Access Counselor, Evan Soken preps his student for the big May 1st deadline

My student lifted their eyes to the wall thick with college pennants, searching for their future school. Each flag was surrounded by a cluster of colorful stars, each star bearing the name of a student who had committed to that college from the Class of 2016. A smile of recognition flickered across their face as Northeastern caught their eye. “It’s so high! How am I supposed to get up there?” they exclaimed. “You think you can jump that high?” I laughed. After taking a beat, they took a running jump and slapped their star directly below the Northeastern pennant as applause rippled through the room.

Spring is one of my favorite seasons in the college access world. Every piece of the process comes with unique challenges and rewards, but especially as a second-year counselor at Bottom Line, the weeks leading up to May 1 are the culmination of months of student work. May 1 is National College Decision Day in the United States — the day when nearly every college in the country requires that students commit to a college by sending a deposit to secure their place in the class. At Bottom Line, we plan for this day all year. From the first time we meet with a student during the summer before their senior year, we are thinking about how to troubleshoot all the obstacles that might stand between them and a good-fit, affordable, post-secondary option on May 1. As we partner with students to build a diverse college list, edit countless essays, complete the FAFSA, and troubleshoot financial and citizenship issues we are always thinking about giving the student as many options as possible. By the time April rolls around, students prepare to have one of their final meetings in our Access Program: the Award Analysis Meeting.

While there are many valuable meetings and services that students participate in during their senior year, the Award Analysis Meeting is a game-changer. Using an Excel tool that helps breakdown financial aid letters into government/institutional money and federal loans, we estimate the cost of their different colleges for freshman year. Then we take it one step further and estimate the four-year cumulative cost and monthly loan repayment for each college as well. Financing college is one of the most significant barriers low-income, first-generation college students face. Fluctuating financial aid and lack of clear information about paying for college often result in student dropout. This meeting with students is meant to empower them to think about the long-term consequences of their different college choices. It pushes the counselor, the student, and their family to think in concrete, specific terms: What is your plan to pay your first bill in August? Where is that money coming from? Will you have access to that money over four years? While these conversations are almost never easy or simple, walking through these tough questions with all parties involved dramatically increases a student’s ability to confidently make a choice that will move them towards their college degree.

At the end of the day all the services we provide are about giving students the tools to make a college choice that will set them up for success — not just for next year — but for the next four years, as they earn their degree, and the next ten years as they start their post-college lives. People often say to me, “This must be such a rewarding time of year for you!” It is rewarding, but the reward doesn’t belong to me—it belongs to my students who have used the resources available to them to advocate for themselves, to grow, and to learn. This is their moment and I am privileged to have been a part of it.

-Written by Bottom Line Access Counselor, Evan Soken


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Rosellen is off to Bryn Mawr!


Jean will attend Northeastern Foundation Year in the fall!

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Our Dorchester Access Counselors rep their alma maters!

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Brandon commits to Swathmore!

“Money,” a line from one of my favorite musicals begins, “makes the world go ‘round.” It’s a phrase that many of the students I work with are keenly aware of. If I were to be asked what one of the top answers students gives when I ask them why they choose to go to college, I can safely place my bet on money –or to get a career and be successful, which inevitably leads us back to money.  And I get it. I was a first generation, low-income student and the first in my family to attend college. A lot of the focus on me going to college wasn’t necessarily the experience, but the end result: getting the bachelor’s degree and being “successful,” largely meaning a white collar job and making money. But when I graduated college, I realized there was some loopholes in this frame of thinking. I got a lot more from my college then simply skills for a career.

As a SCI AmeriCorps Outreach Coordinator, when I joined Bottom Line and started presenting to high school students, I wanted to change the dialogue surrounding college and bachelor’s degrees. A bachelor’s degree does not guarantee success or lots of money. When I’m presented with “money” as a reason to go to college, I immediately challenge students to think of people who haven’t attended college and have, in its varying definitions, become “successful,” whether it’s someone they know, historical figures or their favorite celebrities and I’ve gotten a considerable amount of responses that shows it is possible. Although many might find it odd for an Outreach Coordinator for a College Success program to talk about success without going to college, this method helps open up other ideas about college that they may not have known about and creates a space for self-reflection. It’s a time of transitional independence with other peers, finding your passion, getting involved with the community, exposure to people different from yourself, looking critically at your ideas and experiences and discovering new ones along the way, confront fears, create a network, or even maybe discover that college isn’t for you (and that is okay). When the focus is on money for students, there’s a false expectation of immediately graduating college, getting the dream job, and falling into this narrative of being a “success.” As many can attest, this is not always the case and the path to “success” often resembles a journey – one that Bottom Line is here to help students with.

-Written by Bottom Line, SCI AmeriCorps Member, Amanda Miner


Yesterday, nearly 100 Bottom Line NY students, staff, and supporters celebrated National College Signing Day with Michelle Obama. The First Lady and MTV gathered dozens of musicians, athletes, actors, and other celebrities at the Harlem Armory to deliver inspiring messages to over 4,000 NYC college-bound students.

One of those students was Amina Gacevic, a Barnard-bound Bottom Line HS senior determined to become the first in her family to graduate college. Nervous about what the coming year and the college application process held, Amina found comfort in Bottom Line’s holistic services.

“Bottom Line is one of the best things that has ever been provided to me,” she said. “They made the entire college application and financial aid process a piece of cake and provided me with a wonderful counselor who went through every single step with me. I’ve gotten so much support along the way and I don’t know where I would be without them.”

While addressing the crowd, the First Lady called on her own past and challenged students to do exactly what Amina did: seek out a system of support.

“I know that if I can do it, you can do it too. I want you to hear that from me. I want you to hear that from your First Lady,” said Obama. “Ask for help. And don’t wait. Remember this: no one gets through college alone. No one.”

At Bottom Line, we share the First Lady’s belief that no one should have to get to and through college alone. Please join us in celebrating the college decisions of our 350 high school seniors this month!

My name is LiliLili Wondwossen and I graduated from Boston University in 2014 with a degree in Health Science. I am originally from Ethiopia, Africa and moved to Boston when I was eight years old. I currently work at State Street as a Project Analyst in the Corporate Audit Department. I plan to pursue my MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Management and run a hospital or work with an international NGO.

High School: The John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Sciences

College: Boston University

Graduation Year: 2014

Job: Project Analyst at State Street Corporation

Bottom Line memory:  The Bottom Line office was my second home during High school. It is safe to say I was probably there once a week and got familiar with most of the counselors that worked there. I also had fun eating all the jolly ranchers at the front desk.

If I could send a care package, I’d fill it with: Shoes and Clothes coupons (College can be expense), KitKat, and Green Tea

Why I stay involved with Bottom Line:  Bottom Line was and still is such an instrumental part of my life. I could not be where I am today without the continuous support of Bottom Line and its staff. Jackie Robinson once said “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other life.” I want to do for others what Bottom Line did for me. They are a gateway to success and it is my honor and privilege to be part of such an extraordinary organization.

People would be surprised to learn that I used to: not know how to speak English. I moved to the states when I was eight years old and could barely formulate a sentence in English. It didn’t take long for me to learn but it was something I certainly struggled with.

The BEST part of being a college graduate is: working and saving money. It is also the best time to really figure out who you are by gaining experiences in different professional sectors.

The HARDEST part about being a college graduate is: Having to pay bills and figuring out what to do with your life!

Join me in supporting Bottom Line by: becoming a “Go Far Volunteer.” As a volunteer, you can provide the students with mock interviews or informational interviews. Bottom Line students can extremely benefit from your professional experiences and it allows Bottom Line students to feel comfortable and confident during job interviews. Find out more here.

I remember what it’s like to be normal. I remember sleeping in on school-less holidays. I remember spending my Rivera Isis Essay Headshotexcess time with friends, and having boundless amounts of energy to waste on the most frivolous of things. I remember freely consuming potassium-packed foods and salty stuff galore, without the fear of becoming violently ill. I remember spending hours and hours reading and drawing, knowing that there would always be more time tomorrow. I remember spending weekends and vacations traveling near and far whenever I got the chance. Today, that all seems so distant.

As I write this, I have to cautiously avoid moving my left arm too rigorously to keep from ripping out the inch-long needles. Every half an hour, my right arm’s circulation is momentarily cut off by an inflating blood pressure cuff. The dialysis machine continuously emits a rhythmic hiss, beep, click, beep. There are admirable attempts to mask the hospital white with child-friendly decals strewn about the room, however, the smell of blood, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol are unavoidable to any unaccustomed nostrils. The necessary fifteen hours a week I spend at Boston Children’s Hospital ensure my relative health, but unfortunately, I never feel quite right after my treatments. It’s a feeling that can only be described as “dry” to the nurses or “after dialysis” to my acquaintances who don’t understand hospital lingo. Since sixth grade, this has been my new normal.

My world-changing diagnosis of end-stage kidney failure — or in technical terms, Membranoproliferative Glomerulonephritis — is what prompted this drastic change during my relatively short life. Summed up in that mess of medical terminology is a contract that I was genetically destined to sign, which includes, but isn’t limited to, the following terms and conditions: years of peritoneal and hemodialysis; a failed kidney transplant; frequent nausea and headaches; and mysterious pains and aches.

Despite the rough road I’ve endured, my story isn’t a sad one. I’ve had the opportunity — dare I say, privilege — to see the world in a drastically different light than my peers. Thanks to my diagnosis, I’m a stronger, more resilient person who truly understands what it’s like to hurt and struggle. Appreciating every little thing from home cooked meals to drives around my hometown of Boston now comes naturally, and I am gifted with the ability to stop trivial matters from bothering me. Even though my illness has limited my ability to accept amazing opportunities like invitations to travel abroad, what has been life threatening to me has also, in a way, saved me. It has turned me into a voice for the voiceless, a courageous fighter who has advocated for my fellow patients through pageantry, and a “WishChild” who tells a powerful story on stage at Make-A-Wish galas.

Living without my beloved bean-shaped organs is a challenge, but not a roadblock. I find that the following quote applies to my life: “The same water that softens a potato hardens an egg.” Although being chronically ill drains large portions of my time, I have become a bolder, more empathetic person as a result. My diagnosis opened my eyes to a huge invisible community of chronically ill children, some of whom don’t share my view that our predicament is a blessing, not a curse. I plan to be an example for those just like me. I plan to prove that a life-changing diagnosis doesn’t have to hinder you. Those of us who are afflicted by them still have the potential to be just as fabulous and successful as the rest of the world. Going to college will be my next step.

-Written by Bottom Line Access Student, Isis


Bottom Line staff and students at this year’s College Expo.

Every March, college students all over the country get to step away from their studies and take a week off to relax and recuperate. For many, this conjures up images of sunny days spent on the beach. At Bottom Line, it means the time has come to attend the College Expo. Designed to give high school seniors a chance to learn more about some of the most popular colleges in the area, the Bottom Line College Expo, is similar to a college fair with some key differences: when the event is scheduled and who is invited.

Unlike a traditional college fair often held over the summer or in the fall for prospective students, we host our event mid-March once most students have some college decisions and our college students are home for break. Instead of having admissions staff tabling, we ask our college students to volunteer their time and represent their college. Students are excited to be able to give back and often talk about being at the event themselves in years past, feeling a similar anxiety and anticipation as they attempted to make a college decision.

This year, Bottom Line-MA’s College Expo was held at UMass-Boston. With over 70 student volunteers, some alumni turned staff, and lots of energy from everyone it was our most successful event thus far. Students had an opportunity to listen to a panel of college student speakers varying in years and institutions about college life in general. Then they broke out for lunch and were given an opportunity to have one-on-one conversations. Student feedback included comments like “It was a different experience hearing from actual college students then from just college administrators,” and “…after hearing everyone’s experience with college it makes me less scared of college.”

Many students are unable to visit all the colleges they are accepted to; by connecting them with students who are enrolled there and reflect their diversity, Bottom Line is able to provide some of that personalized perspective in their own backyard. As students gear up to make a college commitment by May 1st, these are the kinds of opportunities that can inform their decision making process and help them choose the colleges that best fit their needs.

-Written by Bottom Line Access Counselor, Emelda Lagos



Below is the incredible story of Bottom Line Worcester Access student, Geury.
Geury is Get In Optiona student at Boston Latin Academy. He has interned in the chambers of a federal judge and has used his free time to take advanced writing and mathematical college courses, in preparation for college. Geury is looking forward to expanding his academic horizon in the field of philosophy at Boston College, Brandeis University, Suffolk University, or Bowdoin College. Read Geury’s college essay below!

As I completed reading my first “academic novel,” my mother sat next to me. I began to grow accustomed to the convoluted words and the multi-clause sentences. Once I turned to the final page and read the final word, I looked into my mother’s eyes. She cried. With the single tear falling down her left eye, I instantly realized that in my academic journey my mother would be in the passenger seat. A few months later, it was my thirteenth birthday. On the same day, the 18th of January in 2010, I had my last conversation with my biological father.

I do not know my biological father very well. When he learned of my mother’s unanticipated pregnancy, he slowly moved out of my life—constructing an unbreakable distance from my mother and me. From the instant I inhaled oxygen, he was not around. Although many may believe that a life without a father is missing a vital component, I accepted my father’s absence as the status quo. I neither felt melancholy toward him nor euphoria. I just chose to dismiss his significance in my life.

My situation was common. Many of my friends were fatherless. Because of this, and only because of this, they felt apoplectic. This absence led them to seek conscious-altering alternatives. Needless to say, these alternatives did not include reading—an alternative that I consider to be conscious-altering enough, since, as a reader, I am exposed to a complexity and diversity of consciousness. Unlike my friends, I took the absence of my father as a bitter blessing. Because of my father’s absence, I wasn’t exposed to the common, reprehensible male view of resolving altercations physically—a view that can be extracted from my biological father. There was, and is, no indignation for him.

I am satisfied with the void in my life. Based on my experience with cousins, grandfathers, and uncles, primitive ideologies are prevalent within older, undereducated men in my culture. These are men that think the only way to live a lucrative life is by having a ninety-five mile per hour fastball. As a child, I was exposed, just as many children of color are, to different kinds of drug addicts and violent criminals making the worst choices: killing for small, insignificant altercations and constantly changing their consciousness to experience what can only be characterized by them as a good time. Oddly enough, from observing these negative decisions made by people all around me—and thanks to my mother’s guidance—I became educated on how to live a fulfilling life.

I learned from my mother, and her struggle with true poverty. This poverty is unequivocally incomparable to my current, menial poverty. My mother’s economic devastation wasn’t characterized by not having enough money to buy the new Air-Jordans; instead, my mother could not eat on a daily basis. She found herself wearing the same clothes, which were torn to pieces and were stained and had a peculiar smell that arose from a combination of perfume and sweat. But my mother was still content with her decision to emigrate from her home, the Dominican Republic, and come to this prosperous, luminous country, the United States. She was content because she hoped her children would become prosperous and, ultimately, luminous, in their own way.

I know that I will exceed my mother’s expectations. I will learn more than she can fathom; I will diversify my intellectual intake; I will develop my writing. The only reason why I will be able to do this is because she is beside me. I love her strength and beauty because she has never pushed me, but has only supported me. She is, indeed, the passenger and I am the driver.


-Written by Bottom Line Access student, Geury

With over 1,000 college applications, 5 Posse Scholars, and nearly 250 college admissions decisions thus far, Worcester students have been working endlessly to cross the finish line before the first of May.  The past few months have consisted of students meeting with their counselors to complete financial aid applications, interviews, and various scholarship applications.

February vacation was no different.  After the Hanover Scholarship event held back in November, the Access Team held its second Scholarship Party event, where students were assisted throughout the Greater Worcester Foundation Scholarship application process.  All afternoon, the resource room was active with students drafting, editing, and adding the final touches to their writing prompts.  In addition to students registering for the tedious online application, there were also many conversations held about different college visits and admission decisions that students have received.

What makes this particular scholarship so unique is that by submitting just one application, each student is considered for all scholarships which he/she is eligible for. The Greater Worcester Community Foundation awards over 350 college scholarships every spring from 130 different scholarship funds.  The foundation, which offers scholarships ranging in size from $300 to $7,000, has awarded close to $300,000 to over 200 students in the Worcester area.

-Written by Bottom Line Senior Access Counselor, Theresa Pickens

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Bottom Line students between mock interview sessions.

Crisp suits, firm handshakes, and smiles abound at the 2016 Bottom Line Go Far Forum events. The annual Go Far Forums, which take place in Boston and Worcester, provide an opportunity for Bottom Line high school seniors and college students to develop their professional skills, explore career paths, and meet regional employers looking to recruit a diverse pool of talented employees.

This month, over 375 Bottom Line students in Massachusetts braved the winter weather to practice their elevator pitches and network with local professionals at the Boston Marriott. UMASS – Boston student, Judnise Guillet, a junior studying communications, arrived eager to meet professionals in marketing and PR. “The State Street networking roundtable discussions,” a new workshop led by State Street employees, “were most valuable for me” said Guillet. “At each table a State Street employee facilitated conversations about networking topics. By the time I was done, I rotated to 4 tables. Those individuals connected me directly to so many resources. I learned how to find internship opportunities, how to be confident walking into an interview, and resume tips. I’ve been to Go Far Forums 3-4 times now since I was a high school senior, and I really appreciated this new element of the event!”

In addition to some of the new workshops presented at the Boston Go Far Forum, volunteers and partnering companies conducted mock interviews, hosted tables in a career fair, and led group discussions on relevant topics.

In Worcester, students posed for professional LinkedIn headshots and attended a career panel, which consisted of HR professionals, recruiters, and Bottom Line alumni. Jim Mack, a recruiter from UMass Medical School and participant on the Worcester Career Panel, observed that students were well prepared and engaged. He said, “What I found amazing is that many of the students who saw me walking to my vehicle outside of the DCU [after the event ended], came up and thanked me again.”

Bottom Line’s Go Far Forum events are a great chance for students to practice the employability skills they have worked so hard to develop throughout college, and to demonstrate to employers, their peers, and themselves that they have what it takes to “get in, graduate, and go far” in life.

-Written by Bottom Line Career Counselor, Cara Press


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Bottom Line student, RongRong, completes her college applications!

When walking around our office you might notice our “I Hit Submit” wall and see an array of dazzling stars decorated with students’ names. The purpose of this wall is to recognize the hard work students have put into their college application process. For the last couple of months, they have been drafting, editing, and revising essays while researching and selecting their preferred schools.

This year, students are able to choose from different colored stars and decorate them to express their individuality as they continue on the journey towards a college degree! Some students celebrate their years of high school by writing their graduation year while others write heartwarming ‘thank yous’ to their Access counselors.

Access Team Manager Aaron Canto says, “It’s always exciting to watch the wall grow throughout the weeks because you see the progress of the counselors and students growing in a tangible way. While it’s a busy season, you can see everyone’s work and the complex process that is applying to college. This is what makes it all so special.”

-Written by Salem Gebrezgi