This summer at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, Bottom Line hosted a series of Training Camps for over 400 students who will be starting at one of our target colleges in the fall. Training Camps are a day- long series of workshops to help students prepare for the transition to college in their first year. Counselor-led workshops provide students with practical academic and time management skills as well as tips on how to adjust to campus culture and take advantage of campus resources.

Training Camp also allows students to meet peers who will be attending the same colleges in the fall and to get excited about the opportunities available at college and through the Bottom Line’s Success program. See below for short interviews with Bottom Line students who attended last month’s Training Camp.

Graciela Peña graduated from Boston Latin Academy. She will be starting at Boston College in the fall.

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Graciela Peña

What are you most looking forward to about college?           

I am most excited about meeting new people from different parts of the country. I am also excited about studying abroad. I have heard the Boston College has great study abroad opportunities and I am really looking forward to taking advantage of all of the things the campus has to offer.

How has your Bottom Line counselor supported you?

Joe was a great counselor; he helped me with everything. He was very patient and motivated. He made the whole process of applying to college less stressful.

Katerine Garzon graduated from East Boston High School. She will be starting at Suffolk University in the fall.

Katerine Garzon graduated from East Boston High School. She will be starting at Suffolk University in the fall.

Katerine Garzon

What are you most looking forward to about college?

I am looking forward to graduating and receiving my diploma.

How has your Bottom Line counselor supported you?

My Bottom Line counselor was extremely helpful, he told me what paperwork I needed to complete and helped me get everything in on time. I could not have finished my applications without him!

 

Carine Barbosa graduated from Boston Community Leadership Academy. She will be starting at Fitchburg State University in the fall.

Carine Barbosa graduated from Boston Community Leadership Academy. She will be starting at Fitchburg State University in the fall.

Carine Barbosa

What are you most looking forward to about college?

I am looking forward to meeting new people and learning new things. I am also looking forward to being more independent.

How has your Bottom Line counselor supported you?

Bottom Line has supported me a lot. They really helped keep me on track and always called. Even when most of my application was complete, they still called to make sure I was following up with everything.

The end of the school year is an exciting time for Bottom Line high school students and their Access Program counselors. After several months of submitting applications, editing countless essays, and securing financial aid, we see the amazing results of our work.

“Wow! Is that it? Are we like done? I can’t believe that I’m going to college,” said one of my students as we finished discussing the next steps at her last meeting.

Another student’s parent said, “Thank you so much for helping my daughter! I don’t know how you do this job—I would be so bored, but thank you for your time and patience!”

For many students in our program, making the decision to attend college was one of the most important decisions in their lives, and it’s a decision we as counselor take seriously. For low-income, first-generation students, it’s a tremendous financial investment. One of the key things that Bottom Line values during the decision-making process is financial aid and the affordability of our student’s schools. According to the article “How Counselors Can Shape the College Plans of First-Generation Students” from The Chronicle of Higher Education, “the time counselors spent on college-going activities had a statistically significant effect…on students’ perception that college was affordable.” As organization, one of Bottom Line’s core values is responsibility, and, as counselors, we have a responsibility to assist students in making an affordable choice when choosing a college by informing them of all of their options. I’m happy to report that the majority of our students have made financially sound decisions about the school they will attend.

But, for low-income, first-generation students, getting into college is just the first step. Nationwide, only one-third of college students from these backgrounds actually graduate. Bottom Line’s Success Program prevents this by giving students who attend one of 20 regional Massachusetts colleges up to six years of one-on-one college counseling. The overwhelming majority of our students will be enrolling in the program: in Massachusetts, 89% of eligible students have attended or will attend Success Kick Offs, where they have the opportunity to learn more about the Success Program and what the services that they can expect to receive from Bottom Line during their college years.

I can remember hearing the enthusiasm and, at times, the relief of students who decided to participate in the program—they were glad to know that they could still receive Bottom Line’s help in college!

Before most of our students begin their college careers, they will be working, travelling, and/or participating in a summer bridge program at their institution. Unlike a lot of college students, our students have to work to support themselves and their families. Nonetheless, they are going to college with the hope of gaining the knowledge and capital to make their community a better place.

– Deandra Roberts, Access Program Counselor

 

Boston College Students answering questions

Boston College Students answering questions

On Saturday, March 16, Bottom Line students and staff came together for Bottom Line’s first ever College Expo!  The event was an opportunity for Bottom Line high school seniors in our Access Program to learn more about the target colleges that Bottom Line works with in our Success Program directly from our college students.  Almost 100 high school (Access) tudents attended the Expo and got to speak with more than 50 Bottom Line college (Success) tudents representing all 20 of our Massachusetts target colleges.  

Although the College Expo was an event catered toward our high school seniors, it also allowed our Success students the opportunity to give back to Bottom Line as volunteers.  The tables at the college fair were staffed by current Bottom Line Success students representing our target colleges.  The Success volunteers answered our Access students’ questions about topics ranging from majors to dorm life and housing to studying abroad and more.  The College Expo was a great opportunity for our Access students to hear more about Bottom Line target schools from other Bottom Line students that were in their shoes just a few short years ago. 

Students from Suffolk University

Students from Suffolk University

In addition to the college fair portion of the Expo, Access students had the option of attending two workshops.  The first workshop, led by Access counselors, helped students identify the important factors to consider when deciding which college to attend once they have received all of their acceptance letters.  Access counselors stressed to students the importance of visiting the colleges that have accepted them, if possible, before making their decision. 

In the other workshop, Success counselors explained how Bottom Line’s Success Program works and what students can expect should they choose to attend one of our target colleges and join Bottom Line’s Success program.  This was great for the students who attended from the West End House Boys & Girls Club in Allston who will be joining our Success Direct program.  This is an exciting new initiative for Bottom Line to recruit students from other college access programs “directly” into our Success Program.  Our goal for next year is to recruit 410 first year students from our Boston and Worcester Access programs and 115 Success Direct students from other access programs join our Success program for the 2013-2014 school year.  This workshop was a first step towards reaching our recruitment goal. 

UMass Boston table

UMass Boston table

The College Expo gave Access and Success students an opportunity to interact with one another and allowed our Access and Success staff to collaborate in the planning and execution of the event.  The College Expo highlights Bottom Line’s core values of relationships and responsibility.  Our students and staff collaborated building relationships across programs, and the students who attended the Expo gained additional knowledge to help them make a responsible college decision this spring!

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— Michaela Kinlock

Success Counselor, Boston MA

Sonia Essaibi - New York Counselor

Sonia Essaibi – New York Counselor

It’s a fun time of year to be at Bottom Line, and I know it’s just going to get better and better. Bottom Line helped over 200 New York City students put their stars on the “I HIT SUBMIT!” wall and will continue to work with them on the path to making a responsible choice of which college to attend next year.  In the midst of all this energy, we are also thinking about those students, who in just a few short months will be in our current high school seniors’ shoes. We are going to serve an additional 100 more students bringing our total to 300 high school students in the Class of 2014.

The Outreach Team has begun putting word out that we are accepting applications for the Class of 2014 in a big way. As a first-year counselor at Bottom Line, it’s been a great experience so far. We’re reaching out to school personnel with whom we already have relationships and forging new ones to expand our reach in order to help more and more eligible students. These students should live in New York City, have at least an 80 GPA, come from a low-income family, being the first generation of their family to earn a bachelor’s degree in the United States, and be U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents.

Our current high school seniors are also spreading the word by telling their junior friends. This year, we are piloting “Student Ambassadors,” seniors who will spread the word about our program to juniors at their high schools. To date, we’ve reached out to more than 25 current seniors to see who would like to be a part of this student-led outreach approach.  Then, applicants can indicate on their Bottom Line applications that they heard about our program from one of these Ambassadors. It’s a fun competition for the Ambassadors, too- whoever receives the most referrals by June 1st wins a $50 gift card!

We’ve also started doing presentations at area high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. The Outreach Team is planning to conduct over fifteen presentations across the city to publicize our program. Our goal is to talk to juniors about the services Bottom Line provides.  Additionally, we also discuss the college admissions process in general so they are better prepared as they embark on this life-directing process of college applications. Students are engaged during our presentations and ask great questions.  Students learn important milestones, for example the almost universal college decision day of May 1st. After discussing all the steps along that timeline the reactions on the students’ faces are priceless. They see themselves using our help and it shows in our numbers. We’ve just begun and we’ve already had 116 students apply!

 – Sonia Essaibi

Bottom Line – New York Counselor

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kendall blog pickIn the Boston office we have 503 high school students that Bottom Line is helping through the college admissions and financial aid processes.  Most of the high school seniors that we work with have packaged their college applications and placed their star on our “I Hit Submit!” wall.  In fact by December 21,492 of our students had completed their applications.  We have switched gears for the most part and are focusing on financial aid (ie the FAFSA and the CSS Profile).

A few of our students, however, are still in the process of applying to college.  In the case of my student, Stefani, the path to putting her star on the “I Hit Submit!” wall was a tough one.  In the fall of her senior year, difficult family circumstances caused Stefani to fall behind in school to the point where she had to postpone the college application process in order to focus on passing her high school classes.  While she would likely graduate from high school, she did not think she could go to college.  She was told by many adults in her life that that perhaps a year or two at community college after high school would be the best path for her. 

 

Not knowing this, I continued to reach out to Stefani asking her to come back to Bottom Line and to see if she wanted help applying for college.  Sometimes the most important thing I do as a Bottom Line Counselor is provide steady, positive coaching, telling my students that they can do it.

When I sent Stefani an email after winter break to ask her where she was at and when she may want to meet, she was in a completely different place.  She was no longer the overwhelmed student who had given up the dream of attending a four-year college.  She told me that her mindset had completely changed and that, despite the challenging circumstances in her life, she had started to turn things around in school and was no longer in danger of not graduating. 

 Then, she asked me if it was too late for her to apply to college.  While she was literally months behind her peers, we were able to work together and she was able to make many of her colleges February 1st deadlines.  Although her colleges’ application process has not followed the traditional route here at Bottom Line, in a few short days Stefani was finally able to put her star on our “I Hit Submit” wall – a testament to her perseverance.

– Kendall Hiedman

Boston Access Counselor

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Deb blog picSupporting students through the financial aid process has always been an integral part of Bottom Line’s services. Each January and February, counselors are busy meeting with students to submit their FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS Profiles, and sometimes additional verification materials to make sure that they secure financial aid awards from their schools.

Here in New York, though, things look a little different. There’s a state-wide college access program in which all public colleges and many private colleges participate, collectively referred to as “Opportunity Programs.” The program was developed by the state legislature in the 1960s to provide access to higher education for the “educationally and economically disadvantaged” students in New York State. The great news is that this gives many Bottom Line students the chance to be admitted to colleges where they otherwise might not get accepted to because of grades and test scores.

The other part of this process, however, is that before students can officially be admitted to one of these Opportunity Programs, they must provide financial verification to prove that they are in fact “economically disadvantaged.” For some students, this process is pretty straightforward. They get their parents’ tax forms, fill out some paperwork, and send them off.

However, for those of our students who have more complicated family situations or whose parents receive public benefits, verifying family income becomes a much more complex process. We are coaching students to compile a whole host of financial documents that they have never heard of before. We are tracking down 1099s and W-2s from agencies and employers; we are helping students find a notary to sign their non-tax filer form; we are on the phone with families to compile all sorts of legal and financial documents.  Plus, spaces in these Opportunity Programs fill up on first-come, first-serve basis, so time is of the essence.

Financial aid can often be a frustrating and time-consuming process.  More importantly, financial aid is a critical piece of our students’ future success.  When all the pieces come together after a lot of hard work, it is fulfilling to see students get accepted to great colleges and receive the financial aid they deserve.

– Deborah Steinberg

Bottom Line Counselor

New York

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An exciting report that was released on Thursday, January 17 and was featured in The Boston Globe and on WBUR. According to the report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern and commissioned by the Boston Foundation, the 6-year college graduation rate for Boston Public School graduates increased from 40% to 47% between the high school graduating classes of 2000 and 2005. In addition, college enrollment and persistence rates have increased steadily since 2000.

 

When Bottom Line was founded in 1997 here in Boston, it was because we could see that students lacked the support, guidance and preparation to succeed in college. In the 16 years since then, we have been dedicated to changing the outcomes for those students, and we have been joined in our efforts more recently by many others in the community who have also recognized this significant challenge. This report acknowledges that we have made real progress in preparing and supporting our students so they can be successful in college and beyond. From the class of 2005, nearly 7% of all BPS degree earners received Bottom Line’s support throughout college. Our guidance played a critical role in the success of those students.

 

However, for our organization and for the community as a whole, our work isn’t done.

 Even with this progress, more than half of college-enrolled BPS graduates still were unable to earn a degree in 6 years. However, we have continued to grow every year since 2005, and we will continue to expand so that we can make a real, significant impact on our students and the community moving forward. The size of our class has tripled between 2005 and 2012, and, within the next two years, we will grow to serve 450 Boston Public School graduates from each high school class year, in addition to students from the Greater Boston and Worcester areas. With this growth, we hope to play an even larger role in the progress of our students and our community moving forward.

 

Mike Wasserman

Executive Director – MA

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JohnsonGregIt is hard to believe that 2012 has come and gone.  Time flies at Bottom Line, especially at the end of the year when high school students are scrambling to send off their college applications and colleges students are wrapping up the fall semester and waiting anxiously for their grades.

I am pleased to say that in 2012, Bottom Line did our part to jumpstart the economy, adding 12 new full-time staff positions and producing 120 new college graduates. Some of the year’s other highlights include:

We launched our national support office and began to look at additional expansion opportunities.

Our New York office doubled in size from 4 to 8 staff and served more than 300 students in just our second year.

In September we kicked off a $5 million growth campaign in Boston and announced a $2.5 million dollar gift from the Grand Circle Foundation. Inside of 5 years, we expect to reach virtually every eligible high school and college student in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury and provide them with Bottom Line’s one-on-one support.

We continued to refine our College Success program model and curriculum to ensure the highest level effectiveness and lead the national dialogue.

At Bottom Line, every year has been bigger and better than the last and we expect this to be true again in 2013.

  • Our NY office will once again double in size – growing from 8 to 16 employees.
  • We plan to open a second Boston location in Dorchester, MA to make it even more convenient for all Boston students who want access to our support.
  • We expect at least 160 new college graduates by Summer 2013.

As the year winds down, with few exceptions, we see very little movement on the national scene that would make our work unnecessary.  While there is constant rhetoric about making college accessible and affordable and ensuring more students graduate, the systems that surround higher education are very slow to change.  College costs continue to rise, student to counselor ratios remain ridiculously high and colleges rarely recognize that that the bureaucracies they have in place don’t yet serve the first-generation, low-income students who they enroll.

So Bottom Line must grow- we must continue to be available to serve the students who need us, and we must spread the word that there is another way.  High-quality, relationship-based advising can steer disadvantaged students towards the finish line and help build their impoverished communities that are so desperate for our help.

– Greg Johnson

CEO, Bottom Line

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Here in New York, our counselors have the opportunity of working with both our high students in our College Access Program and our college students in the College Success Program.  December is a stressful time for all of our students, and as counselors, we are charged with helping them see that their hard work will help achieve an end goal – whether that is submitting their college applications or excelling on finals.

 

Many of our college students are nervous and stressed out about final exams, unsure of exactly what to expect and eager to end the semester on a positive note. After Thanksgiving we have ventured to all our campuses to meet our students for “Finals Prep,” where we gather information about upcoming finals and create a study plan unique to each class. Ideally, our students leave these meetings knowing exactly what stands between them and the end of the semester, and have a detailed calendar and plan on how to excel on their exams. Because of Hurricane Sandy’s visit, these meetings are especially crucial since our students must seek out information about finals that have changed due to their impromptu week off from school.

 

New York Counselor Victoria Hulit with studentsMeanwhile, as we are prepping our college students for their finals, we are also helping our high school students submit all of their college applications! These “Packaging” meetings are an exciting and stressful time for our students. We reassure them that they will get into college and their essays are perfect. Coaching students to press the “submit” button is often a process that requires patience and encouragement – clicking that one button changes each student’s life trajectory. The smile on our students’ faces as they hang up their star on the “I Hit Submit” wall is worth every second of essay editing or common app review. Some of our students are already receiving acceptance letters. These letters are confirmation that their hard work was worth it and bring further excitement that their dreams of being the first in their family to attend college are becoming a reality.

 

Visiting our college students on campus gives the counselors in NY an inside perspective on many of the colleges on our high school students’ lists. This information helps us provide our access students with more detail about the student experience at each school, and ultimately informs where we encourage students to apply and attend.

-Victoria Hulit

Bottom Line Counselor, New York

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Bottom Line prides itself on being proactive about the services that we provide to our students.  Our goal is to empower staff at Bottom Line to think critically about our services using the data we collect during the school year. We want to ensure we are supporting our students in the best possible way.  This past spring, Worcester College Access Program Manager Michelle Easton took a closer look at our students’ financial aid data.  Michelle was curious to see how the decisions a high school senior makes regarding financial aid impacts their likelihood of graduating from college.  The result is our first Annual Interesting Report (AIR for short).

An excerpt from our first Annual Interesting Report:

“Financial aid can make or break a college education.  Despite having the best grades and work ethic, a student who is unable to pay for college will be unable to continue their education.  This seems so obvious, and yet many of the students we work with at Bottom Line struggle to fund their education.  Many of our students and their families try their hardest to make college a reality, but are often unable to sustain such great expenses year after year.  In order to best advise our high school students in their final college choices, I wanted to dig deeper and fully understand how financial aid impacts our students.  In the spring of 2012, I sifted through our data to analyze over 130 students’ financial aid outcomes, and confirmed that financial hardship had a significant, negative impact on college graduation rates.”

The complete report is available here: 2012 Winter AIR – What Effect Does Financial Aid Have on College Graduation Rates

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