Focused & Proven Design

STEP equips low-income students with the knowledge, confidence, and leadership skills to successfully transition to college and attain a 4-year degree. 

96% of our college-prep program graduates are in college or have obtained a college degree. 

Our Students


We work with Arizona high school students from low-income households who are internally motivated to take rigorous courses and do the hard work to excel.  A majority of our students are the first generation in their family to seek a college degree.


Qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch


1st Generation to College


Identify with an Ethnic Minority Group

Our Goals

College Enrollment

College Persistence

College Degree

Components of our Successful Model



A critical first step!  Our students are:

  • Determined to attain a college degree

  • Dedicated to full program participation

  • Receptive to the guidance we provide


Comprehensive Program

Focused guidance over 2 years, including:

  • Monthly workshops

  • Individual advising

  • Standardized test prep

  • Writing skills development

  • Leadership opportunities


Hard Work

There’s no short cut for hard work! Our students:

  • Enroll in rigorous courses

  • Pursue academic excellence

  • Volunteer in their communities


Focus on Top Colleges

In addition to Arizona state universities, our students focus on a short list of top schools nationwide where we know they will be well supported.  These schools:

  • Provide personalized attention

  • Have high graduation rates

  • Provide excellent financial aid

“You can be the smartest person ever but if you don’t have guidance in the college prep process, you are lost. STEP was my college parent – they took me through the whole process! Now I’m at Wellesley College and that is because of STEP. I love Wellesley and I love STEP!”
— Ashley Parra, Wellesley College

Our Program


College Preparation

  • Students enter STEP in their sophomore year and participate through high school graduation.

  • Monthly workshops provide step-by-step guidance.

  • Individual advising and mentoring provide personalized guidance.

  • Summer programs allow students to experience life on college campuses.

  • Financial aid professionals educate students and parents on the financial aid process.

  • Standardized test prep and writing instruction round out our support.

  • By senior year, our students are well prepared with defined college lists.

  • Once applications are submitted, we focus on strategies for successfully transitioning to college.


Leadership Training

  • In the summer between their junior and senior year, STEP students participate in a multi-week Leadership Expedition in the wilderness of Alaska to cultivate self-confidence, courage, independence, and personal responsibility.

  • Students are confronted with conditions and activities that are, at first, totally foreign to them – mirroring the abrupt change they will experience when they leave home for college. By the end, they are thriving in their new environment.

  • Students return with increased self-confidence, an enhanced ability to meet unfamiliar challenges, a greater sense of personal responsibility, and a recognition that they can tackle any challenge ahead of them as long as they believe in themselves and do the hard work.

  • STEP partners with NOLS to provide this confidence-building experience.

“STEP’s Leadership Expedition with NOLS provides fertile ground for students to develop their abilities, expand their horizons, and propel them to success, no matter what that specific success may be.”
— John Gans, Executive Director, NOLS

“Every student who returns from the STEP Alaska Expedition is changed fundamentally with regard to their self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and thirst for exploring more of the world.”
— Susan Vesecky, Trevor Browne High School Counselor

Students enter STEP in their sophomore year of high school. Applications are due in November. 

Program Timeline

Sophomore Year

Incoming students and parents are introduced to STEP’s program. Students are immediately encouraged to apply to summer residential pre-college programs in order to take college courses and experience life on a college campus. Staff provide individual advising on course selection for junior year as well as summer activities, and introduce students to top colleges nationwide. 

Sophomore Summer

Students participate in pre-college programs, volunteer work, leadership opportunities, and college-level courses. Students also begin studying for the standardized tests they will be taking in their junior year. 

Junior Year

Students meet with visiting admission directors to learn about their schools and get advice on preparing their applications. Staff work individually with students to provide strategies for tackling the increased rigor of junior year while also encouraging students to take on leadership positions. STEP also provides structured test prep to prepare students for taking the ACT in April. 

Junior Summer

Rising seniors participate in STEP’s multi-week Alaska Wilderness Leadership Expedition. Students also participate in other summer opportunities and begin their applications to attend all-expense paid fly-in programs to visit colleges in the fall. In July, rising seniors participate in STEP’s Writing Workshop Series (9 sessions) to begin work on their college application essays. 

Senior Year

Senior year is dedicated to constructing strong and unique college applications. Visiting admission directors provide application advice and give interviews, while financial aid directors provide detailed instructions on the financial aid process. STEP staff provide individual guidance to assist students throughout the application and enrollment process and coach students on strategies for transitioning to college. 

College and Beyond

Students graduate from STEP at the end of their senior year in high school, but our support continues. We check in with all of our recent graduates in the fall of their freshman year to offer any needed support. We sustain yearly contact with our alumni throughout college and often after college graduation. Fellow alumni provide a long-term support network. 

“Resilience is the first skill that comes to my mind for college success. And this is certainly a trait that STEP students possess and that STEP cultivates throughout the program.”
— Yaneli Ruiz Assistant Dean of Admission, Claremont McKenna College