The Upward Bound Program Is Carving New Futures Alongside APU

The Upward Bound program is taking its partnership with Azusa Pacific University to new levels, working toward making college a real possibility for potential first-generation college students at Azusa High School.

Located just a mile from APU’s main campus, Azusa High School is one of the newest locations to offer the nationwide program. Upward Bound is an organization that works in high schools around the country to prepare students to become the first in their families to earn a college degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Preparing, applying, and then thriving at a post-secondary institution is a feat for most students, but it can be a true hurdle for high school students who are navigating it all without the ability to call on the experience or expertise of their parents. Here’s what you need to know about the program, and the work APU is doing to support it.

Finding the Right Fit

For participating students at Azusa High School, the Upward Bound program helps ensure they’re as equipped as possible to graduate high school and gain acceptance into the university that is the best fit for them.

“Our goal is to provide our students with academic support that enables them to pick the college of their choice that’s the right fit for them,” said Armando Bustos, Upward Bound project director. “We’re all about fit. We want them going to a school because it’s going to fit them as a person. When it’s the right fit for them, they’re more likely to succeed.”

Finding the right fit means helping students find who they are. Bustos explained that as an organization, Upward Bound believes students should understand their strengths, know what they’re good at, and know who they are. This is typically achieved through workshops designed to help students better understand their strengths—and themselves.

“When students know themselves, they can better advocate for themselves,” Bustos added. “This means they can ask for the support they need in college, such as talk to a professor or going to the financial aid office and not being intimidated.”

And when it’s time to pick a career path, students who know themselves can choose with purpose. “We want our students to find which career or major is going to fall in line with their values and what they want their life to look like,” Bustos said.

Preparing for Graduation and Beyond

While students participating in the Upward Bound program do the hard work of identifying their strengths and finding who they are, there is still the task of preparing for the academic work for graduation and beyond.

This preparation includes after-school tutoring for students; field trips, including college visits and local museums; academic counseling with an Upward Bound outreach specialist; Saturday Academy, which provides workshops on leadership and SAT prep over sixteen Saturdays; and Summer Academy, a six-week program on APU’s campus with supplemental classes to keep students sharp over summer break. Routine parent meetings also help keep parents informed about graduation requirements, college application processes, and financial aid.

With these resources at students’ disposal, the Upward Bound program is dedicated to making sure everyone has the tools they need to succeed.

Moving Upward Alongside APU

The Upward Bound program at Azusa High School isn’t just near APU—its partnership with the university gives high school students unprecedented access to the campus community of students, teachers, and resources.

“We have a huge amount of support from APU,” Bustos said. “The school has really embraced us and supported the vision of what we do. If we need resources, if we need space, if we need connection with faculty, they’re ready to help. That’s led to awesome partnerships.”

Many APU students serve as tutors in the Upward Bound’s afterschool homework hangouts, and many of those same students serve as counselors during the program’s Summer Academy (which also takes place on the university’s campus).

APU alumni have even stopped by workshops to talk about how to choose a major and to lend advice on forging a future after college.

Moreover, the university allows high school seniors to take an English 111 course free of charge. This gives students the opportunity to gain experience in a university classroom and receive college credit. But more than anything, this experience boosts their confidence.

“It was a huge encouragement when the seniors passed with As and Bs,” said Bustos. “They recognized that they can succeed in a college class.”

Receiving Continued Support at APU

While Upward Bound specifically supports high school students, APU provides first-generation college students support through its TRiO Target Success program. TRiO is an on-campus support service available to first-generation college students, low-income students, and students with learning disabilities.

TRiO’s mission is to equip these students with the tools they need to be successful and ultimately graduate. Whether through tutoring, guidance with class selection, or navigating financial aid, TRiO, like Upward Bound, is dedicated to seeing all students—regardless of background—succeed.

The Upward Bound program at Azusa High School aims to see participating students graduate from high school and move into successful college careers. Between the hardworking staff who tirelessly pour hours into equipping students and the unwavering support of APU to see everyone succeed, things, as they say, are looking upward.

Hoping to learn more about the ways Azusa Pacific University supports students in their academic goals? Take some time to explore the school’s Undergraduate Academic Success Center and see what services are available.