How to Graduate High School with College Credit

As a parent of a 5 and a 3-year old, I’m already behind on the college savings timeline. We just started getting organized this winter, but I should have opened a 529A before picking out their names. Luckily, I spend my days working in a NH college, and I get to hear about the latest strategies to save on tuition: And one program everyone should know about now is Dual Enrollment.

What is Dual Enrollment?

Dual Enrollment lets high schoolers take classes that can count as both high school and college credit. The “dual” setup means students stay on track to get a high school diploma while earning a college transcript they can send anywhere, reducing the number of credits (and funds) needed for their future college degree. Dual Enrollment courses are also low-cost compared with regular tuition rates. And in some cases, classes are free.

Of all the Dual Enrollment programs, the most high profile is Running Start.

Running Start

Running Start brings college courses into high schools for students to take as part of their daily schedules. High school instructors with college-level teaching credentials lead courses using a college syllabus and course materials.

Tuition is $150 per class; or $75 with a need-based scholarship. Compare that with the lowest tuition in New Hampshire ($215 per credit at the NH Community Colleges as of the 2019-2020 academic year). Some classes are free, thanks to NH Gov. Chris Sununu’s scholarship program for any STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) related course.

Through the Governor’s Scholarship program, high schoolers can take up to two free STEM Running Start courses per academic year.

Not sure if a class qualifies as STEM? It’s worth asking the guidance department. For instance, some business classes qualify for the scholarship due to the math included in the curriculum.

Merrimack High grad Trey Forbes with Dexter

Merrimack High School graduate Trey Forbes celebrating with Dexter. MHS is a Running Start partner with NCC and offers college credit for courses such as business and philosophy.

Early College

Another Dual Enrollment program is Early College, which invites high school students to take college classes at NH Community Colleges for a 50 percent tuition break. Students are treated like any other college student and get a taste of the higher ed experience. Credits earned are also highly transferable, and can count toward high school graduation credits with the high school’s approval.


This is the online version of Dual Enrollment. With eStart, students choose an online college course to earn college and high school credit; with the approval of their high school.

All Students are Welcome

A big misconception is that Dual Enrollment is for the highest performing students, but it is meant to be accessible for everyone. In fact, high school students might end up in a Running Start-eligible class by accident. For instance, some English classes equate to College Comp (English 101) credits. However, students need to sign up for Running Start to avoid leaving college credits on the table.

At my college in Nashua, I’ve met students who started college with two semesters or more of credits earned through Dual Enrollment programs. The most extreme case was a home-school student who earned her associate degree in electronic engineering technology the same semester she earned her high school diploma. She went straight from high school into her junior year at UNH Manchester.

While these particular programs are hosted by the NH Community Colleges, students have transferred to hundreds of other colleges and universities. Check with guidance to see what’s available at your high school. Or, stop by your local community college.

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