Abstract: Despite the adoption of the widening participation agenda in Australia, students from regional, remote and very remote communities continue to be underrepresented in higher education. Recent research has indicated that students from these contexts face additional challenges to participation in higher education and are less likely to perceive university study as useful for a rewarding career (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2010). Much of the available research considers rural youth as a homogeneous group and few studies account for the variability within and amongst regional and remote communities. Recognising that educational and occupational decision-making may vary from place to place, we analyse differences within and between areas and community types (agricultural, mining, Indigenous; growing, stable, declining; productivist, postproductivist (Corbett & Forsey 2017). In so doing, this paper brings new insight to understanding, and potentially ameliorating, the under-representation of this equity group in higher education. This paper presents preliminary findings drawing on recently collected survey and focus group data involving students in Years 3-12 from regional, remote and very remote areas of NSW. We investigate the emotional and material realities of students' lives in rural communities and how these realities shape their interest (or lack of interest) in university education. Findings from this project will provide robust evidence to help shape targeted university outreach initiatives that take into account students' actual interests, aspirations and understandings about their educational futures, and the diversity among students between and within regional, remote and very remote areas.