This article gives attention to furthering understandings about what being successful at university means to social work students, focusing on the perspectives of students who speak English as an additional language (EAL). It departs from approaches in the literature that focus on problematic aspects of teaching and learning. The article is informed by data from a small-scale focus group study of nine students from an undergraduate and a postgraduate social work programme in a South Australian university. Drawing on a methodological approach known as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’, students were asked how they conceptualise, experience and imagine success at university. The study found that students’ understandings of success are inextricably intertwined with their individual, family and community aspirations. These findings are discussed in the light of current dominant assumptions about the notion of success and possible directions for future research and implications for social work education.