Confidence and connections are the keys to success in life, according to a poll of young people.
It suggests that secondary school pupils place more importance on these attributes than going to university.
Youngsters from poorer families are less likely to feel that getting a degree is vital than their richer classmates, the Sutton Trust survey found.
The findings come as sixth-formers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results.
Overall, 85% of the more than 2,000 11 to 16-year-olds questioned agreed that being confident is important in helping people to do well and get on in life, while three-quarters (75%) said knowing the right people matters.
In comparison, around two-thirds (65%) agreed that going to university is important for future success.
This has fallen from a high of 86% in 2013, the Sutton Trust said.
The charity added that its data shows that the proportion of young people who believe studying for a degree is not important is rising – standing at 20% this year, compared with 11% in 2013.
There were differences by economic background – with 61% of those from the least affluent backgrounds placing importance on attending university, compared with 67% from rich families.
There has been a push from government, industry and education leaders to raise the profile of other training routes, such as apprenticeships, along with a general growing awareness about university alternatives.
This may be part of the reason for the changing perceptions in the importance of university among young people, the Trust said.
The findings do show that just over three in four (77%) of those questioned believe they are likely to go on to higher education, compared with 81% in 2013.
Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust founder and chairman, said: “It’s no surprise that young people have doubts about the importance of higher education. Young people face a dilemma.
“If they go on to university, they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in many cases they will end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs.
“Young people need better advice and guidance on where different degrees and apprenticeships could lead them, so they can make the right decision regarding their future.”
The Ipsos MORI poll questioned 2,809 children aged 11-16 in secondary schools in England and Wales