Concerns of equity with respect to the community college model in East Asia persist in educational research. In this study, we described and analysed students’ “lived experience” in community colleges in Hong Kong in terms of the “warming up” or “cooling out” of their educational desire. Semistructured interviews with 14 graduates of community colleges in Hong Kong were conducted to determine how their experiences at community colleges affected their educational expectations and the extent to which community colleges help students reconsider their educational disadvantages in a competitive, meritocratic and massified higher education system. The qualitative interview data were inductively thematised into four aspects of college experience in relation to their educational expectations. The data revealed that Hong Kong’s community colleges help some students develop their capabilities and change their educational expectations through democratic admissions, liberal pedagogic environments, learner-centred formative assessment and student services for strategic university articulation. Rather than cooling-out students’ educational desire (characterised by gradual disengagement, objective denial, alternative achievement), community colleges in Hong Kong provide a second chance for failing and disadvantaged students to pursue a university education, but this warming-up function applies only to students who benefitted from the liberal mode of assessment and discovered and developed their academic capabilities in their college experience. The paper ends with a critical analysis of the problem of such warming up of educational desire and the extent to which community colleges can empower disadvantaged students for a good life. Copyright © 2022 The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc.