Image from Flickr Commons

Image from Flickr Commons.

If you’re a high school student in Washington state, you’ve probably heard of, and are perhaps considering, Running Start. It’s a dual enrollment program that allows 11th and 12th graders to earn high school and college credit concurrently. Running Start participants are allowed to take classes at Washington’s community and technical colleges, as well as a couple specified universities. Dual enrollment programs vary by state, and even if you’re not a Washington state resident, much of this material is applicable to dual enrollment programs across the country.

Why Running Start?

Students choose to go down the Running Start path for a variety of reasons. Some find that the high school environment isn’t working for them.

“I did not like the public high school environment,” Aya Mandley, a Running Start participant, says. “I didn’t feel engaged in the classroom. I felt like the people were not dedicated and it distracted me from my learning. I wanted to be around older, more mature people.”

Camille Bever, who earned her AA in pre-nursing through the Running Start program, liked having the ability to take classes that she would need in the long run.

“I wanted to be more focused in my studies…the community college offered classes that were more specific to my intended major,” Bever says.

Bang for your buck.

One of the most important incentives for the Running Start program is its financial aspect. Running Start students don’t have to pay for college tuition — they only have to cover college fees, books, and transportation.

“It would have been much more expensive to get the same degree after I graduated at either a community college or a university,” admits Bever.

Things to consider:

Running Start isn’t going to be a perfect fit for every student. There are still a few things to take into consideration.

“If you do Running Start, you have to make sure you’re choosing a school that will accept it,” Danette Kha says. Every school has a different policy about AP credit, and the same applies to dual enrollment programs. If you’re planning on attending a school outside of your state in the future, it’s wise to look into how they treat dual enrollment credit.

Furthermore, becoming a full time Running Start student won’t always be the best use of your time and money. Higher institutions usually set a cap on how many credits they will allow students to transfer.

“Sometimes you come in with more credits than a university will accept,” Kha elaborates.

Lastly, one needs to decide if they’re intellectually prepared for the rigor of college classes. “You’re starting your GPA now….You don’t really get a chance to start over,” Kha says.

But if you are academically ready for college courses, Running Start can give you an advantage when you reach college application season.

“You look better to colleges if you get good grades,” Mandley says. “You show them you are capable of being a good college student. Running Start has prepared me for the vigor of college courses that I’m in now. I’ve already learned how to manage my stress levels and my time. All around, it really hasn’t been much of a transition for me.”

Ultimately, every person has their own unique situation, and Running Start/dual enrollment programs are the best bet for some students.

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