As part of Washington State’s Learning By Choice Initiative, eligible students take courses at local community and technical colleges.

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Football games, school dances and lunchroom drama aren’t for everyone, so when Taylor Codomo of Issaquah realized she could avoid a group of girls who were bullying her and attend the last two years of high school at Bellevue College at the same time, she jumped at the chance. As part of Washington state’s Running Start program, Codomo will obtain an associate degree along with a high school diploma in the spring of 2016. “For me, it was a way to stay close to friends and not have to switch schools,” she says.

For other students, Running Start offers a fast track to getting ahead in certain subjects, earning college prerequisites, and potentially saving money on a four-year degree.

Ava Ikbal, a senior at Roosevelt High School, took a summer class at North Seattle College as a way to get a year ahead in math. “The class was fun and I liked the challenge,” says Ikbal, who then enrolled in Running Start and is currently taking three classes at Roosevelt and two at NSC.

What is Running Start?

A program designed for 11th and 12th grade as part of Washington State’s Learning By Choice Initiative, eligible students are able to take college courses at local community and technical colleges free of charge. Students earn both high school and college credits for the courses, and students can either take all of their classes at the college level, or split between high school and college. Because taking classes on two different campuses could create scheduling problems, high school counselors work with students to avoid conflicts and help keep track of graduation requirements. Tuition is waived, with the exception of books, lab fees, transportation and summer courses. There is also a limit of 15 credits per quarter; beyond that, students and families are expected to cover the difference.

Beware of the “easy A”

Malcolm Roux, who is now a freshman at University of Portland, split his last two years between Roosevelt, North Seattle College and South Seattle College, and was able get through three years of high school math during his junior year. His only regret was fulfilling his American Government requirement at college rather than at Roosevelt. “It wasn’t as challenging” he says. “Homework was minimal, assignments were completed on your own volition, and there weren’t any check-offs like in high school. If you didn’t sleep in class, you could have gotten a good grade.” For this reason, Roux advises students considering Running Start to do their homework first and not seek out easy A’s. “I used the program to get ahead, but I can also see how some could abuse it by taking easy, intro-level classes and getting quick credits.”

Finding the right fit

Is it strange going to college as a teenager? Not really, says Codomo. “I mostly hang out with other Running Start students, but I have been in classes with students as young as 14 and as old as 70.” Classes, for the most part, are small, and Running Start students say they appreciate the diversity of the student body, the fact that the learning is hands-on, and they get to know their instructors. Some students, including Ikbal, have also taken the opportunity to get involved in college organizations on campus. “It’s helped me get a perspective on what college life is like and get prepared,” says Ikbal.