Deb blog picSupporting students through the financial aid process has always been an integral part of Bottom Line’s services. Each January and February, counselors are busy meeting with students to submit their FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS Profiles, and sometimes additional verification materials to make sure that they secure financial aid awards from their schools.

Here in New York, though, things look a little different. There’s a state-wide college access program in which all public colleges and many private colleges participate, collectively referred to as “Opportunity Programs.” The program was developed by the state legislature in the 1960s to provide access to higher education for the “educationally and economically disadvantaged” students in New York State. The great news is that this gives many Bottom Line students the chance to be admitted to colleges where they otherwise might not get accepted to because of grades and test scores.

The other part of this process, however, is that before students can officially be admitted to one of these Opportunity Programs, they must provide financial verification to prove that they are in fact “economically disadvantaged.” For some students, this process is pretty straightforward. They get their parents’ tax forms, fill out some paperwork, and send them off.

However, for those of our students who have more complicated family situations or whose parents receive public benefits, verifying family income becomes a much more complex process. We are coaching students to compile a whole host of financial documents that they have never heard of before. We are tracking down 1099s and W-2s from agencies and employers; we are helping students find a notary to sign their non-tax filer form; we are on the phone with families to compile all sorts of legal and financial documents.  Plus, spaces in these Opportunity Programs fill up on first-come, first-serve basis, so time is of the essence.

Financial aid can often be a frustrating and time-consuming process.  More importantly, financial aid is a critical piece of our students’ future success.  When all the pieces come together after a lot of hard work, it is fulfilling to see students get accepted to great colleges and receive the financial aid they deserve.

– Deborah Steinberg

Bottom Line Counselor

New York

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Bottom Line prides itself on being proactive about the services that we provide to our students.  Our goal is to empower staff at Bottom Line to think critically about our services using the data we collect during the school year. We want to ensure we are supporting our students in the best possible way.  This past spring, Worcester College Access Program Manager Michelle Easton took a closer look at our students’ financial aid data.  Michelle was curious to see how the decisions a high school senior makes regarding financial aid impacts their likelihood of graduating from college.  The result is our first Annual Interesting Report (AIR for short).

An excerpt from our first Annual Interesting Report:

“Financial aid can make or break a college education.  Despite having the best grades and work ethic, a student who is unable to pay for college will be unable to continue their education.  This seems so obvious, and yet many of the students we work with at Bottom Line struggle to fund their education.  Many of our students and their families try their hardest to make college a reality, but are often unable to sustain such great expenses year after year.  In order to best advise our high school students in their final college choices, I wanted to dig deeper and fully understand how financial aid impacts our students.  In the spring of 2012, I sifted through our data to analyze over 130 students’ financial aid outcomes, and confirmed that financial hardship had a significant, negative impact on college graduation rates.”

The complete report is available here: 2012 Winter AIR – What Effect Does Financial Aid Have on College Graduation Rates

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