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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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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As many of you know, I am a Bottom Line student. This means that I come from a low income household, I am the first in my family or from the first generation of my family to attend college, and I earned at least a 2.5 GPA in high school. Like the majority of Bottom Line students, I am considered a minority* student. Why am I mentioning this? Because many minority students tend to hold back from the study abroad experience. There is plenty of research proving this to be true. Trust me: if studying abroad is really what you want to do, then you can make it happen regardless of the obstacles that we face as minority students!

A year ago, my Bottom Line counselor told me that her brother did some research on minority college students going abroad. The research showed that not many of us actually went through with it. As soon as the meeting with my counselor was over, I quickly headed back to my dorm room and started researching. The research I found showed that only a limited number of African-American and Hispanic/Latino students actually studied in a foreign country (here’s results from one study). I was very skeptical of the research that had been compiled throughout the years; when I was applying to study abroad, many other Holy Cross minority students were applying to the program too. A couple of months later, almost all of my fellow classmates were accepted into the various programs. However, as I sit here in my house in Spain, the majority of the minority Holy Cross students who dreamed of going abroad are still at home.

You may wonder, “Well, maybe they just couldn’t afford to go abroad.” Then how was I able to come abroad even though I come from a low-income family? You may then think, “Maybe their major did not allow them.” I am a double major and completing a concentration and I did it! Yes, some majors or tracks make it much more difficult to go abroad (i.e. Premed, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Political Science), but 3 premed students, 2 chemistry majors, 1 political science major, and 1 economics major are currently studying in Spain with me. Do you see what I mean? Studying abroad is very possible! Of course, difficult family or financial circumstances may arise last minute that can hinder our chances of going abroad. However, although us minority students face our own unique set of challenges, I am living proof that studying abroad is possible.

College of the Holy Cross students currently studying in Spain.

If YOU are interested in going abroad and have no serious reasons not to then YOU totally should! Seek out information and resources at your college’s Study Abroad Office or ALANA Cultural Center. Talk to your academic advisor about how you can meet your major requirements while studying abroad. Look for funding that can help you pay for the study abroad experience (the Gilman Scholarship Program is a popular one). Find someone who can help you pick a suitable program and navigate the study abroad process. We all need to come together and start changing the statistics, one minority student at a time. 🙂

Hasta luego,



*By “minority” I mean African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, etc.

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Throughout the country, thousands of students are walking across stages to accept a milestone for which they have worked tirelessly: their college diploma. The month of May marks the culmination of numerous study sessions, group projects, and research papers as well as the beginning of a new journey. Particularly for low-income and first-generation college graduates, this time is transformative.

Last week, Odalis Polanco, a new graduate of Northeastern University and Bottom Line’s College Success Program, was profiled on and The Chronicle of Higher Education.  As a Torch Scholar and a Bottom Line student, Odalis demonstrates the determination that many students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds exhibit. To Odalis and the many other students graduating this month, congratulations. To the organizations, institutions, and individuals who supported these remarkable students, thank you.

Hear what Odalis says about working with Bottom Line…

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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,

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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!


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