“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!

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.

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.

 

For the third straight year, we are proud to announce that 100% of Bottom Line-New York’s high school students have been accepted to college. The path from college application to acceptance is never easy to navigate, and so our full-time counselors met one-on-one with almost 300 high school seniors this year to help them every step of the way. Below, Azza Awad, a current senior at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, explains how her Bottom Line counselor Deborah helped her throughout the entire process.

Azza and her Bottom Line-New York counselor Deborah after she decided to attend NYU next fall.

Azza and her Bottom Line-New York counselor Deborah announcing that she plans to attend NYU next fall.

 

Name:  Azza Awad

High School: Clara Barton High School

Why did you apply to Bottom Line last spring?

My parents left everything in Sudan to come to the U.S., invest in my education, and give me a better future than we would ever have back in Sudan. I joined Bottom Line because I needed someone who could help me with the college application process. Knowing that it would be the most stressful and difficult time of my high school career, I needed someone to guide me, and there was no one at home who had been through it before.

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

The first thing Deborah did was to help me zero in on a collection of colleges that fit my personality and academic interests. Then we made sure that I had some reach schools, some colleges that I was likely to get in, and some schools that were a shoe-in on my list. Bottom Line also helped me write not only my main college essay, but all the other supplemental essays for schools that required them.

Deborah also took me step by step through my Private School, CUNY, and SUNY applications, helping me to highlight the best version of myself so that colleges could see why I’m a strong candidate. The opportunity to have not just my Bottom Line counselor, but also other counselors in the office check over my applications made me feel special, like I had a support system that really cared.

When it came time for paying for college, Bottom Line helped me with all the paperwork required for financial aid. It was really confusing! They asked about my parents’ income, tax returns, and other financial documents that I wasn’t aware of. Having someone there to help me through it made all the difference!

Azza speaking at the Bottom Line-New York Spring Reception on May 7, 2014.

Azza speaking at the Bottom Line-New York Spring Reception on May 7, 2014.

May 1st was College Decision Day. Where will you be attending college next year?

This fall, I’m going to NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering and will major in Computer Engineering. I’m really excited because I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up. Also, I won’t be paying a dime! I got a full scholarship, thanks to Deborah.

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

My family feels relieved because this pressure has been lifted. They don’t have to worry about their daughter getting a quality education, and they don’t have to worry about the financial burden that most students have. My father is a taxi driver, and recently whenever he has customers and a conversation comes up, he always tells them how proud he is of me getting into NYU. Getting into NYU Poly, with the help of Bottom Line, is a huge accomplishment for me and my family and will give us all a brighter future.

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.

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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.

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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.

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!

 

 

 

NoelaniMeet October’s alumna spotlight, Noelani Guerrero!

Noelani D. Guerrero is currently a Human Resources Coordinator at Nutter McClennen & Fish, LLP. She received her B.S. in Communications and Human Development from Boston College in 2007. Her goal is to continue working in the Human Resources field as a Generalist and ultimately a Manager. Noelani was born and raised in Boston and enjoys staying involved in community service. She currently serves on the Bottom Line Alumni Board and volunteers with the Hyde Square Task Force College Bound Mentoring Program. At some point, Noelani would like to go back to school and earn a Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management.

High School: West Roxbury High School

College: Boston College

Graduation Year:
2007

Job: HR Coordinator Nutter

Bottom Line Memory: Go Far Dinner my senior year of college where I had made a connection with Eastern Bank employees and later got one of my first jobs out of college with them.

If I could send a care package, I’d fill it with: Hand Sanitizer and Chap Stick (can never get enough), healthy snacks, chocolate, pens & pencils (that always manage to get lost), and a quote of encouragement.

Why I stay involved with Bottom Line: The staff and supporters made a huge impact on my college application process and beyond. 

People would be surprised to learn that I used to: Stroll at parties with my sorority sisters….(I still do on occasions!)

The BEST part of being a college graduate is: Not being a student! No more early classes, homework, midterms or finals – although that prepared me for the real world experience, so I’m grateful for it.

The HARDEST part about being a college graduate is: Finding a job that you like, with a company that you like where you can grow and see yourself long term. 

Join me in supporting Bottom Line by…. I supported the Rodman Ride by donating $100 dollars of my own money and fundraising another $500; join me and donate today!

 

BL Students attend Success Send-Off at Hill Holliday

Bottom Line Students attend Success Send-Off at Hill Holliday

Bottom Line hosted its Success Send-Offs in Worcester and Boston. More than 300 students attended to celebrate the start of their college careers with Bottom Line.

In Worcester, students gathered at The Hanover Insurance Group campus where Assistant Vice President of Community Relations Jen Luisa addressed the group and acknowledged their tremendous accomplishment: applying and being accepted to college. Students heard from Yuisa Pérez Chionchio of Worcester Public Schools who wrapped up the Success Send-Off with an inspiring speech recognizing the importance of Bottom Line’s College Success program and its college counselors.

In Boston, students gathered at the Hill Holliday office in downtown Boston. The event kicked off with an address from Ruthanne Russell, a Salem State University alumna and Chief Human Resources Officer of the Hill Holliday. Russell has been on the Bottom Line board in Massachusetts since 2012. She encouraged the new college freshman to work hard in the future but also enjoy their success. Students also received advice from Bottom Line and Bridgewater State University alumnus Joe Bogle who drew on his own experiences to emphasize the importance Bottom Line support.

Students at both Send-Offs had the opportunity to meet peers attending the same colleges and their college counselors. They performed school cheers and discussed their excitement and anxiety about starting college in the fall.

The Success Send-Off is the culmination of a series of Bottom Line transition events designed to prepare the high school graduates to successfully enter college in the 2013-14 academic year. Students who complete Bottom Line’s College Access Program and attend one of 20 popularly attended Massachusetts colleges are eligible to join Bottom Line’s College Success Program.