This article explores the experiences of students who are the first in their families to attend university. Building upon a decade of research in this field, the author describes the ways first-in-family learners engage and interact with higher education. Both the risky nature of this cohort’s engagement with the sector and related issues of intergenerational educational mobility, translate into a defined need to better understand and support these students. The review highlights how widening participation agendas and university outreach activities have resulted in the growth in this population both within Australia and beyond. The key issues and obstacles these learners encounter are outlined and alternative ‘ways of thinking’ about first-in-family students proposed. Drawing on learners’ narratives, the intent is to expose some of the ‘silences’ of higher education participation for this cohort. The article concludes by providing some recommendations to university practitioners and policy makers, identifying some possible future directions for supporting, engaging and retaining this student cohort.