The retention of nursing students is an ongoing problem, both within the United Kingdom (UK) and internationally. While there is a plethora of literature relating to student attrition, there is an absence of evidence in relation to the experiences of those students who are struggling to meet the demands of nursing programmes. Using an inductive sociological enquiry based approach, this study sought to examine the experiences of student nurses after referral on the first attempt of a summative assessment. Nursing students who had failed an assignment (n=20) were invited to participate. Data was collected using focus groups, with the emergent themes collapsed into a concise format using thematic content analysis. Four key themes were identified: desire to succeed; acceptance of personal failure; recognition of personal attributes required for success; and responsibility for personal success and failure. Students remained on the programme, despite struggling with financial and personal difficulties, because the desire to become a qualified nurse outweighed transient hardships. This paper will illustrate the benefits of understanding the students' experiences, in order to ensure the support students receive is appropriate to their needs. Understanding the support strategies as perceived by the students may prevent further wastage from nursing programmes.