Pulses such as peas, beans or lentils are one of the most complete foods at the nutritional level; however, they are one of the most often neglected foods in the diets of university students. Entrance to university translates into a major lifestyle change for many young people, and the habits acquired or cemented at this time will remain into adulthood. The objective of this study is to analyse the association between personal/sociodemographic factors, dietary intake of other food groups and the consumption of pulses in first-year university students. This cross-sectional study is part of the UniHcos project, a multicentre study of multipurpose prospective cohorts in eleven Spanish universities. Data from 9862 university students were collected through an online self-questionnaire completed by all students who met the selection criteria and agreed to participate in the project during the 2011–2018 academic years. Of students, 75·8 % presented an inadequate (≤2 times/week) consumption of pulses. Living outside the family home in either a student residence (OR 0·76; 95 % CI 0·69, 0·84) or rental (OR 0·81; 95 % CI 0·70, 0·95) decreased the compliance with recommendations on the consumption of pulses. Low consumption of pulses is seemingly not restricted to a specific profile or dietary pattern among university students, and no specific focus group for intervention can be identified. Policies promoting the consumption of pulses among the university population as a whole are necessary to increase compliance rates with the dietary recommendations.