Non-traditional students entering Higher Education (HE) via university-based foundation courses often encounter significant personal risk upon their return to study, and this can be exacerbated by a lack of understanding of the academic demands of HE at the point of entry. As part of a wider qualitative, grounded theory study of the effect of diversity on the student experience on a university-based foundation course, which identified themes related to social interaction theory - competition, camaraderie and self-preservation - this research paper considers the theme of self-preservation and discusses Beck's 'individualisation' theory and the different 'risks' evident among foundation course students upon their return to study. The risks highlighted in the narratives related to poverty of time, changing identity and relationships and failure. The effect that these risks had on the learning experience is then considered. University-based foundation courses provide a successful route of entry for a diverse group of students returning to education, yet these courses are currently at risk due to the changing climate of HE. Based upon the findings in this study, recommendations are suggested to help encourage student interaction, reduce student fear of failure and increase their confidence, in order to assist non-traditional students with their transition to university-based foundation courses and their successful progression to degree course programmes.