Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to identify the role of cognitive styles (CgStys) and self-efficacy (SEff) in the formation of social entrepreneurial intentions (SEIs) among the students of a premier multi-campus technical university in India using the theory of planned behaviour as the research framework. Design/methodology/approach: A 54-item questionnaire was responded by 550 students. The data were collected by employing a systematic random sampling method. In the total sample of the respondents, 67 per cent (n=368) were male and 33 per cent (n=182) were female and the average age of the respondents was 20 years. Structural equation modelling has been used for data analysis. Findings: The results of the study support that the relationship between antecedents (CgStys and SEff) and SEIs was mediated by the attitude towards becoming a social entrepreneur, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. Findings of this research study also suggest that students with high level of SEff are more inclined towards social entrepreneurial activities. Research limitations/implications: The study was confined to the students from a technical university, and it may not give the generalized findings for students from the non-technical stream. Practical implications: The finding of this research study will facilitate policy makers and educators for promoting social entrepreneurial activities at the university level. Based on the results and findings of the study, the educators may improve upon the support system to help and motivate students to opt social entrepreneurship as their career choice. Originality/value: This is one of its kinds of research conducted in the Indian context. Findings of this research will be helpful in predicting how the intention process of Indian students is affected by their CgStys and SEff. © 2017, 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited.