Bottom Line – Chicago’s Margy Brill shares her perspective on integrating data into student counseling.


When you think about technology in the context of college access and persistence, a new platform or an app may come to mind. At Bottom Line, we see technology as less of a stand-alone solution and more of a tool that facilitates collecting and analyzing data to help low income, first generation students get into college, graduate from college, and go far in life. Harnessing technology to create carefully monitored data-driven outcomes is central to our DEAL curriculum for college persistence. As a result, it was an enormous honor for College Board President David Coleman to announce Bottom Line as the Personalized Learning Award of Excellence recipient at the National College Access Network (NCAN) 20th Anniversary National Conference based on our data-driven DEAL model.

One person beaming from the audience while Bottom Line Chief Operating Officer Greg Johnson accepted the award was Chicago Senior Success Counselor Margy Brill. A two-year Bottom Line veteran, Margy counseled students in Bottom Line’s Worcester office before joining the founding Bottom Line – Chicago team. “Our DEAL model isn’t rocket science, but it’s how we as an organization have held our counselors and staff accountable for measuring and achieving very strong college persistence outcomes with our students,” Margy said, reflecting on the significance of NCAN recognizing Bottom Line’s approach to ensuring college persistence.

Of course, BoMargy and Justin, NCAN September 2015ttom Line’s participation in the NCAN conference wasn’t limited to the awards ceremony. Margy delivered a presentation called Power In Numbers along with Justin Strasburger, Bottom Line’s National Success Program Director. The session focused on using data to make informed decisions and drive results for student success.

“We want organizations to make sure that their programs are actually working, and the best way to do this is to effectively and efficiently measure, collect, and analyze data.”

Since joining Bottom Line in July 2013, Margy has used data to determine if students are on track to graduate and go far in a way that provides a high level of organizational accountability. On a day-to-day basis, for Margy that means meeting and talking with students, documenting those interactions, and monitoring outcomes. “Through this process I can ensure that I prioritize contacting students who are facing the most challenges. Using data also helps me be more efficient, which in turn increases my capacity to serve my students better.”

After a year of helping low income, first generation college students in Chicago, the Kalamazoo College alumna is proud of the progress that the Chicago team has made. Many of the higher education administrators Margy had initial conversations with a year ago were surprised by how much data Bottom Line counselors track and measure for each individual student. “One specific question I remember getting a lot was how we were able to keep students engaged with our program. Administrators kept wondering what kind of incentives we gave our students, such as a scholarship. When we explained the level of in-person, individualized support we have the capacity to give each student, they were able to see how we’re able to help students and maintain strong relationships with them without incentives.”

We believe that this intensive, one-on-one approach delivered by our full-time, trained counselors makes all the difference. In Chicago, it already has. Last year, 100% of our inaugural class of high school seniors in the Access program were accepted into college. 97% were accepted to a 4-year college compared to 29% of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, according to a report released from the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago in December 2014. In the Success program, 96% our first cohort of college freshmen persisted into their second year of college. Nationally, 84% of students in Bottom Line’s Success program graduate from college in 6 years or less, which is more than four times the 14% college graduation rate for CPS students.

Bottom Line – Chicago’s inaugural 2014-2015 class of over 150 low income, first generation students came from 70 Chicago high schools and 50 different neighborhoods. During our second year in Chicago, we have more than doubled the students served to almost 350 with ambitious plans to serve over 2,500 Chicago students by 2020.

2015 Worcester Send Off - Worcester State Students

Bottom Line Worcester students at The Hanover Insurance Group

Two hundred and sixty-five students were celebrated and supported at Bottom Line’s Success Send Offs this August.

Students attending Central or Western Massachusetts schools were celebrated with an open space perfect for group activities at The Hanover Insurance Group, who hosted the event. Paul Belsito, VP of Community Engagement at Hanover, welcomed students to the space. Linda St. John introduced Dr. Melinda Boone, Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools, who gave a powerful speech about the college transition. Bottom Line Alumna and current Success Counselor, Abena Mensah, also offered encouraging words of advice to incoming first-year students, urging them to take advantage of opportunities on campus, reach out for support, and be intentional about their time in college. She drove home her key point by explaining that students “have a different level of responsibility now, and even though you should try your best to enjoy the ride, make sure that at the end of your college journey, there are major professional and academic successes you can be proud of.”

Bottom Line Northeastern students at Boston’s Success Send-Off

Students going to schools in the Boston area were greeted with views of the Boston Main Channel, sailboats, and a room adorned in teal and white balloons, all provided by Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Bottom Line Executive Director Mike Wasserman introduced Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, M.D., Ph.D. Chairman, President and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, who gave an eye-opening speech on “beliefs, feelings, and the Truth with a capital T,” imploring students to search for their own personal Truth in college. He was followed by Dr. Tommy Chang, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools and Martin Meehan, President of the University of Massachusetts System. Bottom Line Alumna and Board Member Christal Fenton-Fortes, who recounted her college experience as a tale for going forward, wrapped up the night’s speeches.

Students at both events built connections with peers, mingled through games, and developed school pride by creating chants and cheers. Another great success!

Written by Lindsay Hough, Bottom Line Success Counselor

Over the past 10 years it’s become clear that the work to increase the public high school graduation rates and lower drop-out rates has had an impact, as 80% of students from the high school class of 2012 earned their diploma as the US Dept. of Education reported in their April 2014 report. However, these improvements have not translated to college success for students from low-income households. For almost 40 years the college graduation rate for low-income students has remained flat at about 20%.

Bottom Line has been squarely focused on the issues of college access and success for low-income students for almost twenty years. We know that the solution to improving the college success rate for low-income students won’t come easily. We are pleased to see more attention being paid to the disparity between the “Rich and the Poor”, as in this week’s Wall Street Journal article, Big Gap in College Graduation Rates for Rich and Poor, and the recent study, Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States published by the University of Pennsylvania and the Pell Institute for Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

As with the improvement of the national public high school graduation rates, the factors that relate to college success are complex. There is no quick fix or low-cost intervention that will solve the problem. However, we have identified one key differentiator that we believe leads to long-term college success and that is the importance of having an experienced family member, mentor or counselor to whom students can turn to when faced with a challenge.

Through nearly two decades of work supporting students through college, we have learned that virtually all of the challenges faced by low-income college students fall in to four categories:  Academics, Career Development, Affordability, and Social/Emotional.  Our DEAL Model for college success is built around this framework. When students are faced with challenges from one or more of these categories, they need a trusted resource to provide guidance, and a strategy as they work to overcome the challenges they face. Bottom Line can be that resource for some or many of those students, but we need a national investment of time, talent and resources to help.

Questions? Thoughts? Share them with us here!  


As the fall semester comes to a close, Bottom Line-New York counselors are finishing up their final round of on-campus meetings to help students prepare for their finals. Read below for an account of the process and what it means to our staff and our students from one of our Success counselors, Courtney Ng:

“How are you?” I ask Kelly. Those three words, as common as they may be in daily life, mean something to our students. They know that when we ask them, we ask earnestly, seeking to help.

“Overwhelmed,” she answers, “there’s just so much to do.”

Her response is why I’m there. For the past three weeks, Bottom Line-New York counselors have been traveling to campuses all across the State to help students develop a solid plan to prepare for their upcoming final exams, papers, and projects. For our students, finals are the last opportunity to give their grades a boost. But finals prep, like all of the services we provide students, is important for a larger purpose – it’s an opportunity to help students strengthen the skills and traits they can carry with them long into the future.

A color-coded finals prep calendar

A color-coded finals prep calendar

In a finals prep meeting, we guide students through creating a calendar to map out their plans to prepare for finals. On a basic level, the act of calendaring when finals will take place helps students think about managing their time. Realizing they have three finals in two days triggers them to think about when they will have time to study and to consider starting to study sooner, if not right away. The meeting also challenges them to think about how they will study, taking into consideration the practices that have or have not been useful throughout the semester. For example, we often talk to students about how reading over notes is a passive form of studying, whereas making a study guide that synthesizes key ideas and facts is an active way to internalize information.

For some students, finals prep is a prime opportunity to talk about using their resources   and seeking out help when they need it. We guide them to this realization by asking specific questions about their finals: what topics will be on exams, how comfortable they feel with the material, and whether they understand why they might not have performed well previously in the semester. If they are unsure of the answers, we nudge them. Ask your professors. Sign up for tutoring. Make an appointment at the writing center. Where can you get the help you need? When will you get it? In asking these questions, we challenge students to take responsibility for their own success and remind them that if they struggle, they don’t have to do so alone. We wish for students to walk away with more than a colorful roadmap for finals prep, but with the skills and confidence to guide them through the numerous obstacles to come later in life.

At the end of that 45-minute planning session, I often ask students how they feel now that they have a plan. Relieved, some say, that they now know what they need to do. Scared, say others, that things won’t go according to plan. You’re right, I tell them, they probably won’t.

In that moment, finals prep opens a conversation about a skill we value deeply at Bottom Line-New York: flexibility. We know that students won’t walk away and follow their plans to a tee. We know that distractions will arise and students will fall off track. This reality, I reassure them, is an opportunity to embrace a valuable life lesson, that even the best laid plans have to be reworked at some point. And when they do, when you need help, we are at the other end of the phone, ready to ask those same three words.


This year, Bottom Line-New York placed 50 of our college students in summer internships at a variety of corporate and non-profit partners. Internships provide a unique opportunity for our students to develop professional skills and build their professional networks. All of the internships were paid or subsidized by generous funders. We’re so grateful to each of the companies and organizations that made this possible, including: BRIC, Children’s Law Center, Citizen Schools, The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Community Voices Heard, Hot Bread Kitchen, iMentor, The Innocence Project, The Jed Foundation, The Jewish Museum, JUMA Ventures, Methodist Hospital, New Teacher Center, Partnership for After School Education (PASE), People.Co, Safe Horizon, Sapient, Start Elevator, and Viacom.

Below, Kassandra Rosales, a rising third-year student at SUNY Albany, explains what she did this summer and what she learned from her time at Sapient, one of Bottom Line’s corporate partners.

Kassandra 1

Kassandra Rosales interned at Sapient, one of Bottom Line’s corporate partners.

Name:  Kassandra Rosales

College: SUNY Albany

College Year: Third

Tell us about Sapient and what you worked on there this summer:

Sapient is a consulting firm that works with other companies like tech companies, retail companies, car companies, banks, etc. They help them develop strategies in order to improve their company’s performance – now or 5 years from now.

For my first project, I worked on the finance team. I was inputting data from media plans, contracts and invoices into “wrap-up sheets” for Sapient’s clients. This allowed Sapient to keep track of how much they were paid and how much they spent for each client. If Sapient used less than the amount in the contract, the company could decide if they wanted that balance back or to use it for another project.

For my second project, I worked in the talent department. I used their talent databases to input information about each candidate and feedback from any interviews. I also did research to find recruiting agencies that focused on the specific careers that Sapient was looking to hire for.

What were the 2-3 skills that were most important for your work this summer?

First, I needed communication skills. There were a lot of things that were new to me so I had to communicate with my supervisor if I didn’t understand something or wanted to be sure that I was doing the work correctly. We had meetings every few days to check in on my progress.

Second, I became a lot more familiar with Excel. Most of my work was done on Excel, and I didn’t have a lot of experience with it before this internship.

Third, I needed researching skills. I learned a lot about where to look, the importance of knowing what specifically I’m looking for, and how to pull out key information when doing research.

What was the best part of your time at Sapient? Biggest challenge you faced?

I really enjoyed the finance work and meeting the employees at Sapient. There were all really nice and I loved hearing about how they got to where they are. For instance, maybe they majored in something totally different than what they do at Sapient. I also enjoyed being in a corporate environment because I’ve worked in schools and non-profits before.

My biggest challenge was a specific assignment – the research project. I hadn’t done a lot of research prior to this job and wanted to make sure that I was completing the project correctly. I spoke with Angela, my manager, before I started the work and she helped me break it down and set up a spreadsheet to organize the information that I was finding. Then I would check-in a few times during the project to make sure I was on the right track. Another Bottom Line intern was doing similar work, so I was able to talk to her as well.

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would spend more time getting to know people on different teams at Sapient and learn more about what they do. I feel like I didn’t network as much as I wanted to and so I’d do that more next time around.

Any advice for students who are starting to think about internships for next summer?

Definitely do research on the companies that you would like to intern for, talk to peers who might know more about the companies, and practice your communication and Excel skills now. And, when you’re looking into jobs, be open-minded and flexible.

Nearly 100% of Bottom Line high school seniors from Boston and Worcester have been accepted to college and more than two-thirds of these students will be attending one of our Success colleges.

In the interview below, Tommy Suen, a current senior at the John D. O’Bryant High School in Boston, explains how his Bottom Line counselor, Laura, helped him get into college and why he’s looking forward to having Bottom Line’s support once he starts college in the fall.


Tommy and his Bottom Line Counselor, Laura

Name: Tommy Suen
High School: John D. O’Bryant
College Attending: Boston University

Why did you apply to Bottom Line last spring?

My older brother was a Bottom Line student, so from the time I was a freshman in high school he kept telling me that I had to sign up for Bottom Line. He would say, “if it weren’t for Bottom Line, I never would have gotten into college,” so I always knew how important it would be to have Bottom Line’s help applying to college. I also knew I wouldn’t have a lot of help navigating the application process at home. My mom really wanted me to go to college, but she had never been through the process before.

Can you describe how your Bottom Line counselor, Laura, supported you this year?

Laura was a huge help! It made a huge difference to be able to have individualized support throughout the application process. For a long time, I thought that I was Laura’s only student. I was shocked to learn that she was actually working with fifty other students like me; she was just always available to help me.

When I first started the college application process I struggled a lot with organization. There are so many things to remember and I was having a particularly hard time writing my college essay. Laura really helped me organize my thoughts and after several drafts I emerged with a college essay I was really proud of. She also helped me analyze my financial aid award letters and helped me choose a school that was both affordable and a good fit. Laura always went above and beyond, she even helped me get the part-time job I have working at Bottom Line’s front desk. I have worked at Bottom Line for a year, and I have noticed that all of the counselors really go above and beyond to help support students.

May 1st was College Decision Day. Where will you be attending college next year? How did you feel when you found out you got into college?

I applied to nine colleges and I was so nervous that I wouldn’t get in anywhere. I was so excited and relieved when I found out that I had been accepted to my first choice, Boston University and it would be affordable for me to go there. It was so rewarding to have all of my hard work from high school pay off in that moment.

That must be a relief! How are you and your family feeling about college now?

I am the youngest in my family and my mom worried a lot about whether or not I would get into college. She was so proud of me when she found out I had been accepted to Boston University that she dropped everything she was doing and took me out to eat in order to celebrate. Both of my brothers went to Boston University, so they are very excited to have the legacy carried on.

Are you excited about staying connected to Bottom Line? What are you looking forward to the most next year?

Yes! I am looking forward to staying connected to Bottom Line and having a counselor visit me on campus. Living away from home for the first time and having to manage my own schedule is going to be a huge transition. I am pretty nervous about balancing everything next year, but it makes me feel better knowing that Bottom Line will continue to be there for me. I am really looking forward to meeting new people on campus and taking classes in business, accounting and finance.

What would you tell a high school student who is just starting the college application process with Bottom Line?

Don’t take your Bottom Line counselor for granted. Listen to your counselor’s advice and be prepared to edit your college essay several times. Oh, also, your Bottom Line counselor works with 49 other students, but you would never know it.


This month Bottom Line – MA hosted Go Far Forum events in Boston and Worcester. More than 300 college students and graduates from Boston and 200 local professionals gathered at the Westin Copley Place Hotel to participate in Bottom Line’s sixth annual Go Far Forum on January 9th. Lead event sponsors of the Boston Go Far Forum were Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Boston Children’s Hospital, iRobot, Liberty Mutual, and Sun Life Financial. In total, 29 companies, nonprofits, and professional associations had exhibitions at the event. The event also featured a keynote speech by George Foreman III, owner of The Club, boxer, and son of former heavyweight champion boxer George Foreman. Mr. Foreman spoke to students about how to stand out professionally and the importance of building your brand.


Boston Go Far Forum Keynote Speaker George Foreman III conducts a mock interview

Bottom Line Worcester hosted their Go Far Forum at the DCU Center on January 7th with more than 100 Worcester college students, graduates, and local professionals in attendance. Hanover Insurance Group, Worcester’s second-largest employer, served as the lead sponsor of the event. Staples and UMass Memorial Healthcare provided supporting sponsorships. In total, 18 companies and nonprofits were in attendance.

Bottom Line students and Hanover Employees

Students speak to Hanover Insurance employees at the Worcester Go Far Forum

Students at both events participated in mock interviews with volunteer professionals, attended roundtable discussions with human resource professionals, listened to job search panels, and met with representatives from companies and professional organizations at a career fair.

“The Go Far Forum has motivated me to continue working hard in school in order to become a successful person in the future. The mock interviews made me feel confident about the skills I have and helped me prioritize the experiences I will need in order to accomplish my goals,” said Bottom Line student Richard Gonzalez.

The Go Far Forum provides students with an exciting opportunity to explore different career paths, gain professional skills and network with experts in their field.


Bottom Line students at the Go Far Forum in Boston

Click here to learn more about Bottom Line – New York’s recent Go Far Forum event.

On January 9th, nearly 100 of our college students and over 50 volunteers attended Bottom Line-New York’s Third Annual Go Far Forum. Students had the opportunity to work one-on-one with volunteers to edit their resumés, learn from a variety of professionals about their career paths, and practice their networking skills. Below are three of our students’ reflections on the event and what action the Go Far Forum has inspired each of them to take:

  IMG_2254Name: Taiwo Akande

  College: Brooklyn College

  Graduation Year: 2015

  Career Interests: Lawyer, but now I’m also thinking about other careers after this year’s Go Far Forum

What was your favorite career roundtable and why? The Law and Criminal Justice roundtable was my   favorite. Cristina (a Bottom Line – Massachusetts alum) was a volunteer on the roundtable who stood out to me in  particular. I talked to her one-on-one after the roundtable and appreciated how honest she was with me about  the  good and bad parts of entering the legal field.

What’s one piece of professional advice that you learned at the Go Far Forum? Everyone that I communicated with advised me not to focus solely on the job field that applies most closely to my major. They encouraged me not to limit my options. I used to think that with my Political Science major all that I could do was go into politics; the volunteers helped me open my mind to new ideas.

One next step that I’m planning to take after the Go Far Forum: Cristina encouraged me to start practicing for the LSATs if I really want to go to law school right after undergrad. She told me about a great summer program and I’m planning to apply.


IMG_2396  Name:  Randa Naim

  College: College of Staten Island

  Graduation Year: 2017

  Career Interests: Undecided, but I’m studying electrical engineering right now.

What was your favorite career roundtable and why? I really liked the business roundtable because it was pretty inspirational. There was a volunteer from Nickelodeon and he was telling us about the business of getting stars to sign contracts. I found that really interesting because when you watch Nickelodeon you think about Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants, but Joel showed us that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

What’s one piece of professional advice that you learned at the Go Far Forum? There was a volunteer from Canon during the networking time who reminded us to keep reaching out. He said that it’s good that we’re starting early by going to the Go Far Forum, but that we should reach out and not limit ourselves. We should go for lots of internships and get lots of experience while we’re young.

One next step that I’m planning to take after the Go Far ForumI was already applying to some internships and fellowships, so now I’m definitely going to finish those applications.


IMG_2350  Name: Tiffany Acevedo

  College: SUNY Albany

  Graduation Year: 2017

  Career Interests: I definitely want to go to law school, but I’m not sure specifically what I want to study – possibly international business.

What was your favorite career roundtable and why? I enjoyed the law and criminal justice roundtable because I really liked that one of the panelists, Adi, said that if you want to go to law school, you don’t have to major in anything specific; you can study what interests you in college and law school will help you with the legal stuff.

What’s one piece of professional advice that you learned at the Go Far Forum? When you’re having professional conversations, there is never a negative attitude. When professionals were speaking to us, they treated us like adults and not just college students. That made me feel really good about myself.

One next step that I’m planning to take after the Go Far ForumI’m  going to attend more networking events because something good always comes out of them. You could meet someone who will have opportunities that you can take advantage of in the future or you could learn a new piece of advice.

254010_1969952601386_1020090013_2239148_8339064_nMirjola Adhami is a consultant at Sun Life Financial in their Rotational Leadership Development Program. Mirjola is in her third rotation at Sun Life, having worked in HR as a recruiter, in sales as a distribution consultant, and now in investments.

Mirjola came to Bottom Line from Another Course to College High School. Bottom Line helped her GET IN to Tufts, GRADUATE debt- free by connecting her to scholarship programs, and GO FAR by introducing her to Bottom Line partner, Sun Life Financial.

Eleven years ago, Mirjola moved to the United States from Albania with her family. She moved here with very little knowledge about American life, but found plenty of support from some very special people and organizations, one of which was Bottom Line.

High School: Another Course to College

College: Tufts University

Graduation Year: 2011

Job: Sun Life Financial, Rotational Consultant

Bottom Line Memory: Selectively picking and eating jolly ranchers by the front desk.

If I could send a care package, I’d fill it with: Almonds, peanuts (yay healthy snacks!), Purell, post-its and stress balls (for finals!).

Why I stay involved with Bottom Line: I cannot talk about my success and achievements without talking about Bottom Line. The only way I can thank Bottom Line is by staying involved and helping other students succeed.

People would be surprised to learn that I used to: listen to the BBC to learn English when I was growing up in Albania.

The BEST part of being a college graduate is: a) you make money, b) you are in the privileged minority of college graduates – use it!

The HARDEST part about being a college graduate is: Not having as much free time to focus on activities that interest you outside of work.

Join me in supporting Bottom Line by assembling care packages at the Bottom Line office and by making a financial contribution to Bottom Line. Remember to have your donations matched by your company!



Richardson, Abigail 3Abi Richardson has her Bachelor’s in Business Administration in Marketing from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Abi was born and raised in Boston and is committed to giving back to the community. Her goals vary from expanding her brand Vers Clothing (Very Easily Redefining Style) to assisting at distribution events in Honduras giving children and adults their first pair of sneakers. Abi enjoys collecting sneakers and is actively involved within sneaker culture.

High School: Boston Latin Academy

College: UMass Amherst

Graduation Year: 2013

Job(s): President at Vers Clothing; Director of Programming for Sneakers4Success; Gas Sales and Marketing for NSTAR

Bottom Line Memory:

I appreciate all the assistance Bottom Line has provided for me while I was in college, but choosing a college was the difficult part. I honestly didn’t want to go to college. I remember speaking to Sarah Hedges as a high school student about not really knowing what was next in my life. She helped me visualize what my future could be and helped me to recognize that college would give me more options for my future. She explained to me how helpful Bottom Line would be throughout my journey in college. I instantly felt welcomed and incredibly appreciative.

If I could send a care package, I’d fill it with:

Now that’s easy. I’d fill it with my brand Vers Clothing of course. Don’t get me wrong, getting candy is awesome. But candy AND a tee shirt?? That would be crazy. One day…

Why I stay involved with Bottom Line:

I know I didn’t get to where I am today by myself. It’s important for me to give back to programs that have stuck by my side. There are so many ways to give back to our community, the only problem was choosing one (or two, or three). I appreciated every thing Bottom Line has done for me – from sending me care packages to providing mentoring.

People would be surprised to learn that I used to:

Only have two pair of sneakers. I remember having my all white and my all black pair of Nike Air Forces Ones.

The BEST part of being a college graduate is:

Having the freedom to do absolutely whatever I want with my time. I don’t have to wake up for class anymore or worry about if my homework is finished. I don’t read a syllabus anymore to guide me along each semester. The best part is using everything I’ve learned and applying it to whatever I love to do.

The HARDEST part about being a college graduate is:

Actually deciding what to do with all this free time. There are so many careers to choose from, events to attend and opportunities to volunteer. There’s a lot of pressure to hurry and a find a job right after college but I believe we all have our own path to whatever we define as success.

Join me in supporting Bottom Line by…

Volunteering to build care packages, attending the annual alumni Success Celebration and maybe being part of the Success Celebration committee and donating a care package!