Bottom Line

Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Evidence Rating:
Top Tier


  • Program:

    A comprehensive program that provides one-on-one advising to help students from low-income backgrounds get into and graduate from college.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of 2,422 low-income students across three sites (Boston, MA, Worcester, MA, and New York City, NY).

  • Key Findings:

    A statistically-significant, 8 percentage point increase in likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree. Six years after random assignment (i.e., five years after expected high school graduation), 55% of Bottom Line students had graduated with a bachelor’s degree versus 47% of control group students.

[Disclosure: Arnold Ventures provided funding for the randomized controlled trial of Bottom Line.[1]]

Bottom Line is a program designed to help high school students from low-income backgrounds get into and graduate from college. Students are eligible for the program if they have a high school grade point average of 2.5 or greater and come from families that make less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Bottom Line serves such students through two linked programs: Access and Success. In the Access program, students meet one-on-one with full-time, trained advisors every 3-4 weeks throughout their senior year of high school to: (i) identify colleges where they are likely to be successful; (ii) apply to those schools; (iii) complete financial aid and scholarship applications; and (iv) select a college or university that best meets their needs.

If students choose to attend one of Bottom Line’s “target institutions,” they are invited to join the Success program, which begins the summer between high school and college.[2] Through the Success program, campus-based advisors provide students enrolled in target institutions with continued individualized support for up to six years following high school in several areas including course selection, adjusting to college social life, and managing financial aid. Success program advisors meet with students an average of 3-4 times per semester during their first year of college and approximately twice per semester thereafter.

The estimated per-student cost of Bottom Line is approximately $4,000.

Click here for the Bottom Line website.

To see our full evidence summary:
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[1] Additional support for the study came from the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

[2] Approximately 50% of students in the Access program go on to enroll in a target institution and enter the Success program. Bottom Line currently works with 52 target institutions, which were selected by the program based on a combination of their quality and affordability. The number of targeted institutions was retrieved from Bottom Line’s website in October 2021.

Barr, A. & Castleman, B. (2021). The Bottom Line on College Advising: Large Increases in Degree Attainment. EdWorkingPaper 21-481. Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University:

Barr, A., & Castleman, B. (2017). The Bottom Line on College Counseling. Boston, MA: Bottom Line. Bottom Line. Retrieved from:

Barr, A., & Castleman, B. (2016). Advising Students to and through College: Experimental Evidence from the Bottom Line Advising Program. Boston, MA: Bottom Line. Retrieved from

Email correspondence with Andrew Barr and Ben Castleman.

Other Studies:

Castleman, B., & Goodman, J. (2018). Intensive College Counseling and the Enrollment and Persistence of Low Income Students. Education Finance and Policy, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 19-41.