Last year, Bottom Line partnered with The Fellowship Initiative (TFI) to provide one-on-one college advising to  40 young men in New York City.   In his essay, “If One Kid Can Change The World,”  Mark shares the importance of role models and self-belief. 

In 2014, I received the best news that would go on to change my life forever. “You have been accepted into The Fellowship Initiative (TFI) sponsored by JPMorgan Chase.” Those words turned my life around. During these two unbelievably amazing years, I have been given the chance to learn from thirty-nine other African American and Latino males like myself, and it has made me feel like we could change the world.

Before TFI, I never found anything interesting because I was always a quiet student. I was afraid to try new things or explore. What I do know about my younger self was that the color of my skin made me feel very insecure. It made me isolate myself. Growing up, I had friends who were afraid like me. I would talk to them and tell them of my plans to be a young man who stands out from the group; I wanted to be more.

When I joined TFI, I was excited to work with other students like myself and have a mentor who would teach us about college and the business world. The moment I knew that I was capable of being a leader was when this mentor, Fernando, asked me to speak at an event for Outward Bound. At first, I was horrified. So many people would be watching me. I was not yet comfortable in my own skin, but I knew I could not disappoint Fernando. He had chosen me and if he thought I could do it, then I did not want to let him down. Right before I went onto the stage, he told me, “Mark, you can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it.” Fernando believed in me. He was instilling in me the tools I would need to self-motivate and conquer my fears.

Fernando has consistently believed in my abilities to be a leader and has motivated me to be an example to young men like me. In order to channel this energy and make a positive change in my community, I became a board member for the Neighborhood Advisory Board. This board helps allocate funds for projects within my community like after-school programs, play grounds, and books. Through TFI, I have had the opportunity to speak at other events and be on a panel with accomplished adults. Being able to represent my TFI brothers and JPMorgan Chase at these events has made me very proud. Looking back, I have realized that if I would not have accepted the challenge of joining TFI, I would not be the person I am today.

TFI has empowered me and I feel a duty to give back to my people. My dream and purpose of living is so that I can inspire others to believe in their dreams. I am confident that I will change the world by helping the young people in my community find the best within themselves. All it takes is one person, one thought, or one encouraging influence to help set them on the path of greatness. I am proud of my skin and I am determined and I am ready to reach back and help my community.


Help support Sarah and Bottom Line!

Sarah has been with Bottom Line in a variety of functions for over 10 years, and is currently our National Access Program Director. She is also running the Boston Marathon for us in April!  If you wish to help Sarah reach  her fundraising goal, you can do so here.  A donation of just $15 will fund a care package to a Bottom Line student!


Sarah’s favorite part of working at Bottom Line: 

Sarah Place Bottom Line's National Access Program Director

Sarah Place
Bottom Line’s National Access Program Director

I love that Bottom Line has a culture of continuous improvement and accountability.  Staff at all levels are constantly asking, “how can we do this better?” and take an active role in improving the way we serve students.  We strive to be the best at what we do because Bottom Line students deserve to receive the highest quality services.  I also live for reading college essays!


Sarah’s advice for alumni:

Please stay in touch!  Not only do we love hearing updates about alumni, but it could also benefit you to stay active in our network if we ever have the chance to connect you to opportunities.  Our current students are always looking to expand their networks so you could also have the chance to give back to your community by being an active part of the Bottom Line community.  We want to continue seeing you go far!




Access Counselor, Evan Soken preps his student for the big May 1st deadline

My student lifted their eyes to the wall thick with college pennants, searching for their future school. Each flag was surrounded by a cluster of colorful stars, each star bearing the name of a student who had committed to that college from the Class of 2016. A smile of recognition flickered across their face as Northeastern caught their eye. “It’s so high! How am I supposed to get up there?” they exclaimed. “You think you can jump that high?” I laughed. After taking a beat, they took a running jump and slapped their star directly below the Northeastern pennant as applause rippled through the room.

Spring is one of my favorite seasons in the college access world. Every piece of the process comes with unique challenges and rewards, but especially as a second-year counselor at Bottom Line, the weeks leading up to May 1 are the culmination of months of student work. May 1 is National College Decision Day in the United States — the day when nearly every college in the country requires that students commit to a college by sending a deposit to secure their place in the class. At Bottom Line, we plan for this day all year. From the first time we meet with a student during the summer before their senior year, we are thinking about how to troubleshoot all the obstacles that might stand between them and a good-fit, affordable, post-secondary option on May 1. As we partner with students to build a diverse college list, edit countless essays, complete the FAFSA, and troubleshoot financial and citizenship issues we are always thinking about giving the student as many options as possible. By the time April rolls around, students prepare to have one of their final meetings in our Access Program: the Award Analysis Meeting.

While there are many valuable meetings and services that students participate in during their senior year, the Award Analysis Meeting is a game-changer. Using an Excel tool that helps breakdown financial aid letters into government/institutional money and federal loans, we estimate the cost of their different colleges for freshman year. Then we take it one step further and estimate the four-year cumulative cost and monthly loan repayment for each college as well. Financing college is one of the most significant barriers low-income, first-generation college students face. Fluctuating financial aid and lack of clear information about paying for college often result in student dropout. This meeting with students is meant to empower them to think about the long-term consequences of their different college choices. It pushes the counselor, the student, and their family to think in concrete, specific terms: What is your plan to pay your first bill in August? Where is that money coming from? Will you have access to that money over four years? While these conversations are almost never easy or simple, walking through these tough questions with all parties involved dramatically increases a student’s ability to confidently make a choice that will move them towards their college degree.

At the end of the day all the services we provide are about giving students the tools to make a college choice that will set them up for success — not just for next year — but for the next four years, as they earn their degree, and the next ten years as they start their post-college lives. People often say to me, “This must be such a rewarding time of year for you!” It is rewarding, but the reward doesn’t belong to me—it belongs to my students who have used the resources available to them to advocate for themselves, to grow, and to learn. This is their moment and I am privileged to have been a part of it.

-Written by Bottom Line Access Counselor, Evan Soken


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Rosellen is off to Bryn Mawr!


Jean will attend Northeastern Foundation Year in the fall!

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Our Dorchester Access Counselors rep their alma maters!

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Brandon commits to Swathmore!

I remember what it’s like to be normal. I remember sleeping in on school-less holidays. I remember spending my Rivera Isis Essay Headshotexcess time with friends, and having boundless amounts of energy to waste on the most frivolous of things. I remember freely consuming potassium-packed foods and salty stuff galore, without the fear of becoming violently ill. I remember spending hours and hours reading and drawing, knowing that there would always be more time tomorrow. I remember spending weekends and vacations traveling near and far whenever I got the chance. Today, that all seems so distant.

As I write this, I have to cautiously avoid moving my left arm too rigorously to keep from ripping out the inch-long needles. Every half an hour, my right arm’s circulation is momentarily cut off by an inflating blood pressure cuff. The dialysis machine continuously emits a rhythmic hiss, beep, click, beep. There are admirable attempts to mask the hospital white with child-friendly decals strewn about the room, however, the smell of blood, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol are unavoidable to any unaccustomed nostrils. The necessary fifteen hours a week I spend at Boston Children’s Hospital ensure my relative health, but unfortunately, I never feel quite right after my treatments. It’s a feeling that can only be described as “dry” to the nurses or “after dialysis” to my acquaintances who don’t understand hospital lingo. Since sixth grade, this has been my new normal.

My world-changing diagnosis of end-stage kidney failure — or in technical terms, Membranoproliferative Glomerulonephritis — is what prompted this drastic change during my relatively short life. Summed up in that mess of medical terminology is a contract that I was genetically destined to sign, which includes, but isn’t limited to, the following terms and conditions: years of peritoneal and hemodialysis; a failed kidney transplant; frequent nausea and headaches; and mysterious pains and aches.

Despite the rough road I’ve endured, my story isn’t a sad one. I’ve had the opportunity — dare I say, privilege — to see the world in a drastically different light than my peers. Thanks to my diagnosis, I’m a stronger, more resilient person who truly understands what it’s like to hurt and struggle. Appreciating every little thing from home cooked meals to drives around my hometown of Boston now comes naturally, and I am gifted with the ability to stop trivial matters from bothering me. Even though my illness has limited my ability to accept amazing opportunities like invitations to travel abroad, what has been life threatening to me has also, in a way, saved me. It has turned me into a voice for the voiceless, a courageous fighter who has advocated for my fellow patients through pageantry, and a “WishChild” who tells a powerful story on stage at Make-A-Wish galas.

Living without my beloved bean-shaped organs is a challenge, but not a roadblock. I find that the following quote applies to my life: “The same water that softens a potato hardens an egg.” Although being chronically ill drains large portions of my time, I have become a bolder, more empathetic person as a result. My diagnosis opened my eyes to a huge invisible community of chronically ill children, some of whom don’t share my view that our predicament is a blessing, not a curse. I plan to be an example for those just like me. I plan to prove that a life-changing diagnosis doesn’t have to hinder you. Those of us who are afflicted by them still have the potential to be just as fabulous and successful as the rest of the world. Going to college will be my next step.

-Written by Bottom Line Access Student, Isis


Bottom Line staff and students at this year’s College Expo.

Every March, college students all over the country get to step away from their studies and take a week off to relax and recuperate. For many, this conjures up images of sunny days spent on the beach. At Bottom Line, it means the time has come to attend the College Expo. Designed to give high school seniors a chance to learn more about some of the most popular colleges in the area, the Bottom Line College Expo, is similar to a college fair with some key differences: when the event is scheduled and who is invited.

Unlike a traditional college fair often held over the summer or in the fall for prospective students, we host our event mid-March once most students have some college decisions and our college students are home for break. Instead of having admissions staff tabling, we ask our college students to volunteer their time and represent their college. Students are excited to be able to give back and often talk about being at the event themselves in years past, feeling a similar anxiety and anticipation as they attempted to make a college decision.

This year, Bottom Line-MA’s College Expo was held at UMass-Boston. With over 70 student volunteers, some alumni turned staff, and lots of energy from everyone it was our most successful event thus far. Students had an opportunity to listen to a panel of college student speakers varying in years and institutions about college life in general. Then they broke out for lunch and were given an opportunity to have one-on-one conversations. Student feedback included comments like “It was a different experience hearing from actual college students then from just college administrators,” and “…after hearing everyone’s experience with college it makes me less scared of college.”

Many students are unable to visit all the colleges they are accepted to; by connecting them with students who are enrolled there and reflect their diversity, Bottom Line is able to provide some of that personalized perspective in their own backyard. As students gear up to make a college commitment by May 1st, these are the kinds of opportunities that can inform their decision making process and help them choose the colleges that best fit their needs.

-Written by Bottom Line Access Counselor, Emelda Lagos



Below is the incredible story of Bottom Line Worcester Access student, Geury.
Geury is Get In Optiona student at Boston Latin Academy. He has interned in the chambers of a federal judge and has used his free time to take advanced writing and mathematical college courses, in preparation for college. Geury is looking forward to expanding his academic horizon in the field of philosophy at Boston College, Brandeis University, Suffolk University, or Bowdoin College. Read Geury’s college essay below!

As I completed reading my first “academic novel,” my mother sat next to me. I began to grow accustomed to the convoluted words and the multi-clause sentences. Once I turned to the final page and read the final word, I looked into my mother’s eyes. She cried. With the single tear falling down her left eye, I instantly realized that in my academic journey my mother would be in the passenger seat. A few months later, it was my thirteenth birthday. On the same day, the 18th of January in 2010, I had my last conversation with my biological father.

I do not know my biological father very well. When he learned of my mother’s unanticipated pregnancy, he slowly moved out of my life—constructing an unbreakable distance from my mother and me. From the instant I inhaled oxygen, he was not around. Although many may believe that a life without a father is missing a vital component, I accepted my father’s absence as the status quo. I neither felt melancholy toward him nor euphoria. I just chose to dismiss his significance in my life.

My situation was common. Many of my friends were fatherless. Because of this, and only because of this, they felt apoplectic. This absence led them to seek conscious-altering alternatives. Needless to say, these alternatives did not include reading—an alternative that I consider to be conscious-altering enough, since, as a reader, I am exposed to a complexity and diversity of consciousness. Unlike my friends, I took the absence of my father as a bitter blessing. Because of my father’s absence, I wasn’t exposed to the common, reprehensible male view of resolving altercations physically—a view that can be extracted from my biological father. There was, and is, no indignation for him.

I am satisfied with the void in my life. Based on my experience with cousins, grandfathers, and uncles, primitive ideologies are prevalent within older, undereducated men in my culture. These are men that think the only way to live a lucrative life is by having a ninety-five mile per hour fastball. As a child, I was exposed, just as many children of color are, to different kinds of drug addicts and violent criminals making the worst choices: killing for small, insignificant altercations and constantly changing their consciousness to experience what can only be characterized by them as a good time. Oddly enough, from observing these negative decisions made by people all around me—and thanks to my mother’s guidance—I became educated on how to live a fulfilling life.

I learned from my mother, and her struggle with true poverty. This poverty is unequivocally incomparable to my current, menial poverty. My mother’s economic devastation wasn’t characterized by not having enough money to buy the new Air-Jordans; instead, my mother could not eat on a daily basis. She found herself wearing the same clothes, which were torn to pieces and were stained and had a peculiar smell that arose from a combination of perfume and sweat. But my mother was still content with her decision to emigrate from her home, the Dominican Republic, and come to this prosperous, luminous country, the United States. She was content because she hoped her children would become prosperous and, ultimately, luminous, in their own way.

I know that I will exceed my mother’s expectations. I will learn more than she can fathom; I will diversify my intellectual intake; I will develop my writing. The only reason why I will be able to do this is because she is beside me. I love her strength and beauty because she has never pushed me, but has only supported me. She is, indeed, the passenger and I am the driver.


-Written by Bottom Line Access student, Geury

With over 1,000 college applications, 5 Posse Scholars, and nearly 250 college admissions decisions thus far, Worcester students have been working endlessly to cross the finish line before the first of May.  The past few months have consisted of students meeting with their counselors to complete financial aid applications, interviews, and various scholarship applications.

February vacation was no different.  After the Hanover Scholarship event held back in November, the Access Team held its second Scholarship Party event, where students were assisted throughout the Greater Worcester Foundation Scholarship application process.  All afternoon, the resource room was active with students drafting, editing, and adding the final touches to their writing prompts.  In addition to students registering for the tedious online application, there were also many conversations held about different college visits and admission decisions that students have received.

What makes this particular scholarship so unique is that by submitting just one application, each student is considered for all scholarships which he/she is eligible for. The Greater Worcester Community Foundation awards over 350 college scholarships every spring from 130 different scholarship funds.  The foundation, which offers scholarships ranging in size from $300 to $7,000, has awarded close to $300,000 to over 200 students in the Worcester area.

-Written by Bottom Line Senior Access Counselor, Theresa Pickens

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Bottom Line students between mock interview sessions.

Crisp suits, firm handshakes, and smiles abound at the 2016 Bottom Line Go Far Forum events. The annual Go Far Forums, which take place in Boston and Worcester, provide an opportunity for Bottom Line high school seniors and college students to develop their professional skills, explore career paths, and meet regional employers looking to recruit a diverse pool of talented employees.

This month, over 375 Bottom Line students in Massachusetts braved the winter weather to practice their elevator pitches and network with local professionals at the Boston Marriott. UMASS – Boston student, Judnise Guillet, a junior studying communications, arrived eager to meet professionals in marketing and PR. “The State Street networking roundtable discussions,” a new workshop led by State Street employees, “were most valuable for me” said Guillet. “At each table a State Street employee facilitated conversations about networking topics. By the time I was done, I rotated to 4 tables. Those individuals connected me directly to so many resources. I learned how to find internship opportunities, how to be confident walking into an interview, and resume tips. I’ve been to Go Far Forums 3-4 times now since I was a high school senior, and I really appreciated this new element of the event!”

In addition to some of the new workshops presented at the Boston Go Far Forum, volunteers and partnering companies conducted mock interviews, hosted tables in a career fair, and led group discussions on relevant topics.

In Worcester, students posed for professional LinkedIn headshots and attended a career panel, which consisted of HR professionals, recruiters, and Bottom Line alumni. Jim Mack, a recruiter from UMass Medical School and participant on the Worcester Career Panel, observed that students were well prepared and engaged. He said, “What I found amazing is that many of the students who saw me walking to my vehicle outside of the DCU [after the event ended], came up and thanked me again.”

Bottom Line’s Go Far Forum events are a great chance for students to practice the employability skills they have worked so hard to develop throughout college, and to demonstrate to employers, their peers, and themselves that they have what it takes to “get in, graduate, and go far” in life.

-Written by Bottom Line Career Counselor, Cara Press


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Bottom Line student, RongRong, completes her college applications!

When walking around our office you might notice our “I Hit Submit” wall and see an array of dazzling stars decorated with students’ names. The purpose of this wall is to recognize the hard work students have put into their college application process. For the last couple of months, they have been drafting, editing, and revising essays while researching and selecting their preferred schools.

This year, students are able to choose from different colored stars and decorate them to express their individuality as they continue on the journey towards a college degree! Some students celebrate their years of high school by writing their graduation year while others write heartwarming ‘thank yous’ to their Access counselors.

Access Team Manager Aaron Canto says, “It’s always exciting to watch the wall grow throughout the weeks because you see the progress of the counselors and students growing in a tangible way. While it’s a busy season, you can see everyone’s work and the complex process that is applying to college. This is what makes it all so special.”

-Written by Salem Gebrezgi

Name: Jabril Robinson
Position: Career Counselor

Hometown: Greater Boston Area

College Attended: Bridgewater State University (B.A. Psychology); Northeastern University (M.S. College Student Development & Counseling)

Favorite Pastimes/Activities: Running, trying new foods, exploring new career development and diversity-related topics of discussion.

Favorite College Moment: Delivering the undergraduate spring commencement address to thousands of students, families, and faculty upon graduation from BSU.

Best Advice Received About College: The best advice I received was, “Where you go to college doesn’t matter as much as what you do when you get there.” This really speaks to what actionable items one will take on, to leave a positive legacy once you’ve graduated.

What Are Your Campus Meetings Like?
Similar to the other Success Counselors here at Bottom Line, I enjoy engaging with my students on the subject of their academics, career path, financial status, and general life circumstances. As a Career Counselor, the employability part is especially emphasized, in making sure that my students are able to identify, articulate, and develop the skills necessary to pursue their desired career path. Our desired career goals are constantly shaped by those previously mentioned areas so they are all important for my students and I to consider, whether we’re meeting on campus, in the office, over the phone, or another method of communication.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge as a Career Counselor?
There are several challenges as a Career Counselor, and I believe the biggest is articulating the importance of understanding how the “job search” process works. I do my best to have my students see, whether seeking a full time career, a summer internship, or simply a volunteer opportunity, that this should be considered a process, rather than an overnight quick fix. It takes time to develop an understanding of oneself, connect to peers, and identify the right “fit” career-wise, and it’s something that has to be balanced with academic and social demands. If not conducted in a persistent, conscious manner, job searching can be even more challenging than it already is, which can often be a difficult message to convey early on.

What Is the Most Rewarding Aspect of Your Job?
I’m a fan of the destination (i.e. seeing how excited my students are when they acquire the job/internship of their dreams) — who wouldn’t be? However, I view the game of life as more of a marathon than a sprint, so it’s the journey of working with students, helping them gradually discover themselves, connecting with others, and reaching their goals that really makes this job such a valuable experience. It’s always an exciting adventure to form a counseling partnership with a student while working together to help them graduate and go far in a meaningful career. Since we work with such diverse students, no two stories are ever the same. There’s always something new to learn!

-Written by Jabril Robinson, JP Career Team