Not all students admitted to higher education have the same chances of success, with differential outcomes reported for students from a variety of “widening participation” backgrounds. This paper reports on a study of such students in a science foundation programme in the north of England. Analysing their stated motivations and aspirations for study reveals complex familial and social factors which enable and constrain their ability to engage with their studies. These notably include the duties and obligations towards their extended families that exist as a “kinship tax” and which threaten their ability to sustain sufficient time, energy and “headspace” to meet the demands of their studies. This presents challenges in teaching these students, whose priorities may not lie unambiguously with their studies, given their familial and social contexts.