The government has recently raised the issue of differential rates of participation in higher education. The overall aim of this paper is to present an example of the kind of detailed research necessary to identify factors associated with low rates of participation in higher education by some groups of young people. A number of studies have suggested that in addition to educational attainment, issues such as social class, gender and parental education also influence a young person's likelihood of entering higher education. In this paper we undertake exploratory analysis of a series of nationally representative data and through statistical modelling we then identify the factors that influence a young person's chances of entry into higher education and participating on a degree level course. Through sample enumeration, an innovative statistical methodology, we were then able to quantify the substantive effects of these factors. We found that net of educational attainment a number of factors (e.g. gender and social background variables) influence the likelihood of a young person entering higher education and participating on a degree level course. In addition our analysis highlights the interwoven effects of parental education and schooling and we discuss the complex nature of the effects of ethnicity.