As economic circumstances in Ireland, as elsewhere, remain difficult and applications for higher education entry reach record numbers, there has been renewed focus on higher education access. This article draws on the findings of a major Irish study which focuses on a group that has not shared in the general trend towards increased higher education participation - the offspring of the 'lower non manual' group. This article draws on the findings of that study to examine the barriers such young people face in accessing higher education. It is based on a combined analysis of 10 years of School Leavers' Survey data and in-depth life-history interviews with school leavers whose parent(s) were employed in such non-manual jobs. Overall, the study points to the role of cultural, educational and economic factors shaping the higher education entry patterns of young people. It addition it highlights the importance of examining within as well between class patterns of educational attainment.