children money on a regular basis to fund the cost of university, up from 28 per cent last year, while 25 per cent of students get money when they need it and only 29 per cent get no help from their parents at all.
Around 39 per cent of students now have a part-time job, up from 34 per cent in 2004, working an average of 15 hours a week and earning around £77.66 a week.
Eight out of ten students with a job said they would not be able to afford to go to university if they didn't work, although 41 per cent admitted they had skipped lectures because of their job.
But despite this nearly two-thirds of students are now graduating with debts of at least £10,000 and the same proportion said they were concerned about the amount of debt they were in.
However, only 29 per cent said they had actually considered giving up their studies to get a full-time job, rising to 40 per cent among those with the highest debts.
Students due to start university this year expect a three year degree course to cost them £28,600, and they predict they will graduate with debts averaging £13,680.
Just under half of freshers also said they would feel less inclined to go to university if they had to pay the new fee charging structure, under which universities can charge up to £3,000 a year, which comes into effect for students starting their courses in September next year.
Graduate salaries have risen to an average of £14,090 during the year, up from £13,600 in 2004, and 18 per cent of students have a job to go to when they graduate.
Four out of ten graduates said they had a good job, while 42 per cent said they were now totally independent of their parents and 28 per cent said their bank balance was now healthier.
Ann-Marie Blake, head of NatWest student and graduate banking, said: "Graduate debt has been on the increase for many years, partly due to the increased cost of living, the introduction of fees and the abolition of maintenance grants.
"That said, students recognise that university is an investment in their future and nowadays a degree is a prerequisite in most well paid jobs."
Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said: "It is encouraging that parents are taking an interest in their children's education but with the introduction of the new financial package for students entering university in 2006 we will help to remove the burden on parents.
"From 2006, students will no longer have to pay the fees up-front as a new loan has been made available to cover tuition fees. Students will study first and pay back when they are earning.
"They will only pay back nine per cent of their earnings above £15,000 a year. I am committed to making sure that any person with the ability to go to university has the opportunity to do so. We believe the new financial package will provide this."