Failure to adapt to the demands of higher education (HE) is often cited as a cause of withdrawal from the course. Parker and others (Parker, J.D.A., L.J. Summerfeldt, M.J. Hogan, and S.A. Majeski. 2004. Emotional intelligence and academic success: Examining the transition from high school to university. Personality and Individual Differences 36: 163–72) considered the role of individual differences in Emotional Intelligence (EI) and demonstrated a link between EI, withdrawal/retention and measures of academic achievement. In this study we ask whether EI mediates withdrawal in a UK HE institution and whether an EI‐based intervention might improve retention rates. Study 1 considers the effects of EI upon retention, revealing that students with higher levels of EI are more likely to progress to Year 2 of study. Study 2 evaluates an EI‐based intervention programme, demonstrating that students who show an increase in EI are more likely to persist with their studies. These findings are discussed in the light of current theoretical work. The prospects for EI‐based intervention programmes are also considered.