Washington educators say this mostly online school year is a golden opportunity for 11th- and 12th-graders to take a Running Start class or two. But the deadline for signing up — at one college, it’s Sept. 15 — is approaching fast.

Running Start classes, which are offered at the state’s community colleges, give high school juniors and seniors a chance to earn both high school and college credit, and it’s tuition-free for students taking a normal course load. (There are often fees for digital content, science labs and online learning, but those fees may be waived for low-income students.)

One of the biggest barriers to taking Running Start, for many students, is finding transportation to and from a community college in the middle of the school day. This might be a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic: Because the state’s 34 community and technical colleges are teaching most or all of their courses online, there’s no need to show up in-person.

Taking Running Start “can save students time and money on their higher education, and it’s a great way to challenge themselves academically while in a college setting,” said Nicole Beattie, associate director of communications for Bellevue College. Students also get access to college support services — free math, science and writing labs, tutoring, library services and Running Start advisers.

You can peruse Bellevue College’s course catalog here, and read more about the steps you need to take to apply here.

Technically, since nearly all classes across the state are being offered online, students aren’t required to enroll at their closest community college. But Beattie recommends that prospective students connect with either their high school adviser, or a Running Start adviser, to decide where to enroll. “When we’re back to in-person instruction, students might find it simpler to already be enrolled at the campus nearest to them,” she said.

Deadlines are nearing quickly. For Bellevue College, for example, students need to apply by Sept. 15; many classes are already full. Classes start Sept. 21.