This study explored second year undergraduates’ academic motivators and blockers at multiple ecological system levels. A total of 47 second year undergraduate students from Engineering, Nursing and Psychology in an Australian city university took part in participant-led interviews regarding their academic experience beyond their foundational semester. Using an ecological system approach as the overarching theoretical framework, Tinto’s model of student retention/persistence and Self-Determination Theory (SDT) were merged within this framework to identify potential motivators and blockers across individual, microsystem, mesosystem and macrosystem levels. Results revealed that academic motivators and blockers existed at multiple ecological levels and wielded direct as well as indirect impacts on student persistence. Cohort and context-specific challenges were also identified and this demonstrated the need to better understand the contributions of an ecological approach to student persistence experience.