The Student Employability Index 2014 surveyed more than 4,000 students from 20 universities about their employment expectations upon graduating and compared the responses to ONS figures for graduate employment.
Students are more realistic about their starting salaries, with 51% expecting to earn between £15,000 and £24,999 six months after graduation. In reality recent graduates in full-time employment earn on average between £18,345 and £22,535.
There is also a disparity between the areas students want to work in and where they end up, the study found. Almost half (44%) of business studies students said they wanted to work in marketing, market research, advertising or PR, although only 18% of those in full-time employment entered this sector within six months.
NCUB director of external affairs Aaron Porter told HR magazine the figures indicate students "do not have a lot of experience of the employment market".
"That mainly comes from entering it," he said. "There are plenty of things universities and employers can do to help them though. Many more students want work experience than actually find it available to them, so rectifying this would be a start."
Despite some students having unrealistic short-term career goals, Porter said the outlook for graduates is "certainly not a negative one" and that explaining their options in more detail would improve their prospects further.