ACT Versus New SAT: Which Should I Choose?


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Photo courtesy of Vixit/Shutterstock.com

We are frequently asked by our students whether they should take the ACT, the SAT or both. In light of the launch of the revamped SAT this past spring, we offer the following comparison of the two exams, which can help guide students toward the one that is right for them.

Testing Time — Overall

The required portions of the new SAT constitute a significantly shorter test than the old version — three hours on the dot versus three hours and 45 minutes. For students electing to take the optional SAT writing section, your total testing time will be bumped to 3 hours and 50 minutes, a touch longer than the previous test. The ACT, without optional writing, remains a two-hour-and-55-minute exam. With writing, it will take you three hours and 35 minutes.

In short, the tests are now pretty much — give or take a few inconsequential minutes — the same length.

Time Per Question

The ACT offers longer sections and shorter time intervals, so speed and time management are important to scoring high. Test-takers must complete 215 questions or one question every 49 seconds to finish the exam.

The new SAT is just 154 questions in length, translating to 1 minute and 10 seconds per question. However, the revamped test’s questions are quite reading-intensive, even on the math section, meaning that the extra time is less a case of charity and more one of necessity.

To Calculate or Not to Calculate …

Both tests require a strong grasp of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. However, the ACT also includes more advanced math concepts, such as trigonometry, logarithms and imaginary numbers. If you haven’t aced your advanced math courses in high school, the SAT math section may present as the more friendly option.

On the other side, if your calculation skills are weak, the SAT may present as more of a challenge. While the longer math section (38 questions) allows you to use a calculator, there is a shorter section (20 questions) where no calculator is permitted. It’s important to note that the calculation skills required are not particularly advanced. The SAT has shifted its focus toward data analysis skills over pure mathematics.

Writing

Obviously, the SAT dropping its mandatory writing section is a big change. Both tests are now on equal footing in that regard. The content of each writing test is also quite similar, sporting a primary focus on grammatical mastery and writing skills. The SAT asks students to evaluate an already-composed written work for structure, presentation of logical arguments and usage of evidence. The ACT revised its writing section as well, which now asks students to analyze three perspectives on a given issue (i.e. the value of the arts in public education).

Most schools do not require submission of an ACT or SAT writing score. A few selective institutions such as Yale University, all schools in the University of California system, Duke University, Claremont McKenna College, and Emory University require the writing section on either test. Submission of a writing score is recommended at quite a few institutions of the highly-selective variety, including Amherst College, Colby College, and Georgia Tech as well as some moderately selective schools like the University of Delaware, the University of Kentucky and Simmons College in Boston.

Reading/English

Remember, the ACT has a reading and English section. The English section focuses more on the mechanics of writing (grammar, syntax, rhetorical devices) and the reading section covers comprehension. Reading comprehension is essential to success on either standardized test. However, the SAT’s questions are more context-dependent and require a more complex problem-solving process than the ACT’s reading questions — hence the additional time allotted per question.

The College Board has scaled back the SAT’s heavy dose of highly obscure vocabulary words (consider lighting a candle for words like propinquity, lachrymose, and blowsy), making it more comparable to the ACT reading section. The passages presented on the SAT derive from sources you might find in an average high school classroom such as historical documents or a fictional piece by Nathanial Hawthorne. The ACT relies more on contemporary sources and are more like what you would encounter in today’s newspaper.

Science?

Don’t let the science label scare you away. The ACT Science section assesses graph/chart/research study interpretation and reading comprehension, rather than any specific content knowledge of biology, chemistry or physics. That being said, students who like science are usually less distracted by mentions of metamorphic rocks or RNA than science-avoidant students. Again, you don’t need to be a scientific scholar to excel on this test, but it’s worth taking multiple practice tests in order to get accustomed to wading through the jargon so you can focus on what the question is really assessing.

More Similar Than Different

Make no mistake, the College Board was clearly reacting to the ACT’s exploding popularity with their March 2016 overhaul. The SAT eliminated its penalty for guessing, dropped mandatory writing and shelved obscure vocabulary words — all in an effort to be more competitive in the big-money industry of standardized testing.

As a result, the differences between the two tests are now more subtle and deciding which one to take involves a modified understanding of each, which hopefully you now possess. If you remain unsure which test is most tailored to your skillset, we recommend taking a sample ACT and SAT under timed-conditions to see which one plays more to your strengths.

 

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website — collegetransitions.com — for additional information and be sure to order a copy of our new book, The Enlightened College Applicant, to learn more about the college admissions process.

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College Transitions

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About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

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October 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

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Take part in a 10k, 5k or 1-mile-fun-run to raise funds for local mental health research. Register online. The event also features food and kids' activities. Register online.

Cost: $30-$75. Free for ages 5 and younger.

Where:
The Angus Barn
9401 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Website »

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Enjoy pottery demonstrations, kiln openings, raku firings, glass blowing demos, food trucks, live music, a raffle and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Cedar Creek Gallery
1150 Fleming Rd.
Creedmoor, NC  27522
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Website »

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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

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Shop antiques, crafts and art, and enjoy food trucks at this artisan and vintage market in downtown Cary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Fidelity Bank Parking Lot
100 W. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Contact Name: Leslie & Jessica
Website »

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Ages 5-8 embrace science and nature while developing skills and knowledge about the natural world. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Kids (ages 6-10) learn to identify the tracks and skulls of common animals that live in or near the preserve. Make a plaster cast of a track to take home. Weather permitting, take a hike to...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
Website »

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Explore the uses of pumpkins, past and present, and study pumpkins inside and out. Paint a small pumpkin to take home. All ages. Meet at the Upper Pavilion. Registration required for all family...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Enjoy live music and delicious soups, breads, sandwiches and desserts from some of Chapel Hill and Carrboro's leading chefs. Unique, handcrafted bowls donated by local artists will also be...

Cost: $15-$75

Where:
Weaver Street Market Carrboro
101 E Weaver St
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sponsor: TABLE
Telephone: (919) 636-4860
Website »

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Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

This event, designed for academic students with disabilities in grades 6-12 who are performing at or near grade level, gives attendees a chance to meet role models with disabilities who have...

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

See Happy Dan perform magic, comedy and more.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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In this workshop, students will observe that infographics are often used to raise awareness or sell products in social media, and are more easily searched and viewed on the Pinterest platform....

Cost: Free: students must register

Where:
Caktus Group
108 Morris St.
Ste 2
Durham, NC  27701
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Website »

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Celebrate Raleigh's creativity under the beautiful lights and cobblestone streets of City Market. Find locally-made goods and enjoy a night filled with music and entertainment with over 30...

Cost: Free

Where:
City Market
306 Parham St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
Contact Name: Sara Buxton
Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Read the book by Rebecca Emberley and build your own monster out of recyclable materials. All ages with adult. Registration required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Mothers and sons wear their favorite costumes at this event featuring a costume contest, games, ice cream and dancing. Ages 5-12. Register online. Choose course #116813.

Cost: $21/parent and child pair; $11 additional child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
123 Middle Creek Park Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
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Website »

More information

Take the family to carve pumpkins and take part in a pumpkin-carving contest later that evening, Prizes awarded for scariest, funniest and most original pumpkin creation. Enjoy a video game...

Cost: Free

Where:
TheeDesign
7901 Strickland Dr.
Suite 112
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: TheeDesign
Telephone: 919-341-8901
Contact Name: Lauren Elliott
Website »

More information

Friday, October 19; 6:00–7:00 p.m. Did you know there are over 40,000 different species of spiders! Join us as we explore a few arachnids found in our park as we search out these 8-legged...

Cost: $1/Person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a walk to benefit the Triangle Festival of Hope. Proceeds benefit and support caregivers and families living with dementia in North Carolina. The event features live music, kids'...

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Sponsor: Dementia Alliance of North Carolina
Telephone: 919-832-3732
Contact Name: Kacy Hall
Website »

More information

Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family for live entertainment, a bounce house, a costume contest, trick or treat training, princess hair braiding, face painting, music and more. The Aspen School's preschool programs...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Aspen School for Exceptional Children
1050 A NW Maynard Road
Cary, NC  27513
View map »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Step back in time with 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Preregistration encouraged. Purchase tickets at the mill. 

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Children ages 6 & un

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Children's booksellers read their favorite picture books. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Join costumed interpreters Jon and Karena Potter to learn 19th-century country dances. Drop-in program; registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a festival celebrating work, food and harvest. This event explores the season for all people on one of North Carolina's largest plantations, through games, music, food,...

Cost: $5/person. Free for ages 2 and younger

Where:
Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy.
Durham, NC  27712
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Triangle Beagle Rescue of NC hosts Beaglefest. Enjoy vendors, food, dog-related games, a dog costume contest, swag, photos with your pup and with beagles. All leashed dogs welcome.

Cost: $10 for adults; $5 for children under 12

Where:
Sunny Acres Pet Resort
5908 US-70 BUS
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Triangle Beagle Rescue of NC
Telephone: 919 760 0025
Contact Name: Leann
Website »

More information

Learn about the history of candy at a display table. Taste penny candy and take a trip around the globe to explore the world’s favorite sugary treats. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the vegetable patch for pumpkins, hear stories about gourd life cycle and uses, try roasted pumpkin seeds, and decorate a mini-pumpkin to take home. Ages 5-10 with adult. Register...

Cost: $9/member, $12/nonmember. Free for accompanying adult.

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
Website »

More information

Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

More information

Mark your calendars! Our annual Halloween event, Creepy Crabtree, will return in October! This free park wide event will investigate the darker side of nature. Join the freakish festivities,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 191-946-03355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Join us on October 20, 2018, for the Harmony Playground Gala fundraiser at the Farm at 42, 1075 Lynchburg Road,  Selma, NC, from 5 pm - 9:30 pm.  The event will benefit the first...

Cost: $100 per person

Where:
The Farm at 42
1075 Lynch Road
Selma, NC  27576
View map »


Sponsor: Clayton Community Recreational Foundation
Telephone: 919 589 2523 x707
Contact Name: Jacqui Pomales-Moody
Website »

More information

Take a walk with a park naturalist to explore the woods and fields at this special time of day.  Preregister online.

Cost: $3

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson Nature Preserve staff
Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Each year over 35,000 visitors come to BugFest to experience over 100 exhibits, crafts, games and activities. Interact with entomologists and other scientists so you can continue learning about the...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: BASF, Terminix, and Walmart
Contact Name: Kari Wouk
Website »

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