When Tyler McKinnish, 2010 HCC and Haywood Early College graduate, enrolled with the first group of students in the school’s early college history, he didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t know if it was a good fit for him. But finishing the program early and with an Associate in Arts degree in hand, he realized it was the perfect choice.

Now, McKinnish is at the UNC School of Medicine at Chapel Hill on his way to becoming a doctor. “I found that the Early College program really motivated me,” he explains. “To be in a diverse group of learners that included older students, high school students, and everyone between was inspiring.”

Haywood Early College is a high school that enrolls students in grades 9 through 13. Students complete a high school diploma and a college transfer degree in five years. Through the program, students are integrated into the college culture at the high school level. And it’s free of charge.

“The Early College experience is not for everyone,” says Jenita Pace, Haywood Early College Liaison. “But it is a great opportunity for students who want to become a leader. There’s a wide variety of students and they are very accepting.”

After McKinnish finished HCC, he continued his education at Western Carolina University where he received Bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and environmental health.

“My stint at HCC was seriously invaluable to my success at Western,” McKinnish says. “I knew what I wanted to do from the minute I stepped on campus because of the absolutely wonderful instruction I received from faculty members at HCC.”

McKinnish says he has always loved science and had a great biology teacher in Early College that motivated him to pursue medicine. The Canton native says, “I want to help people and get to know them. I also love complex problem solving. I think being a doctor will integrate all these characteristics.”

Haywood Early College holds an open house each spring. Tours are also available. Applications are available through Haywood County Schools Central Office and through the Haywood Early College Principal’s Office located on the campus of HCC. For more information about Haywood Early College, please call 828-565-4226.