This paper explores the role of socio-religious affiliations in determining participation in higher education in India, and whether the importance of these affiliations changes over time. Using National Sample Survey data it follows the change in the hierarchy of participation within a binary probit framework over the years. Since being eligible for higher education is found to be the key f actor in par ticipation, it also explores the ro le of supply-side constraints by controlling for the distance to a secondary school. Econometric estimations for rural and urban areas indicate a vast rural-urban divide in the role of socio-religious affiliations. Eligibility seems to be the key factor in participation, and a better understanding of the constraints on school education is critical if par ticipation in higher education is to be increased.