SUMMARY OBJECTIVE: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most prevalent sexually transmitted virus in the world and is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer. The most effective approach to cervical cancer control continues to be screening through the preventive Papanicolaou test (Pap test). This study analyzes the knowledge of university students of health science programs as well as undergraduate courses in other areas of knowledge on important questions regarding HPV. METHOD: Four hundred and seventy-three university students completed a questionnaire assessing their overall knowledge regarding HPV infection, cervical cancer, and the Pap test. A descriptive analysis is presented, and multivariate analysis using logistic regression identified factors associated with HPV/cervical cancer information. RESULTS: Knowledge was higher for simple HPV-related and Pap test questions but was lower for HPV interrelations with genital warts and cervical cancer. Being from the health science fields and having high income were factors associated with greater knowledge. Only the minority of the participants recognized all the situations that increased the risk of virus infection presented in the questionnaire. CONCLUSIONS: These findings highlight the need for educational campaigns regarding HPV infection, its potential as a cervical cancer agent and the forms of prevention available.