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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Since the start of the school year, our Success Counselors have traveled to 20 campuses across Massachusetts to meet one-on-one with all of our 1,300 students. Liz Hood, a second-year Success Counselor, reflects on a busy month of the school year…

In the month of September, I had ninety-one campus meetings and traveled a total of four hundred and thirty-two miles to visit students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston College and Wentworth Institute of Technology. Despite that seemingly never-ending stretch of I-90 between Worcester and the exit off to Amherst (I went to Smith College and the Pioneer Valley will always hold a place in my heart) one of the things that I enjoy the most about being a Bottom Line Success Counselor is the ability to support students on campus and in person. A standard meeting that takes place in September is the first year check in meeting. This forty-five minute meeting addresses issues related to academics, campus life, financial aid and anything else that may arise.

Last month, I met with all of my first year students on their own campuses.  By being on campus I am able to more effectively connect students to the resources that are available to them and encourage them to advocate for themselves. First year students are often times intimidated by the idea of asking for help. The other day I met with a student who had an unresolved issue with her bill and she did not know where to go or what to ask.  We discussed her bill issue and acted out the conversation in a quick role-play, and I walked over with her to the bursar’s office.  She was able to resolve the issue on the spot. Another student I met with was struggling in Chemistry class, but did not know where to go for extra help.  We went to the tutoring center together and he signed up to meet with a tutor once a week.

I really enjoy working with first year students; I get to watch as students see the world opening up to them.  There is so much optimism and excitement as they begin to figure out who they want to be and what they want to do. I strongly believe that campus visits play an integral role in strengthening counselor-student relationships and demonstrate to students that Bottom Line is really invested in their success and wants to see them excel.

Liz Hood

Bottom Line Success Counselor

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For Class of 2012 high school seniors, the past month has been full of college decisions. After months of hard work and waiting, students finally get to survey their options and choose a college that suits them. At Bottom Line, we spend a lot of time talking about “finding a fit” – meaning a college that meets a student’s academic, financial, career, and personal needs. Affordability is an integral part of this discussion. By enrolling in a college that meets their financial needs, a student can complete a degree without accumulating an excessive amount of debt. In many cases, Bottom Line advises students to enroll in full-need schools, such as College of the Holy Cross and Tufts University, or state schools, such as UMass Boston and Worcester State University, which have a low cost of attendance.

Ariana Campos of University Park Campus School in Worcester (below) is just one student who, we are proud to say, has found her fit! After getting accepted to all 9 of the schools she applied to, and after looking over her award letters with Bottom Line, she was glad to find out that she can graduate debt-free from Harvard University. We are excited to help all 785 seniors from Massachusetts and New York choose a school in the coming weeks.

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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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Since my last blog, a lot has changed as far as college applications go. After getting called for my third POSSE interview, I decided that Denison was not the right choice for me and politely declined the opportunity. I came to this decision due to the distance of the school from Boston. Ohio is pretty far for a hometown girl.

However, declining this scholarship worries me about the financial aspect of college. I think that I need to apply to many other scholarships in order to afford tuition. My FAFSA meeting with Bottom Line is coming up next week and I am anxious to get it done accurately and as soon as possible.

The farthest school on my college list is in Syracuse, New York. My top-choice school is still Boston College, but I am open to attending any of the other eight colleges that I applied to, which includes Syracuse, Bentley, and Boston University. Remembering my college list incontrovertibly keeps me from catching senioritis… Well, for now it does. =]

Yaritza

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It’s financial aid season! That means time for college students to fill out FAFSAs and CSS profiles. Applying for financial aid can be daunting and confusing, particularly if you’re from a family that is unfamiliar with the process. Since applying for financial aid is somewhat complex, there’s many misconceptions about how paying for college actually works. Below are the five common myths that Bottom Line counselors often debunk for students.Student-Counselor Meeting

1) My family doesn’t have any money, so I can’t afford to go to college.

All college students are eligible for financial aid, which will help you pay for college! To determine how much you and your family pay for your education, colleges and the federal government have you calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This lets them know about how much you are eligible to receive in financial aid, based on you and your family’s income, savings, and other indicators. So the less money your family has, the more aid you should expect to receive for college.

2) My dream college costs nearly $40,000 a year—I can’t afford that!

Just because a college has a high price tag doesn’t mean that you can’t afford it. For some colleges, you will only have to pay the amount calculated for your EFC. For other colleges, there will be a gap between your EFC and the college’s price tag. If there’s a gap, you can always advocate with the college’s financial aid office and apply for outside scholarships.

3) Public colleges are always more affordable than private colleges.

On the contrary, some private colleges award “full need” financial aid packages. That means they provide students with enough grants and low-interest loans to make up the difference between their family’s EFC and the school’s cost of attendance.

4) The only way I can get money for college is by having perfect grades.

Colleges and the federal government award scholarships, grants, and low-interest loans based solely on financial need—that’s what financial aid is! Merit-based scholarships and grants are awarded separately from financial aid packages.

5) I was awarded $5,000 in work-study, so the rest of my tuition expenses are covered.

Not so fast—work-study is money that you have to earn throughout the semester… by checking students into the dining hall, logging packages in the mail room, or answering phones at an administrative office. You can’t subtract this money from the bill that’s due at the beginning of the semester, since it will take you all semester to earn the money. In addition, you only get paid for the number of hours that you work. While you’ve been awarded $5,000 in work-study, you may only have time in your schedule to earn $4,000 of this award.

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Greetings from UMass Lowell!

As a brand new target college for Bottom Line, UMass Lowell presents some unique challenges for college counselors. Our inaugural class here is comprised of eleven students, all of whom are first-years. Each student is assigned to one counselor, Rachel Smith, who has very busy days when she visits campus at least once a month.

Bottom Line student Leon Shaw gives a tour of UMass Lowell

Bottom Line student Leon Shaw gives a tour of UMass Lowell

For many of our students, going to college is a huge step and one that is not always easy to take. Our first-year students often require a lot of support and we devote a great deal of our time to making sure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Today we are on campus to make sure all of our students have a study plan for finals and have registered for spring semester classes.

I am on campus today to support Rachel so that we can see all eleven students. I just finished meeting with Jamal Grant who was one of my high school students last year. It was great to see Jamal. He just finished his first ever season of crew and enjoyed himself despite the early wake-ups and cold mornings on the Merrimack River. He is also doing well in classes despite a difficult major: Mechanical Engineering.

Many of our students here are majoring in engineering fields, which means lots of science and math classes. (As a political science graduate, this sounds awful to me!) But our students here are dedicated and doing their best to connect with the academic resources they need to succeed.

Since UMass Lowell was a new school for Bottom Line’s College Success Program, it was important for our staff to learn the campus and develop connections with the various academic and administrative departments so that we can best serve our students. Over the summer, a team of Bottom Line counselors visited UMass Lowell and met with representatives from a variety of offices, including Financial Aid, Health Services, Academic Support Services, and Career Services. The staff members we have met in these offices have proved invaluable over the course of this semester. Countless times, Rachel has given Christine Robbins a call to discuss a student’s financial aid issue or emailed Maureen Souza to help a student find a work-study job. Having people on campus who understand Bottom Line’s program and mission makes our jobs much easier because it allows us to get fast answers to student problems.

We’ll be checking in with our UMass Lowell students again after the semester ends to assess their progress and address any challenges they’re facing. Hopefully we will hear good news about their semester grades!

Check back soon for more updates from the field.

Justin Strasburger
Transition Coordinator

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“Over the past three decades, our nation has witnessed great increases in college-going rates—no doubt due in part to widespread efforts by education policymakers and college access practitioners. Yet despite progress, just over half of students enrolled in four-year institutions graduate within six years (NCES 2009).”

This disparity between college access and college success rates was the motivation for the Pathways to College Network (directed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy) and the National College Access Network to release a “Research to Practice Brief” on how social supports and self-efficacy affect the success of underrepresented student populations. The brief is part of the Pathways to College Network’s effort to promote the need for college retention support services that address both the academic and social needs of college students. To learn more about the college success field, they called on Bottom Line.

Bottom Line believes as the Pathways to College Network does: that students need to be supported as both academic achievers and, well,  as human beings. That’s why our College Success Program model focuses on four areas (academics, employment, financial aid, and emotional wellbeing), not simply academics. As the brief states, “In Bottom Line’s experience, the more confident its students are in their preparation and the more supported the students feel, the more likely they are to succeed in college.”

To learn more about the role of social support and self-efficacy in college retention, read a summary of the brief or the full brief.

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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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