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.

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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 winter, Bottom Line-New York counselors have already helped over 250 of our high school students submit their financial aid applications. Financial aid can be daunting for any student – there are many steps in the process, with various tax documents and specific forms needed along the way. For perspective on some of the financial aid challenges that one student encountered and the ways that she worked with her Bottom Line counselor to overcome them, read Valeria’s account below.

Jonathan-Valeria#1  Name:  Valeria Inamagua

  High School: Talent Unlimited HS

  Number of Colleges Applied To: 17

  Top Choices: SUNY Stonybrook, Syracuse, and Swarthmore

  Why did you apply to Bottom Line last spring?

My mother wanted to help me with college applications, but she cannot because she didn’t go through the process herself and she doesn’t speak English. When I heard about Bottom Line, I immediately wanted to join. In the future, I want to be a role model for my younger sister, both by going to college and by helping her when she starts applying for college.

What was the hardest or most surprising part about the financial aid process so far?

My father doesn’t live with us and so I had to keep reaching out to ask him for information. I didn’t realize that colleges were going to ask for that, but they did and it was challenging. On top of that, I kept getting different requests for different forms from different schools in addition to the FAFSA and CSS.

What’s one way that your BL counselor has helped you with financial aid?

Jonathan went through the details in each application and each form. He didn’t just tell me what to write; he explained what each form meant and why they were asking for this information. I feel like it’s important that students know what they’re filling out. It’s going to pop up in the future and I need to know what to do after this year.

One piece of advice for students currently filling out financial aid:

To have all important documents ready in advance (even the ones that you don’t think they’ll ask for), so that you can input the information all at one time.

This winter, Bottom Line – NY counselors have already helped 191 of our 300 high school seniors complete nearly 3,000 college applications. As our wall continues to fill up with stars for students who’ve hit the submit button, we wanted to share one student’s story of her college application process below.

Tiffany Rosario 1 Name: Tiffany Rosario

High School: High School of Arts and Technology

How many colleges did you apply to?  I applied to
nineteen.

What is your first choice and why?

My first choice is NYU. I’m interested in going there because it has so much of what I look for in a college. It’s in the City, plus it has good undergrad and graduate programs. I also am interested in the community service opportunities and the emphasis on studying abroad. It’s one of my reach schools, though!

When I go to college I want to major in either political science or creative writing. I really like writing and things in the English field. After college, I want to be either a lawyer or maybe even a judge. I know that NYU has a great law school, too.

How did your Bottom Line counselor help you with the college application process?

The process wasn’t something that I was expecting. We started off by making a college list, even though I already had my own list in mind. My personal list only had colleges that were really hard to get into. When we made our college list together, I told my Bottom Line counselor, Christine, that I didn’t want some of the schools that she listed. She explained to me why she put certain schools on my list and reminded me that it’s important to have a balanced list of colleges so I have some options if I don’t get into the schools I want.

After that, I started applying to schools. I thought the college application process was going to be harder before I came to Bottom Line, but I really liked how Christine narrowed everything down into deadlines and helped me figure out what I needed to do and when. She reminded me when all of my supplements and applications were due and helped me create to-do lists to make sure that I got everything done on time. If I was the only one looking at the applications, I might have missed some things. I thought I was organized, but Christine is one of the most organized people I know!

What has been the most challenging part of the application process?

I guess the hardest part was coming up with an idea for all of the essays I had to complete for all of the supplements. I have a few things on my resume that I could talk about, so I needed to figure out what to highlight for each school and what to focus on. Also, I felt like my Common App essay had to be perfect because every college was going to see it. I ended up writing three different Common App essays.

What have you learned from the college application process so far?

I learned that you have to be able to put yourself at the table. If you want someone at a college to know who you really are, you need to put as much detail into an application as possible to increase your chances of getting in somewhere since they might not meet you in person.

What do you plan to do this winter and spring to help make sure you are ready for college next fall?

I’ve already talked with Christine about the need to fill out my financial aid forms and get information from my family to apply for scholarships and to fill out the FAFSA. The earlier you apply for some of these scholarships, the more you get.

What are you most excited about for college?

I’m excited about so many things! I’m excited to meet new people, to get to choose my own classes, to learn more about topics that I didn’t get to learn about in high school, and to be independent. I’ve gone to programs at colleges for 2 or 3 weeks in the summer before, so I know a little bit about what it’s like already.

Success Counselor Ali Lincoln and her student, Robert

Senior Success Counselor Ali Lincoln and her student, Robert

It’s financial aid renewal season for Bottom Line Success counselors, and as many of our first-year students are finding out, it’s something that happens every year of college. Initially, it seems like a piece of cake, since there’s only one school to worry about instead of the ten schools they applied to last year.  However, financial aid renewal is a multi-step process for most of our students that typically drags on throughout the whole semester. Even within the same school, some students have different requirements, and my email inbox has been steadily filling with panicked messages about missing documents, requirements that have already been fulfilled (or so a student thought), and upcoming deadlines.

Counselors start by looking at deadlines for each school that they work with, and make sure to schedule time to help students file their initial FAFSA before each deadline. Essentially, resubmitting information from the current school year’s Student Aid Report shows intent to attend and receive aid the following school year.  Schools want to ensure that each student receives the aid that they deserve and they each decide how the student proves their income.  The school may require an online or paper form sent, a tax transcript submitted, CSS Profile, or IDOC be completed to confirm income.  Accordingly, Bottom Line counselors review these ever-changing financial aid applications with our students.

After students and their households have received 2012 W2s, 1099s, and filed their taxes, counselors help students update their FAFSAs. Students may be selected for a process called verification, and be required to submit additional forms, their passport, or tax transcripts. Some students are able to use the Data Retrieval Tool, which directly links tax information from the IRS to the FAFSA. Not every student can use this, and then they need to request tax transcripts online, over the phone, or in person. Often, the deadlines for these follow-up steps aren’t as clear as the priority financial aid deadline at a school, but delays in these steps can severely affect a student’s aid for the following year.

Financial aid renewal is an intimidating process; missing a step or turning in something late jeopardizes a student’s ability to pay for school. Bottom Line counselors diligently help students through every step of this long, annual process, and we’re also working to help our students become better self advocates and take on more personal responsibility when it comes to financial aid. We’re helping them stay on top of deadlines, coaching them through calls with financial aid, showing them where to find the forms they need and how to fill them out, and following up to make sure that all of their questions are answered. It’s a lot of work, but staying in school and on track to graduate is a great motivator!

– Ali Lincoln

Senior Success Counselor – Worcester, MA

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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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Sarah Place – Director of Curriculum & Training

In a recent Education Week blog article, “Community College Transfers Often Do Well at 4-Year Institutions,” author Caralee Adams cites positive data from the National Student Clearinghouse regarding the success rates of students obtaining BA degrees after transferring from two-year colleges.  This report states that “In the 2010-11 academic year, 45 percentof all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution had previously enrolled at a two-year institution.”

I must admit that I was surprised to find such a successful rate of transfer students in this report; throughout my 6 years of experience working with low-income and first-generation students in Massachusetts, I have not witnessed the same result for students who begin their education at a two-year institution.  Out of the hundreds of students I have worked with at Bottom Line, I can count on one hand the number who have successfully transferred from a community college and received a bachelor’s degree within six years–so these students are the exception, not the rule.

In order for students to transfer to a four-year college, they must be successful at the start of their two-year college experience, and this is often not the  case. Getting to the Finish Line: College Enrollment and Graduation, a report by the Boston Private Industry Council and Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies that tracks graduation data from the Boston Public High Schools’ Class of 2000, found that only 12.5% of students who enrolled in a two-year public college directly after high school obtained any kind of college degree within seven years. With this rate, it’s no surprise that counselors and college professionals are hesitant to recommend starting the college experience at a two-year institution.

Massachusetts ranks 47th on the National Student Clearinghouse’s report with only 23% of four-year college graduates getting their start at a two-year institution.  While there may be a variety of reasons for this, in my experience, students in MA often have a negative association with attending a two-year college that doesn’t as appear to be a prevalent in a states like Texas, where 78% of four-year college graduates start out at a two-year school.  The students in our program that enroll at a community college are usually doing so because they did not get accepted anywhere else and are often discouraged before they begin due to the stigma and low graduation rates at many of these institutions.

Nonetheless, it makes a lot of sense for certain students to start off at a community college.  Ideally, these schools offer an affordable option for students needing remedial academic support, and a safe place for students to explore whether or not college is the right path for them.  Financially, a student can complete general education requirements at a community college for around  $4,000 per year and it can be covered by a Pell Grant. Academically, students unprepared for Bachelor’s degree level coursework are better off beginning their college experiences at a community college where credits are more affordable and remedial academic support is offered.  Because so many of the students entering community college are those needing remedial support, however, their path to getting a degree is a long one.

As tuition and fees continue to skyrocket at four-year institutions across the state, more students are going to need to explore creative ways to obtain a college degree.  I for one look forward to the day when more students can begin their college careers at two-year institutions.  It would save them money and often could save them time, but until there is a shift in the stigma associated with Community College this will not likely be the case.  In order to change the perception, we must start seeing more positive results in graduation and transfer rates at these institutions.  While the northeast is often looked upon as leading the way in higher education, this seems to be a clear example of where we have a lot to learn from the states to our south and west.

 

–  Sarah Place

Director of Curriculum and Training

 

Cross-posted at Aspire Wire: Ideas, Conversation, Action on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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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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For Class of 2012 high school seniors, the past month has been full of college decisions. After months of hard work and waiting, students finally get to survey their options and choose a college that suits them. At Bottom Line, we spend a lot of time talking about “finding a fit” – meaning a college that meets a student’s academic, financial, career, and personal needs. Affordability is an integral part of this discussion. By enrolling in a college that meets their financial needs, a student can complete a degree without accumulating an excessive amount of debt. In many cases, Bottom Line advises students to enroll in full-need schools, such as College of the Holy Cross and Tufts University, or state schools, such as UMass Boston and Worcester State University, which have a low cost of attendance.

Ariana Campos of University Park Campus School in Worcester (below) is just one student who, we are proud to say, has found her fit! After getting accepted to all 9 of the schools she applied to, and after looking over her award letters with Bottom Line, she was glad to find out that she can graduate debt-free from Harvard University. We are excited to help all 785 seniors from Massachusetts and New York choose a school in the coming weeks.

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Managing your money is an integral part of college. Higher education costs a lot; making wise financial decisions will help you avoid unwanted stress and unfortunate long-term consequences, such as excessive debt. Particularly when it comes to paying your tuition bill, it’s important to know your options and pick the one that’s best for you. Below is some advice for paying your balance (click image to download).

For more advice on how to succeed in college, visit our 7 Steps to Success homepage.

Samantha Louis, Bridgewater State University '11, shares her college experiences with Bottom Line.

During a video interview conducted last fall, Samantha Louis—a senior at Bridgewater State University who will graduate this spring with a degree in Psychology—was asked what might have gone differently if she hadn’t worked with Bottom Line. She described the benefits of campus visits and help filling out the FAFSA, and ultimately replied that she probably would have enrolled in a community college rather than the 4-year university she currently attends.

This isn’t the first time a Bottom Line student has given this answer. Jeanette Sanchez, a senior studying Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College, said that she would have gone to community college because it had a lower price tag. But with a 4.5 high school GPA and a goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in writing, Jeanette was already well-suited for directly enrolling in a 4-year college. In education lingo, Samantha and Jeanette both said they would have “undermatched” if they had not come to Bottom Line for help with college applications.

The concept of undermatching has been talked about more and more since the release of Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, written by William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson. Undermatching basically means that a student doesn’t enroll in the best college that he/she could have. This problem is particularly prevalent among students from low-income households or the first generation of their family to attend college. As economics columnist David Leonhardt recapped in The New York Times, “about half of low-income students with a high school grade-point average of at least 3.5 and an SAT score of at least 1200 do not attend the best college they could have. Many don’t even apply.”

So why is undermatching a problem? The National Center for Educational Statistics released a study in December 2010 that states only 12% of students who start at community colleges earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. Of the first-time, public 2-year college students who transferred to a 4-year college, 29% attained a bachelor’s degree and 15% remained enrolled at a 4-year college. While many community colleges have effective transfer programs and continue to build partnerships with 4-year colleges, on a broad national scale, your chances of earning a bachelor’s degree are higher if you initially enroll in a 4-year college. In many ways, this is a shorter and less complex journey. For this reason, if your goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree, it makes sense to enroll directly in a 4-year college if you can.

To ensure that the low-income/first-generation students who are qualified to enroll directly into a 4-year college do so, they need a knowledgeable guide to lay out their feasible college options. Having an informed mentor allows students to make decisions based on all the information—information they don’t necessarily have access to through their immediate friends and family or, in some cases, their high schools. By building a relationship with a counselor, these students have someone who will lead them step by step through the inconceivably complex world of higher education.

But undermatching isn’t the only danger for low-income/first-generation students. Helping a student get to the right college is just the first step. Samantha illustrated this when she explained that Bottom Line was on campus every year helping her fill out the FAFSA. She insisted she would have had student loans if it weren’t for this help.

When asked what motivated her to succeed, Samantha said her mother and the fact that she is a minority. “I don’t want to be one of those statistics,” she said. If there’s anything to be learned from Bottom Line students, it’s how ambitious and resilient you have to be to succeed in today’s higher education system. Bottom Line students show that undermatching or dropping out of college doesn’t occur from any lack of motivation or effort.

Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson said they think undermatching is caused by “a combination of inertia, lack of information, lack of forward planning for college, and lack of encouragement.” To address this wide range of reasons, the advice low-income and first-generation students receive needs to be holistic: academic, financial, vocational, and personal. This need is particularly apparent this month as high school seniors from the Class of 2011 are making final decisions about where they will attend college during the next 4 or more years.

While we have a long way to go before our public schools and higher education systems completely adapt to accommodate the needs of the modern-day student, it’s comforting to know that there are solutions brewing, some of them as seemingly simple as offering a one-on-one counselor.

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