Running Start is a program that allows high school juniors and seniors to attend college early. In Whatcom County, this opportunity is hosted at Bellingham Technical College and Whatcom Community College. However, there are a variety of Running Start programs throughout Washington and Hawaii. Running Start holds many benefits for participating students and their futures.

Running Start students take classes at Whatcom Community College. Photo credit: Katauna Loeuy.

Senior Alyssa Jones has been a part of this program, full time, since her junior year. “A benefit I didn’t realize before doing Running Start is that you get to experience the atmosphere of college before going to a four year university,” she says.

Along with this advantage, Running Start allows students to gain both high school and college credits simultaneously, which allows them to excel beyond the average high school junior or senior. Also, full time Running Start students or part time students who are taking summer courses have the opportunity to receive their Associate’s degree with their high school diploma. This is incredibly beneficial for students financially because Running Start is essentially free. The college does not charge participants in this program for tuition. However, summer classes aren’t covered, nor are additional book or lab fees. Some students may qualify for book loans to help cover the cost.

Another Running Start advantage is that students are granted the freedom to choose the times of their classes. This flexibility improves students’ time management and scheduling skills, as well as communication abilities when coordinating with student advisors. Proficiency in these areas helps students stay on schedule and develop responsibility.

Students communicate with their advisors inside Whatcom Community College’s LaidLaw building. Photo credit: Katauna Loeuy.

There is a learning curve to the program. Some participants find it difficult to balance both high school and college at first. Alayna Singh, a senior attending Squalicum High School and Whatcom Community College part time, says, “Commuting to and from school is always stressful, especially my first year of Running Start. It took a while to get the hang of it.” Singh notes that the experience has helped her improve her scheduling and communication skills. As with most things, proficiency comes with time.

It only takes five simple steps to enroll in the Running Start program. First, students must attend an information session which are held regularly at Whatcom Community College. Times and dates for these sessions are displayed on WCC’s events calendar. Next, students need to be admitted into Running Start. To complete this process, an application for admission, parent permission form and fee waiver petition must be submitted. The packet will be processed, then students will receive a confirmation email. Afterward, students will meet with their high school counselor to ensure that they are taking the correct courses that are required for graduation. Then, it’s time for their classes. Each individual will meet with a college advisor to provide support and ensure the student’s schedule meets their needs. Lastly, students who would like to participate in this program need to attend a college orientation. During this experience, students will be given a tour of the college, as well as information on how to be successful in the diverse collegiate community.

A Running Start pamphlet introduces students to the program. Photo credit: Katauna Loeuy.

Participating students find several differences between high school and Running Start. To begin, Running Start students are expected to act like college students. In college, if assignments aren’t turned in on time, professors are not as lenient. Also, it’s imperative to truly comprehend information learned in college classes because tests take up the majority of students’ grades in Running Start. The grading system also differs.

Every college professor is unique. Running Start allows students the chance to choose their professors. Many individuals make these decisions based on recommendations from their peers or from the online site “Rate My Professor.” It’s prudent for students to sign up quickly; otherwise classes may fill up and they’ll be forced to make another choice.

Running Start increases students’ ability to build knowledge for future benefit. In addition, graduating high school with an Associates Degree gives them a debt-free leg up for the future. And with Running Start, the future is looking better than ever.

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