This paper reviews findings from a longitudinal study of students making the transition from FE to an ancient university. This paper compares the younger and older students' reasons for higher education study. Our analysis of the quantitative data suggests that the older students had different reasons for entering university. We use the qualitative data to investigate the meanings participants attributed to higher education study in order to make sense of the patterns in the quantitative data, drawing on Wenger's perspectives on identity development as encompassing participants' trajectories in relation to communities of practice. The findings show a positive picture of the motivations of the whole cohort but the mature students seemed to have a particularly rich understanding of the meaning and relevance of their studies. The study therefore has implications for policy-makers and teachers as they seek to make use of the positive aspects of greater diversity.