This study focuses on the perceptions of learning EAP of first-year undergraduates with high ESL proficiency admitted to an English-medium university in Hong Kong. Two in-depth individual interviews were conducted with nine participants and their written assignments were analysed. The data reveal several challenges facing the high achievers in learning EAP. One evident aspect is how to properly cite academic sources. The participants struggled with selecting suitable texts from sources, paraphrasing them, and using them to support their arguments. They also perceived a need to abandon the recited formulaic expressions which may have helped them score highly in the secondary school examination. This study reveals gaps between the English learnt in secondary school and EAP and offers insight into what first-year students need when they transition from secondary school to university studies. It argues that EAP should be made an essential component of first-year undergraduate programmes. Copyright © 2019 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.