BU’s Upward Bound works year-round with students from a variety of different high schools around Boston to prepare them for college success with rigorous academic coursework in the setting of a real college campus.

Key Takeaways

  • Staff need to have the cultural competency to be able to help students from a variety of different backgrounds persevere through a variety of different problems.

  • It is necessary to pair high expectations for students to accomplish their goals with high support from program staff so that they have the resources to accomplish their goals even if they encounter hardships.

  • Students can demonstrate strong perseverance in various areas, even if they do not demonstrate that skill in their work at a program; it is necessary to let students know that they have the skills already so that they can begin applying them to other aspects of life.

  • Students need guidance and support through difficult times, not punishment; if a student is going through difficulties, it is better to explain the options for different paths they can take rather than only punish them for choosing the wrong one.

What are the resources students can access to not give up if they’re having a tough time either in school or in the program?


It often starts with the programs’ tutor working with the student, and connecting with them — specifically if they’re having a tough time with a specific class. The tutors that they’re working with, who are college students, give them practical advice on how to approach things on an academic level. However,  there’s also personal issues that students are dealing with. So the staff also plays a role in helping students through those times. It’s easy when students are doing a great job, and everything’s going well in their lives, but it’s really different when they’re having difficulty with academic coursework, or they might be having difficulty in their personal lives. That’s when it’s important for them to see that there’s a trusted figure in their lives that can impart advice, or maybe just commiseration and empathize. Sometimes students might just need encouragement, a pat on the back, and like a coach say, “Keep going. You’re doing a good job. Just keep it up.”


Furthermore when we hire, the goal is to hire staff members who mirror the backgrounds and circumstances that the students come from, so that perseverance is something that the students can visibly see. They see this person has had success. The students think, “They’re telling me they had a hard time but they overcame it, so that’s something I can do as well.” That’s something we try to be intentional about in hiring. At the very least it is hiring a staff that has those cultural competency skills to be able to connect with students from varied backgrounds, so that they keep them trying to reach their goals.


Students meet with their tutors one on one, once a week over the summer, to go over goal setting, how to achieve those goals, and how you may need to adjust those goals. That’s not only the role of the tutors, but that’s the role of all the staff in talking to students about their goals when they start to falter. And even before students get into a situation, if we know that they might be headed in the wrong direction, its meeting with the student and saying, “Okay these are the choices that you can make. If you make this choice, I’ve seen this happen to students before.” We have those conversations so when they do stumble, that students can have an understanding of what went wrong, and have that internal dialogue so that they can overcome it if they see those issues come again. It’s trying to prepare the students, so when something does go wrong, these are things that we’ve spoken to them about, and they might remember that. Or, from being on a college campus and trying to navigate their own ways, they might start to develop their own sense of coping strategies.

Best Practices:

  • Hire a culturally competent staff to whom students can relate
  • Help students set goals
  • Give students examples real life of paths they can take
  • Frame support to what students need in the moment, which is not always what they’re working on

How do you reach all students at a level of high engagement, even if some students are excelling while others are struggling?


The culture of the BU Upward Bound programs is high expectations, and with those high expectations, high support. I think there are some  situations, where students are given high expectations, but they don’t have any support to meet those expectations. So when they falter, it’s “Well you didn’t meet the expectations, so we’re either going to put you in another school,” or “We’re going to hold you back,” and things that are more punitive than supportive and helping. Or, programs have a high level of support, but they are catering to the lowest common denominator, where students are not really building and reaching their full potential. Our classes are based on levels. Before the summer, students take pre-summer testing in literature, writing, and math. The literature and writing classes are in tiered levels, A, B, and C, and students are placed based on the student’s exam. Within each class we’re trying to work with students towards the highest common denominator, so that the aim is to reach high goals. It’s also a part of the teacher’s job, the tutor’s job, and the administrative staff’s job, to support that student. Maybe this is the first time that the student is working on calculus, or chemistry, or Latin. We make sure that the student understands that there are always people to help them. So it’s on them. The implicit and explicit message is, we’re not going to give up on them. They can do this. We believe it’s an important part of what they need to do academically for their future success. So when students get the message that it’s important and there’s a caring adult who’s going to help you, it starts a shift in what they expect of themselves.

Best Practices:

  • Build close partnerships with the schools your students come from to support the students multilaterally
  • Provide high quality service and support to all levels of ability
  • Verbalize the expectations of the students so that they are aware of them
  • Have a staff that is well-versed in the content of their subject and is able to give students the help they need.

High School Focus:


Whatever the goal of your program is, whether it be college and career readiness, or some other goal, make sure that your students are having experiences similar to those that they will encounter when they reach that goal. If you are focused on college and career readiness, but do not provide students with the kinds of experiences they will have in college and their career, the situations they will face will be so foreign to them that what they have learned will be inconsequential.



Boston University Upward Bound is a part of the federally funded TRIO program that provides academic support to low-income and first-generation college bound students. The Upward Bound program at Boston University serves 86 students and is a part of the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development’s College Access and Student Success office. Services are based on the Boston University campus and include after school tutoring and classes held weekday afternoons, college visits, field trips and an academically intensive six-week summer residential program. While students are in high school, the program exposes them to the ins and outs, the resources, and the academic expectations of college. To qualify students need to either meet TRIO low-income guidelines or be first-generation college, meaning neither parent has obtained a bachelor’s degree.  Additionally, to qualify, students must have at least started the ninth grade and will attend one of the program’s target high schools that include the Margarita Muniz Academy, Community Academy of Science and Health, Brighton, English, Snowden or attend a public school and live in one of the program’s target neighborhoods of Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan and Roxbury. Students typically join the program in 9th or 10th grade, with the idea that they stay with the program until they graduate from high school, and Upward Bound then tracks them until they graduate from college or for 7 years, whichever comes first, in terms of their obtaining a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree. All program services are free.


In addition to Upward Bound, Boston University also hosts Upward Bound Math Science, which has the goal of helping students recognize and develop their potential to excel in math and science and to encourage them to pursue postsecondary degrees in those subjects.