State school pupils are less aware than private pupils of the financial benefits of a degree from a prestigious university, suggests a survey.
State school teachers are more reluctant to make distinctions over university status, say researchers.
The emphasis is on getting into higher education, rather than a particular university, the study found.
The Sutton Trust charity, which published the research, says pupils must have "all relevant information".
A survey of 3,000 young people found that 51% of those in state schools did not expect their choice of university to have an impact on earnings - compared with 35% of independent school pupils.
Failure to apply
Another piece of research, carried out by the Institute of Education in London, suggested that even successful state schools did not draw attention to differences in the ranking of universities - with the exception of Oxford and Cambridge.
Home background - such as having parents who had been to university - was more likely than school to provide pupils with information about perceptions of the status of universities.
As a result, youngsters unfamiliar with higher education are less likely to apply to more prestigious universities, say researchers.
"Even with similar predicted grades, students from families where neither parent went to university are much less likely to apply to prestigious universities than those with two graduate parents," says the Institute of Education's Professor Geoff Whitty.
Going to a Russell Group university gives graduates a salary top-up of approx 6% to 10% depending on the course and approximately £3,000 per year more for entry-level graduate jobs
Wendy Piatt, Russell Group
"We believe it is important that all young people should be aware of all the relevant information on different courses at different universities," says Sutton Trust chairman, Sir Peter Lampl.
"Pupils should not be disadvantaged in making these decisions by their background or the type of school they happen to attend," he said.
The Russell Group, representing the UK's leading universities, expressed concern that teachers might not be encouraging their talented pupils to apply to prestigious universities.
"It is particularly important that pupils from families who haven't been to university, or who have less knowledge about higher education than others are given robust support and guidance at school," said the group's director general, Wendy Piatt.
"As this report rightly points out, candidates should be told that they will enjoy higher salaries if they graduate from 'prestigious universities', such as Russell Group institutions," said Dr Piatt.
"Going to a Russell Group university gives graduates a salary 'top-up' of approx 6% to 10% depending on the course and approximately £3,000 per year more for entry-level graduate jobs," she said.
Higher education minister Bill Rammell said: "Young people are aware of all the opportunities available to them.
"I am working with ministers across government to look at how we can engage schools and colleges to give more priority to encouraging young people to go to the university which best suits their needs and aspiration.
"The government is strongly committed to ensuring that everyone with the talent and commitment to benefit from higher education has the opportunity to do so regardless of their background or which school they attended."