This research focused on the early experience of students entering an undergraduate course in a post‐1992 university that is committed to widening participation. Using Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital and habitus as a theoretical framework, data were collected from students using an online questionnaire and small‐group discussions during the critical first days and weeks when they need to fit in to their new environment. The research was designed to consider whether there is a ‘new student’ in higher education (HE) and to consider the possible influence of cultural capital and habitus on a student’s transition. Data were collected using an online questionnaire with a response rate of 52% (n=180), and this was followed up with five small‐group discussions with 25 of the respondents. Participants self‐selected to take part in the small‐group discussions but the sample did reflect the cohort in relation to ethnicity, age and gender. The data collected from the questionnaire provided a snapshot of the students’ early experience within the university, and data from the small‐group discussions were used to triangulate this and allow emerging themes to be explored in greater depth. The results showed that the majority of the students (70%) were combining work with study and most students spent a minimal amount of time on campus, perhaps supporting the concept that there is a ‘new student’ in HE. Perceptions about their transition varied, but most of the students expressed concern about the perceived need to be an independent learner. Students stated that they needed more structured activities on campus to encourage them to fit in, and more support from academic staff, with clear instructions about what was expected.