Why high school students should consider Running Start

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Since K-12 classes are all online this fall, now is the perfect time for high schoolers to give Running Start a try. Stock photo.


With K-12 classes online for the foreseeable future, now is a great time for students curious about Running Start to take a closer look. For the unfamiliar, Running Start is a program that allows academically qualified students in grades 11-12 to take college courses for free while earning both high school and college credit.

The most touted benefit of the program is cost savings. Though there are some nominal fees, and students must pay for books, tuition for the program is free. Students who qualify for reduced lunch can receive assistance with books and fees. Students who plan their courses carefully and attend college full time their junior and senior years can graduate high school with an associate degree and two free years of college.

In fact, in 2017 alone, 3,111 students earned associate degrees along with their high-school diplomas, saving themselves and their families up to $39 million combined in college tuition.

Even if you’re not trying to graduate high school with an associate degree, you can still earn enough free college credits to leave a four-year university program with significantly less debt.

And the benefits of the program go well beyond cost-saving.

Students unsure if college is right for them or who want to ease into the college experience can familiarize themselves with the rigor of college-level coursework and increased personal responsibility within a safe environment. Pairing college-level work with college-level support services plus the backing of both a high school and college counselor helps high schoolers learn how to succeed in higher education.

And, according to the University of Washington’s Admissions, “These programs are challenging and demanding, and we believe they provide excellent preparation for university study.”

Colleges typically offer a wider variety of class options than high school, so students wanting an early start on career exploration can sate their curiosity for free. College instructors usually have first-hand experience working in their fields and can serve as sounding boards for students weighing career paths. Instructors can also introduce students to internship opportunities that give them extra insight into the ins and outs of a particular career environment.

Students who struggle to focus on learning eight hours a day will appreciate the flexibility of the college environment. College classes can begin anywhere from 8am to 7pm, and some are even offered on weekends. If you work your schedule right, you can be done learning by noon and take the rest of the day for homework, work, or extracurriculars.

Running Start students will take classes in the company of people who are motivated to learn and who can push them to approach education with the same vigor. It also means Running Start students are introduced to more diversity than they’ll find in a typical high school classroom, opening their eyes to a wide range of experiences, opportunities, paths, and worldviews.

Additionally, seeing adult learners going back to college in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s can help impress on high schoolers the importance of lifelong learning, as well as the importance of choosing a learning path that will let them succeed long term.


Running Start has a high track record of successfully leading students to go on to more college. About 76 percent of Running Start students who graduated from high school in 2014-15 enrolled in a two- or four-year college after high school, compared to only about 55 percent of students who did not take Running Start courses.

Not everyone flourishes in the social culture of high school. For students who want to learn and focus on their education without getting tangled in high school culture, Running Start can be a relief.

While some students bank on earning college credit equivalence by taking high school AP classes, Running Start is actually a safer route to guaranteeing credits transfer at in-state institutions thanks to articulation agreements. AP students are only granted credit after testing, and the amount of credits AP classes can account for is much lower than Running Start.

Since K-12 classes are all online this fall, now is the perfect time for high schoolers to give Running Start a try without fear of missing out on the high school experience. Try one class at a time, or go all-in to earn an associate degree. The choice, and the tuition savings, is yours!

Learn more about Running Start at Shoreline Community College.




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