College Preparatory Programs Types of Programs

College Preparatory Programs

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College preparatory programs aim to increase college access, particulary for those students who are least likely to enroll. These programs take many forms and serve a variety of students. Some start as early as elementary school, others in the senior year of high school. Some college preparatory programs focus on increasing academic readiness, while others specialize in college admissions or financial aid. Some involve families and mentors, and others incorporate service learning or recreational activities.

The size and funding for these programs also vary. Some are large, federally-funded programs, and others are smaller, community-based programs. Although these programs may appear to be as different as the students they serve, all unite under the common belief that every student should be prepared for a full range of postsecondary options, including college.

Federal Programs 

The Federal TRIO Programs include eight outreach and support programs targeted to assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and disabled individuals progress from middle school to higher education. The following TRIO programs are specifically tailored to provide college preparation for middle and high school youth.

  • Upward Bound is designed to generate the skills and motivation necessary for success in education beyond high school among people from low-income backgrounds that have inadequate secondary school preparation. The idea behind Upward Bound is that students from traditionally underrepresented groups can be prepared to successfully compete in postsecondary institutions if they are provided with a simulated college experience that is rich in academic and motivational support. Students receive tutoring, counseling and individualized instruction to help prepare for college.

  • Talent Search serves low-income, first-generation students who have the potential to succeed in higher education. The program provides a range of counseling services to help students graduate from high school and earn a college degree. Talent Search also serves high school dropouts by encouraging them to reenter the educational system and complete their education. Common program activities include: college admissions counseling; career counseling; assistance with financial aid forms; course selection guidance; college application help; college campus visits; career shadowing; tutoring; college entrance exam preparation; study skills workshops; and parent workshops.

  • The Student Support Services Program (SSS) helps low-income, first-generation and disabled students attain a college degree. Institutions of higher education can apply to the SSS program for competitive grants to fund student support projects on campus. Support services provide students with needed help through academic advising, career counseling, mentoring, tutoring, and financial aid guidance. The program also provides some financial aid to low-income students. According to the U.S. Department of Education's analysis of the program, students participating in SSS are more likely to persist through college and attain a degree than other low-income and first-generation students.

Another Federal program that works to increase college awareness and preparation among low-income and minority students is Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). GEAR UP provides six-year matching grants to state governments and partnerships that administer programs with an early outreach component focused on raising expectations and readying students for postsecondary education. The program works with a group of students from seventh grade through high school graduation, providing them with intensive tutoring, mentoring and college/career planning information. Students can also receive scholarships through GEAR UP.

State Programs

New York, California and New Jersey have state-funded Educational Opportunity Programs to help low-income, academically disadvantaged youth succeed in college through financial aid and comprehensive student support. Although the program is supported by state funds, it often works as a part of the federally funded TRIO programs. The program serves students who have shown potential for success in college but have not completed typical college preparatory programs in high school due to economic or personal disadvantages. The Educational Opportunity Programs provide students with individual attention and extensive academic and personal counseling.

California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP) was established by the Legislature in 1978. Cal-SOAP provides college-planning and financial aid information to underserved areas that have low college participation rates. Cal-SOAP seeks to raise the achievement of low-income and first-generation K-12 students and provide them with the opportunity to attend higher education. State funds must be matched by local funds from participating communities.

Florida’s College Reach-Out Program (CROP) is a state-funded program that provides educational support to low-income, academically disadvantaged students in sixth through 12th grade. The program, create by the Legislature in 1983, works with students to develop and maintain the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary to successfully pursue and complete a postsecondary education. Evaluations of the program have found that it increases high school graduation and college enrollment rates for its participants. 

The mission of the New York Education Department’s Pre-Collegiate Preparation Programs is “to foster the development and implementation of collaborative partnerships among and between colleges, schools, community-based organizations, parents, students, business, industry and government to ensure that all students in New York State have every opportunity to be successful learners in an environment that honors the uniqueness of each individual.”  Programs are available in more than 500 K-12 schools around the state.

University Programs

University of California Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) is a precollegiate student academic development program. EAOP provides four key areas of service to underserved schools: academic enrichment, entrance exams preparation, academic advising, and college knowledge. The program has proven to increase academic acheivement and college completion for its students. EAOP partners and collaborates with many businesses, community-based organizations, schools, and other educational programs, including TRIO, Cal-SOAP, Pathways to College Network, ACT and the College Board. 

The University of Colorado's Pre-Collegiate Program is an academic enhancement program designed to motivate middle and high school students to pursue higher education. The program brings first-generation and underrepresented students to campus for college preparation activities. Students are offered relevant Saturday Academies in various topics along with ongoing advising to ensure successful completion of high school, college entrance and degree attainment.

Community and Nonprofit Programs

Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) is a program to prepare fifth to 12th grade students in the academic middle for four-year college eligibility.  It has a proven track record for bringing out the best in students and closing the achievement gap.  AVID has partnered with GEAR UP programs in several cities.

The "I Have a Dream"® Program helps children from low-income areas reach their education and career goals by providing a long-term program of mentoring, tutoring and enrichment with an assured opportunity for higher education. Local "I Have a Dream"® projects adopt an entire same-grade classroom from an elementary school or an entire age group from a public housing development. Project staff work with this group of children (the "Dreamers") and their families year-round from their elementary school years to college.

ENLACE is a program that aims to strengthen a child's education from pre-kindergarten through college. ENLACE's primary goal is to increase opportunities for Latinos to enter and complete college. ENLACE serves as a catalyst to strengthen partnerships and create coalitions among Hispanic-serving institutions (colleges and universities with 25 percent or more Hispanic enrollment), K-12 school districts, communities, businesses, families and other funders who are working to increase opportunities for Latinos to enter and complete college. 

For more college preparatory programs in your state, search MoveED ( a national directory of college access programs.


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