From Wonder Years to College Years
The UA's Passport to High School program is designed to help incoming ninth graders better understand the critical nature of initiating the college-going process at the start of high school.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
June 8, 2011

The University of Arizona Passport to High School institute, which is designed to immerse incoming high school students in the college-going process, is now open to the general public. 

The one-week, 40-hour program known as P2HS informs students who will be freshmen during the fall.

Offered three times this summer, the institute educates students about UA resources and also scholarships and financial aid. Students tour campus, interacting with UA researchers and students, and also learn to plan their high school classes and extracurricular activities. They also fill out a shorter form of UA's application for practice. 

"We wanted the kids to view the program as a passport that would open doors to them on their quest to a higher education, beginning with how to proactively explore and engage in all that high school has to offer them," said Sara Chavarria, education outreach director for the UA College of Education.

Overall, the program's driving philosophy is that students not only need college-going information early and often, but they also need time to interact in higher education's physical space.

This summer, the institute is being offered June 13-17, June 20-25 and June 27-July 1, all 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration is still open.

Previously, the institute was only open for students in the Wildcat School, but Chavarria opened it up to others after noticing that certain schools were not taking high school seriously. 

"Wildcat School was the catalyst, but I was seeing that the students had no idea the role high school could play for them with regard to their future," Chavarria said.

"My biggest concern is that some students think they will just take the easiest classes in high school," she said.

"You can make so many mistakes freshman year," Chavarria added. "One of the things we want them to understand is that you need to start strong and be on the right path. You shouldn't be taking introductory math if you want to be an engineer."

Chavarria said she could relate to many of the students she works with because she, too, was the first in her family to attend college.

Alya Camacho became involved in the program while attending Wildcat School and is now serving as a volunteer.

"Through the three years I have known Dr. Chavarria, we have always been pretty close. I thought the program helped me so much going into high school that when she asks me to volunteer I said yes without a hesitation," said Camacho, who will be a high school junior this fall.

Camacho said the program was and continues to be very important to her because it helped her to choose the right classes and know when to speak with her school counselor. 

"I felt very well informed," she said.

"It was very helpful because most eighth graders going to high school have no idea what to expect and are usually too shy to ask. I know I was," Camacho also said. 

This is what drove her to volunteer.

"I just really wanted this program to help other eighth graders going into high school as much as it did for me," Camacho said.

Chavarria said that, for some students, higher education represents an "alien environment," one that can be imposing or intimidating. 

Above all, Chavarria said she wants to involve students in "nurturing their own future" rather than to consistently wait for others to make the decisions for them.

"The program is fun and it's interactive. Everyday, the students are on campus interacting with faculty and college students so that they start to feel comfortable with the location," Chavarria said.

"This is a program that I really, really love," she added. "It is a great value to the students."

Extra info

For all of you college-bound incoming high school freshmen – or if you know one, pass this information along – here are a few important things to remember: 

  • Talk about college – with your family, friends, teachers, counselors, neighbors, mentors and others. Ask for help and advice.
  • Take coursework and grades seriously because top grades can result in more scholarships and financial aid.
  • Get involved in clubs, especially in leadership roles, and volunteer with organizations.
  • Make sure you are taking the required number of high school credits to get into college. Pay close attention to credit requirements in math, science and social sciences.
  • Take fun and challenging electives and AP courses when possible. 
  • Remember that the UA has a number of programs for college-bound youth, including those under the Office of Early Academic Outreach
  • Spend your junior year thinking about what you would like to study and where so you can begin applying. 
  • Be mindful of deadlines for standardized exams, such as the SAT, ACT and the PSAT/NMSQT. 
  • Don't forget to fill out the FAFSA, which gives you the necessary chance to show your financial need.
  • Make sure you find balance in life and think about what you are most passionate about.  


Sources: Sara Chavarria, The College Board


Resources for the media

Sara Chavarria

UA College of Education