The BMO survey says that about half of post-secondary students are taking on debt for school, and 58 per cent of those with loans expect to owe upwards of $20,000 when they finish school.
One-fifth, or about 21 per cent, expect to graduate with more than $40,000 in debt.
About 44 per cent of those students with debt believe they will be able to pay off their loans within five years of graduating.
Students in Atlantic Canada expect to owe the most and take the longest to pay it down.
About a quarter of students in the eastern provinces expect to owe more than $40,000, and only 30 per cent say they will be able to pay off their debt within five years.
BMO Bank of Montreal vice president Lily Capriotti says students should think about how they will repay their debt early on.
"Students often underestimate the amount of debt they will accumulate or the length of time it will take to pay it off," she says.
Average tuition in Canada was $5,366 last year, and average student debt at graduation climbed to $18,800 in 2005 — the latest year for which statistics are available — from $15,200 a decade earlier, according to Statistics Canada.
The survey, conducted by Pollara, polled more than 1,000 post-secondary students and is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Also on HuffPost