How to know if Running Start is right for you

The pros and cons of augmenting your high school career

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How to know if Running Start is right for you

Piper Sloan, Staff Reporter

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All around the nation there are college freshmen holed up in their dorm rooms suppressing a mental breakdown. Hair is being pulled out, teeth are being grinded, sleep is being lost and snacks are being eaten – all out of stress.

According to an article on Peterson’s, a company dedicated to helping prepare students for college, four of the most common reasons for dropping out of college are that it is too expensive, students are overly stressed, they lack a reason to complete a full degree and are unprepared for the workload. Knowing this, one would think that a program designed to prevent students from falling victim to these traps would be wildly popular.

And yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Running start is a program in Washington and Hawaii that offers high school juniors and seniors a chance to take classes at a local community college and to earn free college credits. Running start offers multiple other benefits, including the chance to get an associate’s degree before you even graduate high school.

It seems that Running Start offers a solution to all the aforementioned reasons that students dropout of college. It helps students to adjust to the new surroundings of a college campus in advance, meaning less stress the following year; it offers an associate’s degree, free of charge and during a time when people are in school anyway, so there’s all the more reason to finish and receive an actual degree and there’s no need to worry about the cost; plus it allows students to adjust to the larger and more rigorous workload of college in a lower stakes environment, helping them prepare for the future. So why are there only 140 students currently enrolled in the program?

High school experience  

Despite its advantages, many high school students choose not to partake in Running Start. Often times the reason is that they don’t want to miss out on the high school experience, including things like pep-rallies, spirit weeks, senior assassin and after school clubs and sports. One of these such students is senior Sophie Adams who is taking zero classes with Running Start.

“Part of the appeal of going to college for me was to experience it, so I don’t necessarily want to cut it down. I want to experience all four years so that whole saving money thing didn’t seem worth it,” she said. “I want to be at Ballard for all four years and I want to be at university for all four years so it didn’t make sense to cut time on both ends.”

College preparation

In addition to wanting the full experience of both college and high school, Adams believes that the Advanced Placement (AP) and College In the High School (CIHS) level classes she has taken this year, and in previous years, will be enough preparation for the rigor of a college curriculum.

She’s not the only one who feels this way; head counselor Katie Huguenin also believes that the challenging courses offered in high school are often times enough preparation for the difficulty and workload of college classes. “I feel like a lot of our kids currently are [preparing themselves for college level curriculum and workload] by taking AP classes or taking a CIHS class. Running Start is just another way of accessing a college level curriculum” she says.

However, participating in Running Start may give students a leg up in other aspects of college preparation. Although there isn’t a way of telling for certain, students who partake in Running Start have more of a chance to grow comfortable on a college campus than those who choose to stay in high school.

Camille Folweiler, a senior who recently graduated from an all Running Start schedule, feels that if she chooses to go to a four year college later in life she would be more comfortable in a college classroom than her peers as a result of her experiences in Running Start.

“Running Start students aren’t separated in any way from the rest of the school so if you’re in Running Start you’re taking real college classes,” Folweiler said in a text message. This experience allows students to feel more familiar in a college setting, likely making them more comfortable and less stressed in the future.


While Running Start offers many benefits, certain aspects make it difficult to access. Different, and sometimes faraway locations make for a difficult commute, especially for students whose schedule is part Running Start and part high school.

“I wanted to do band, and then I also wanted to do French at Ballard,” Adams said. “And then it didn’t make sense to commute to the college to potentially only take two credits”.

For students in academies, such as Biotech or film, which require taking classes on campus, or who wish to take certain classes only offered at their high school, enrolling in Running Start means a back and forth commute between the high school and college campus.

On the other hand, if students choose to enroll full time in Running Start, they simply need to find a way to get to and from the college campus for class, which is significantly easier than dealing with the two different schedules and timing of college and high school.


One of the additional benefits of Running Start is that enrolling in the program is entirely free of charge. This means that students who would struggle to pay for college tuition get a chance to earn a degree without having to worry about the cost.

Even though they won’t be able to earn a full bachelor’s degree with Running Start, obtaining an associate’s degree will not only cut down on the time students need to spend in college but it will also allow students to get a higher level job than is possible with only a high school diploma, both of which will help students save money in the future.

“I’ve got no regrets about doing Running Start. It’s been a really amazing experience and how often are you offered free college credit?” Folweiler said.

Future goals

It’s difficult to point out who should and shouldn’t participate in Running Start, specifically because it might not align with student’s goals. “There are some folks where it just doesn’t work for them, as in it doesn’t align with their academic goals,” Huguenin said, “They don’t want to have two years of college credit, they want to go to a four year university… it’s more about how it might just not be a great fit.”

On the contrary, for some students the unconventional high school and college experience is exactly what they’re looking for to reach their goals. “So I’m not really going straight to college,” Folweiler said. “I’m taking a year or two off and I want to in the marine transportation industry (like captaining a boat and stuff) so I might not go to college at all and if I do go to college it would be like a weird maritime college.”

Since Folweiler isn’t certain that she is going to go to college at all, participating in Running Start has allowed her to get a higher education without attending a conventional four year university.


Running Start offers great opportunities for students seeking an alternative schedule or to get away from the high school setting. However, participating in Running Start does require significant responsibility.

“I find that the times [Running Start] is not a great fit is when people are doing it thinking it’s going to be less work because it’s fewer hours in the classroom,” Huguenin said. “If you don’t have the study skills, if you don’t have the work ethic, if you don’t have the ability to advocate and be independent yourself then that does not go well”.

While Running Start offers a schedule in which students spend less time in a classroom, it doesn’t mean that they’re doing less work. They will most likely be taking more challenging courses accompanied by larger workloads. Furthermore, due to the fact that they are in a college class, students need to be able to handle a greater amount of responsibility.

“There’s a level of maturity that’s expected because of the independence that’s required, as far as keeping track of assignments and being sure to attend class everyday,” Huguenin said. “It is a college environment so if folks aren’t ready for that I’ve seen it not go as well. Students get excited about having so much freedom and maybe aren’t as responsible as they should be.”

Unlike high school, when students attend a college as a part of Running Start there is no mechanism in place, such as a principal or assistant principal, to keep them on track with assignments and attendance.

New opportunities

Folweiler chose to enroll in Running Start for multiple reasons. The fact that she only needed two more credits to graduate, which could be attained in 10 weeks through Running Start. Her desire to go into a career in the maritime transportation industry, one which doesn’t necessarily require a degree from a four year college. As well as her general annoyance with her high school curriculum made Running Start the right choice for her.

However, for someone like Adams, who genuinely enjoys being in high school and is looking forward to the college experience. Someone who doesn’t have to worry too excessively about tuition costs, and therefore doesn’t necessarily need to get free college credit while they can, Running Start may not be as fitting as a program.

It’s important to acknowledge that these aren’t the only two kinds of people eligible for Running Start, which makes it a very grey issue. While it may not be right for some, it is still a great opportunity and an important program to consider when discussing high school and college preparation.

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