Upward Bound & Upward Bound Math Science at Boston University are college preparatory programs that provide academic support to low-income and first-generation college bound students.

Key Takeaways

  • Summer and after school are perfect times to provide extra academic support to students struggling in school.

  • Program staff can model and give implicit messages about the importance of school for college and career readiness.

  • Using an awards ceremony or reward system can incentivize academic achievement.

  • Academic development is closely related to social and personal development.

Q: In what ways do you help students with their school work, including homework?

A: Program services include an academically intensive six-week summer residential program and an after school program of tutoring and academic courses during the school year. Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science services are located on the Boston University campus, which provides students with access to the University’s resources.


In addition to taking a class during the academic year (MCAS Science, MCAS ELA/Math, SAT Prep or Senior Workshop) students attend one tutoring session (Study Hall) each week. Study Hall is held on Boston University campus and is overseen by a full time staff member. Paid undergraduate students provide the tutoring and mentorship during the afterschool program. The tutors assist students with their homework and any school projects. Students are expected to earn at least a C in all of their high school classes each marking term.


During the summer all students attend 20 hours of instruction each week, including Literature and Writing (8 hours), Mathematics (4 hours), Science (4 hours), either Latin, MCAS Preparation, or SAT Preparation (2 hours), and either Study/Life Skills or Computer Science (2 hours). In addition, all students participate in the following activities during the summer: Study hall and discussion classes with tutors and teachers (6 hours per week), field trips and group projects to promote cultural and academic enrichment, cooperation, and group spirit (around 4 hours per week), individual tutor-student conferences (30 minutes per week), personal and academic counseling as appropriate, and sports and recreational activities (around 4 hours per week). In the summer evenings, all students can attend an Additional Study Hall (ASH) for extra tutoring. Teachers can assign students to attend to make up homework or for quiz/test corrections.

Q: How do you encourage students to try hard in and care about school?

A: School work is discussed early on with students, including during recruitment presentations at target high schools, and during student interviews, where parents also participate.  


Students have several role models and mentors while they are in the program. Each year Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science employ roughly 60 teachers and tutors. Staff members speak several languages and often were also from low-income families or were first-generation college students. The Upward Bound program holds a Career and College Awareness Day each summer which allows students to meet several professionals who discuss steps students should take while in high school to go on to similar careers. Upward Bound Math Science students work with Boston University science faculty and graduate students in labs during school vacation week and the summer. The college students and adults provide implicit and explicit messages to students on why their school coursework and GPA matter.


During the school year and summer, the Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science programs reward students who do well academically in their high school and program course work. These students can receive priority in going on field trips and attend a summer honor roll ice cream reception. Students who do the best overall and show the most improvement in each class are recognized by teachers at an end of summer awards ceremony. All students receive certificates for completing the summer program.


During Individual tutor/student conference and Academic Probation meetings, staff will discuss with students the importance of their school work in helping them reach their short term and long term goals.

Q: Give an example of a student who received valuable academic support from your program.

A: In 2012 “Theo” entered the program after his sophomore year with a 1.80 GPA, including failing Algebra 1, both his ESL 2 classes, and the MCAS Physics and Math exams. He attended a BPS district high school that at the time didn’t offer many academic support services. He entered the program with limited English proficiency (Urdu was the language spoken at home) and his family reported a yearly taxable income of $2,080. His mom had a high school diploma and his dad never went beyond 8th grade. In his application essay he shared, “I need some help in math because some time [sic] when my teacher try [sic] to explain and I don’t understand”. In his interview he shared, “I work hard in school, except with ELA. It was too much. I don’t understand a lot.” After follow-up questions and suggestions by the program interviewer about his study techniques, he added, “I will challenge myself to do better.” As part of the pre-summer testing he scored in the 4th grade level for reading and 4th grade level for math.


Although he was a rising junior, we placed Theo in an Algebra I class based on his scores in order to remediate his math skills. He was also placed in level C classes for writing and literature. His tutor mentor was a college student who was a former Upward Bound participant and lived in the same neighborhood as Theo. Like all students, he had an individual meeting with his tutor each week during the summer. His tutor provided recommendations for Theo and shared them with the administrative staff each week. They included: “He seems to be having trouble in Chemistry, Math and English. Check in with his teachers to see his weaknesses” in the early summer; “See how he’s handling material and show him how to organize his binder and notes. Go over class notes” from the middle of the summer; and then “I went over some study tips with Theo, a lot to do with memorization for his Latin and chemistry quiz … Theo is a great kid as long as he is not afraid to ask for help and admit when he doesn’t understand something. He can only grow and succeed to become a wonderful student” by the end of the summer.


At the end of the summer, his Algebra I teacher noted on his Upward Bound report card, “By the end of the summer Theo had built a stronger understanding of Algebra. He also built a stronger self-confidence which will assist him in the future.” His Writing teacher wrote, “He has improved a lot and I am really impressed that he challenged himself by joining UB!” His tutor shared, “Despite some setbacks and difficulties in work or the program you’ve always had a smile on your face … If you learned anything, I hope it is to never be afraid to ask why, or for help. It takes a truly strong man to know when he needs a helping hand.”  


After the summer Theo received almost all A’s and B’s during the first term of his junior year. He received a D+ in Algebra 2, so he was placed on Academic Caution (AC) with the program. Following the conditions of AC, all his high school teachers completed a progress report, and he was required to attend a weekly guided study meeting in study hall. Second term he received a B+ in Algebra 2 and did well in all his classes. By the third term he received all A’s and B’s, including B+’s in his 2 ESL classes.


In Theo’s second and final summer with Upward Bound, he had a tutor that also spoke a native language other than English and was a Boston University student. Theo did well academically and socially and was also seen as a leader for many of the new students in the programs. As a junior and senior he raised his GPA each semester and graduated with a 2.54 GPA.


Theo was able to enter a 4-year college immediately after high school and is currently a sophomore at UMASS Boston. While in college he has developed his own astronomy website and also started a Physics club. He has volunteered as a program Alumni Usher during our events and has come to talk to current high school seniors several times as part of a panel about the transition from high school to college.

Q: How confident in their academic abilities are youth in your program? What do staff members do to generate this confidence?

Students enter the program with varying degrees of confidence in their academic abilities. The goal of the academic support and advising components of the program is to provide students with academic success strategies in order to feel more comfortable in their course work and their preparedness for college. They also have a chance to be in an academic environment with other students attempting to go onto college which provides them with a cohort of peers that support each other.


The program has a holistic approach to youth development, so staff members not only work on the academic skills students need for success in higher education, but we also focus on emotional, moral, and social development. Students often gain confidence through the experiential nature of the program, attending our residential program and having to maintain good grades while also managing their time, working on group projects and taking part in activities. When students falter, it’s a chance for them to connect with an adult to discuss life lessons, academic skills or possible strategies.


Boston University’s Upward Bound programs provide intensive after school and summer academic programming for local high school students who are low-income or aspire to be first generation college students. Exposure to a college campus, positive role models, rigorous academic work, and enrichment experiences helps students prepare for college and their career.