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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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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Sheryl giving some advice to a recent alum.

Sheryl giving some advice to a recent alum.

On January 10th, we hosted our annual Go Far Forum at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in downtown Boston. The Go Far Forum is a unique career fair hosted for Bottom Line students which provides an opportunity for students to make meaningful connections with professionals and employers in various career fields. This may have been my first Go Far Forum, but I dare say it was bigger and better than ever. We hosted over 320 Bottom Line students and alumni and 100 volunteers.

I watched the students arrive and become wide-eyed as they realized that this was all for them. I welcomed the seniors that I work with and calmed their nerves as they told me what they were nervous about and who they were excited to meet. Each student was dressed professionally and carried with them a prepared and polished resume and a practiced elevator pitch. When I saw these same students at the end of the night, they had been transformed. Beaming with self-confidence, they eagerly told me all about whom they had met and who took their resume at the career fair. This is the type of confidence that makes a difference in a job interview and helps launch a career. This is exactly the confidence I wanted to see.  I wasn’t the only one who was impressed by our students.

One employer said, “Bottom Line students know what they want and are proactive and determined.” Another volunteer in the round table discussion room told me that he could see our program at work. “My first table was full of freshman and in the next round my table was full of juniors and seniors. I could see their growth. Your program really works. I could see it.”  This feedback was great to hear and affirmed my pride and confidence in the impact that Bottom Line makes.

This year, we welcomed over twenty employers to the career fair, and added three professional organizations. Employers included Boston Children’s Hospital, Draper Laboratory, EMC, Liberty Mutual, State Street, Teach for America, Senator Kerry’s Office, Boston Lawyers Group, and Target, just to name a few. We also welcomed the National Association of Asian American Professionals, the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, and The Partnership, Inc.  Bottom Line has created amazing partnerships and many of our students receive internship and job opportunities from this event.

Each student participated in round table discussions where they received feedback on their resumes from senior human resources professionals and a mock interview with seasoned professionals in multiple fields. Each career field was also represented in a special “Career Conversations” lounge, where students could explore their interests and talk to professionals in each field to learn how they got started and receive advice about how they can follow their path.

The Go Far Forum is an opportunity for our students to realize their potential and to start believing in themselves. The opportunity to receive feedback on mock interviews and resumes from professionals in the field is invaluable. Students who attended the event gained confidence, connections, and a more definite career plan.

– Sheryl Rosenberg, Career Counselor

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An exciting report that was released on Thursday, January 17 and was featured in The Boston Globe and on WBUR. According to the report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern and commissioned by the Boston Foundation, the 6-year college graduation rate for Boston Public School graduates increased from 40% to 47% between the high school graduating classes of 2000 and 2005. In addition, college enrollment and persistence rates have increased steadily since 2000.

 

When Bottom Line was founded in 1997 here in Boston, it was because we could see that students lacked the support, guidance and preparation to succeed in college. In the 16 years since then, we have been dedicated to changing the outcomes for those students, and we have been joined in our efforts more recently by many others in the community who have also recognized this significant challenge. This report acknowledges that we have made real progress in preparing and supporting our students so they can be successful in college and beyond. From the class of 2005, nearly 7% of all BPS degree earners received Bottom Line’s support throughout college. Our guidance played a critical role in the success of those students.

 

However, for our organization and for the community as a whole, our work isn’t done.

 Even with this progress, more than half of college-enrolled BPS graduates still were unable to earn a degree in 6 years. However, we have continued to grow every year since 2005, and we will continue to expand so that we can make a real, significant impact on our students and the community moving forward. The size of our class has tripled between 2005 and 2012, and, within the next two years, we will grow to serve 450 Boston Public School graduates from each high school class year, in addition to students from the Greater Boston and Worcester areas. With this growth, we hope to play an even larger role in the progress of our students and our community moving forward.

 

Mike Wasserman

Executive Director – MA

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My name is Kristie Simonó and I am one of the many college students in Bottom Line’s Success Program. I am currently a sophomore at the College of the Holy Cross, where I study Psychology and Spanish and (if I keep my fingers crossed) I will also be completing the Latin American and Latino Studies concentration. From now on I will be blogging about my college experiences and my journey through life on “The Hill” (that’s Holy Cross’s nickname) with the help of Bottom Line.

Kristie at Bottom Line's send-off celebration for new college freshmen.

You may recognize me since I worked at Bottom Line’s front desk (my 2-year anniversary is coming up in March!) and recently I started working as a Bottom Line Counselor Intern, helping the high school Class of 2011 complete their Financial Aid paperwork. I am excited to say that I will be returning this summer to help the Class of 2012 get in to college! If you have not been able to tell, I am obsessed with Bottom Line and I am practically a walking advertisement.

This semester I am enrolled in four rigorous courses that are very time consuming. I am currently in Physiological Psychology, Language and Diversity in Latin America, Research Methods, and Liberation Theology. One of my favorite things about Holy Cross is that it is a Liberal Arts school, so I am taking courses outside my major. This will help me get a well-rounded education and give me insight into the world outside of Psychology and Spanish.

Although I love Holy Cross’s rigorous academics, I have to admit that it can be very stressful at times. Next week, I have my Spanish exam on Monday, Physiological exam on Tuesday, Liberation Theology exam on Wednesday, and my Research Methods exam on Thursday. Did I mention that I have a Spanish paper due on Friday too? If I manage my time well, I am hopeful that I can survive that dreadful week. I just always need to remind myself that the tears shed and the sleepless nights will all be worth it in the end!

While juggling all of the work that I have to do for my classes, I have to remember to complete my Financial Aid paperwork before the deadline passes. Luckily, my Bottom Line meeting with my counselor Marilyn is coming up this week, so I will be able to submit everything on time.

I promise to keep you updated on all of my college experiences through this blog.

Until then,
Kristie

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Hey everyone,

Since my last blog, I have been doing very well. Senior year is a bit stressful, but soon it will all cool down. Working at Bottom Line has been going great. I have been lucky enough to receive help from many of the counselors here since I have built a relationship with them through work.

I will soon be sending out all of my applications (this Saturday to be exact). I am super excited about this! Although this does not mean I am done for good, it will ease most of my stress.

The rest of my stress will hopefully disappear after December 8th. Why? Because it’s my Posse Denison University interview date! I was lucky enough to make it this far, so let’s hope I don’t blow it (fingers crossed). Posse is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and their networking is amazing, hence the reason for my excitement. I will keep blogging to inform you of my progress.

Talk soon,

Yaritza Pena

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In September, Bottom Line’s office began to fill with boxes. By exam season, our back room was teeming with snacks, branded dishes, empty mailing boxes, and turquoise crinkle paper. On October 27th, Bottom Line’s halls filled with the sounds of stuffing, taping, labeling, and the laughter of Bottom Line staff. In assembly-line style, we made care packages for our college students.

Care packages are one of the most revered parts of Bottom Line’s College Success Program, by staff and students alike. Last week, our office got to pause for an afternoon to package what we hope are the comfort and support our students needed to make it through their exams and midterm papers. After the last care package was wheeled away in a mail bin, the assembly line disbanded and we returned to checking emails, making calls, and meeting with students. Then the thank yous started coming in.

“I just got my care package! I totally love it! The package came right on time too… I just came out of an Orgo exam and the package made my night!” -Jen, Northeastern University

“Thank you so much for the care package that I got. It was such a nice surprise (I haven’t gotten any packages yet!). I’m already 90% done with the food that you sent me. Thanks!!” -Valerie, Boston College

“Thank you for the care package… I love the soup bowl and spoon! You guys are awesome. :)” -Leticia, Tufts University

While helping students plan study schedules, connect with tutors, and prioritize classwork during exam season is necessary, reminding them that there’s someone out there rooting for their success is just as important. That’s why we focus on delivering a “life” curriculum: our students need someone who can offer well-informed advice and the support and encouragement they need to get through the tough times.

Thank you to all our supporters and alumni who made it possible for us to send nearly 900 care packages this semester.

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Hola! My name is Yaritza Peña and I’m a Bottom Line high school student. I also work at Bottom Line’s front desk, so they asked me to blog about my college process so far. I was born and raised in Jamaica Plain, Boston, just a few years after my parents’ emigration from the Dominican Republic. Their decision to come to America was wrapped around the idea that their child would be able to go to one of the leading colleges in the country. To their surprise, they had two children, a set of twins!

The first step to get into college was to attend a top high school, the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. While at O’Bryant, I strive to get good grades so I can achieve my goal of attending Boston College next fall. Boston College is my top choice of schools. Its campus, course offerings, and location are what intrigue me.

Second step was to receive as much help as possible to reach this goal. That’s when I found out about Bottom Line. “Bottom Line helps with financial aid, essays, basically the entire college application process,” was the typical response following, “What does Bottom Line do?” And that is exactly what they are doing for me, as well as for all their other students. So far, I have received help with my common app and college essay. Further along my application process my counselor, Stefanny, will continue to help me with supplemental essays and with packaging my applications.

Packaging my applications means I will be one step closer to college. I can’t wait for the new setting, and new faces. Being a senior is great, but being a freshman will be even better. I will get a chance to attend a brand new school, something I have not been able to do since I started the 7th grade. I am ready for college!

During this year, I’ll be blogging to let you know about how my applications are coming. Wish me luck!

Yaritza

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