Students from poorer homes pay more for higher education in Scotland and tend to take any job available to try to clear their debts, a study suggests.
They attended less prestigious institutions and were less likely to get "good" degrees, said a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
They remained "fairly positive" about life but career progression was slow.
More than 250 people from disadvantaged areas of western Scotland were studied by Glasgow University researchers.
Their report, Early labour-market experiences of graduates from disadvantaged families, said fewer than six in 10 were in a graduate-status occupation a year after graduating.
Many felt their accents, and where they lived, were also barriers.
It was relatively common for them to take "any job available" at first to service their debts, which were made worse by a lack of family support and a tendency to rely on bank and credit card loans.
Despite the difficulties they made "impressive headway" - though women took longer than men to become established in graduate-level jobs.
Report co-author Professor Andy Furlong said: "The routes these less advantaged students took through higher education were often complex and involved failures, breaks and new starts.
"Debt was their constant companion and they often supported themselves through college by working long hours away from their studies."
Although progress into graduate careers was slow, the "best guess" was that more than half would get there eventually.
His colleague Fred Cartmel said the youngsters' early employment experiences were harmed by the heavier level of debts they had incurred compared with other students.
"But that does not negate the benefits of giving young people greater access to higher education," he said.
"The lesson for policy makers is that their support for wider access needs to be matched with fairer funding arrangements."
A spokesperson for the Scottish Executive said much was being done to enable all students to have access to higher education, whatever their background, including the abolition of tuition fees.
"We have increased the amount of support targeted toward those students for whom finance is most likely to be a barrier to study through awards such as the Young Students Bursaries (YSB).
"These were introduced in 2001 and reduce the level of debt which eligible students accrue during a course of study."
Scottish-domiciled students who study in Scotland have their tuition fees paid for them and can apply for the means-tested bursary, now worth up to £2,395, as well as a loan to help with living costs.
A survey of students' income and expenditure, due to publish its findings later in the autumn, would inform the Executive's future policy development, the spokesperson added.