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.

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.

 

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

Bottom Line students at the Share The Dream Banquet, Feb 2013

Bottom Line students at the “Share The Dream” banquet, February 2013

This past February, I had the privilege of attending the annual “Share the Dream” banquet for students in the College Now/START program at UMass Dartmouth. Carol Spencer, Director of College Now Program, said that it is held every year to, “celebrate the success of the College Now/START Program.” The first-years are “officially welcomed into the University by receiving a certificate acknowledging their completion of the program.”   Staff say that, “The Banquet is a wonderful way to celebrate and empower our students to continue striving.”

College Now/START is an alternative admissions program that supports students throughout their first year of college, by providing additional academic support and mentoring. Many Bottom Line students are enrolled in this program and have begun to see the benefits of taking a reduced course load and attending extra tutoring hours their first two semesters of college. There are currently 30 first-year students from Bottom Line in College Now/START Program, and 52 Bottom Line students have participated since 2009.

My student, Etiene, was asked to be one of two current College Now students who gave a speech at the banquet. In the days leading up to the event, he said that he was nervous and yet his speech was ready, thanks to the support of his College Now advisors and the Writing Center. At the “Share the Dream” banquet, Etiene brought the crowd of students, parents, faculty, administrators, and supporters to their feet! I could not have been more proud of him and was truly moved by his speech.  Etiene was also awarded a $3,000 Talent-Merit Scholarship from College Now.  It was a testament to his hard work this past semester.

Etiene, as he gives his speech at the Share The Dream Banquet

Etiene, as he gives his speech at the “Share The Dream” Banquet

I believe that alternative admissions and bridge programs at colleges are great options for hardworking and determined students who need more help preparing for college. UMass Dartmouth is not the only school with these types of programs. Students can often find summer programs or first year intensive programs that will help support their academic needs. Programs such as Passport at College of the Holy Cross, AID at Worcester State, OTE at Boston College, and PLUS at Framingham State are all great examples of alternative admissions or bridge programs.

Some students are discouraged or disappointed to find out they have been selected for such programs because they may have to take a reduced course load, spend a few weeks of their summer taking college classes or attend mandatory tutoring sessions. These students should be excited for such programs! Not only do they offer lots of academic support in order to succeed in the first year of college, but a chance to build stronger relationships with peers and school administrators with which many students to not normally get the chance to interact. Bridge programs help students gain comfort with the rigorous coursework found in many college-level classes and understand what the rest of their years in college will look like. Over 90 Bottom Line students from the high school Class of 2012 went on to attend bridge programs at Bottom Line’s target colleges.  I love it when our students are able to take advantage of existing resources to better handle the transition to college and help them reach graduation.

– Kira Terrill

Success Counselor, Worcester

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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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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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Success Counselor Kira Terrill talking with a student at our Worcester Office

It’s hard for my First Year students to believe that the Fall 2012 semester is almost over! With that disbelief also comes the students’ awareness that their grades may not be as good as they were in high school. Many students really struggle with the transition from high school level to college level work.  Luckily, Bottom Line students have their counselors to really help guide them through the transition.  Bottom Line addresses this issue by providing summer programming and has developed specific tools to help our students find success during their critical first year.

Our summer transition program includes both group workshops and one-on-one meetings. One workshop on time management always seems to be especially eye-opening. After adding classes and study time to a weekly schedule, counselors bombarded students with different responsibilities and activities that also needed to be taken care of, on top of all of their studying and homework!  I can remember one student shouting “I don’t have time for all of this extra stuff!” Although a little early, it was an easy way for students to prepare for things they were about to face during their first (and every other) year of college. Some students immediately internalize the lesson and others need more reinforcing once they arrive on campus.

This fall, I’ve been working with many First Year students on improving their time management and study skills. I have 38 First Year students at four different colleges and have had 196 campus meetings and phone follow-ups this fall.  Additionally, I met with over 50% of my First Years who felt like they needed extra support for time management and test prep strategies meetings. Simply reading over notes doesn’t really cut it on college exams. My students and I have worked together to create study plans tailored to each of their exams, as well as their learning needs. With some students, I can simply suggest recopying and summarizing notes or making flashcards for vocabulary words. With other students, they may need to draw diagrams, attend tutoring and office hours, and form study groups. Helping students create these study plans and break down when things need to be done, makes the task of studying a little less daunting. Showing students how to put in a little extra effort and attack problems from different directions to make success possible shows the value of our meetings to my students and is why I love working for Bottom Line.

 

– Kira Terrill

Success Counselor

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