Are Your High School Student's Classes Rigorous Enough?


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The answer to what students should strive for in most areas impacting college admissions is a straightforward, “more/higher is better.” Whether you’re talking about GPA or standardized tests scores, the goal is always going to be to max out your potential. Yet the problem of selecting an appropriately rigorous high school course load is a bit more opaque. More is not always better and for some, more is not even an option.

It’s All Relative

Part of the paperwork your guidance counselor fills out as part of the Common App Secondary School Report (CASSR) asks them to rank the rigor of your course load as one of the following: Most Demanding, Very Demanding, Demanding, Average, Below Average. Of course, these distinctions are relative to your individual high school’s offerings.

There are 34 AP courses offered by the College Board, but very few schools offer even half that number. Roughly 86 percent of U.S. high schools offer AP testing on site and out of those, the average number of course offerings is eight. If you hail from an under-resourced high school that offers a limited number of AP classes, this will not be held against you as long as you take advantage of the opportunities that are accessible. Attending a high school teeming with AP options raises expectations for participation.

St. Olaf, the elite liberal arts school in Minnesota states that, “Ideally, an applicant will have taken as many honors, Advanced Placement (AP), and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses as available to them in their school.” St. Olaf isn’t saying that you need an exact number of courses; only that you should avail yourself of every opportunity and that they expect your counselor to be circling “Most Demanding.”

How Many AP Classes Do Elite Schools Require?

While it’s difficult to locate precise statistics on the average number of AP courses taken by admitted applicants at prestigious colleges, some information is publicly available. At highly selective Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, the average admitted student took 4.8 AP courses in high school. The University of Georgia’s Class of 2019 averaged six AP courses while in high school.

Some schools such as UNC-Chapel Hill have stated publicly that they will not grant favor in the admissions process to students who took more than five AP courses. This proclamation came a year after over 60 percent of UNC applicants hit double-digits in the number of AP courses taken, leading to concern about high school burnout.

Most elite colleges aren’t as concerned about your work/life balance in high school. If you’re aiming for an Ivy League school, you need to be at or very near the top of your graduating class, which means you’ll need to take as many AP courses as the other academic superstars at your school. Since weighted GPAs work in favor of those taking APs, it would be impossible to take eight AP classes and beat out members of your class taking 12 AP classes.

What’s Better: B in an AP or A in a Regular Course?

The verdict on this frequently posed question is, in most cases, a B in an AP course. If you’re aiming for an Ivy or equally selective institution, the answer would be you need an A in the AP course. For students eyeing the 99% of four-year colleges that have an admit rate of more than 20%, turning in a solid B performance in the most demanding course available will leave you in good shape.

You Don’t Have to Be a Renaissance Man or Woman

The fallacy of needing to appear to colleges as “well-rounded” causes high school students to do a number of foolish things, including joining a dozen clubs in which they have no genuine interest, attending costly summer programs in exotic locales just to appear more worldly and, most commonly, taking honors and AP courses across the board.

Many intelligent people who have a knack for math and science are not as comfortable with or motivated by reading Samuel Beckett plays. Likewise, many young people who elect to read Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War” trilogy on summer vacation are not likely to be thrilled at the idea of learning calculus or advanced physics.

Those who are brilliant across the board and are dead set on attending Yale or Stanford typically have to take on an insane course load — that’s just reality. Everyone else can afford to pick and choose their battles in areas of strength and interest.

The Bottom Line

If you have your heart set on an uber-elite institution, then you need to take as many APs as the other top students in your class. In the case of students not aiming for Ivies, we wholeheartedly recommend taking AP classes only in your expressed areas of interest/strength. Try an AP class as a sophomore (if available) or as a junior and go from there. If you’re successful, take another AP class or two as a senior. This schedule will be rigorous enough to satisfy 99 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities and won’t drive you to the brink of insanity.

Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. Learn more at collegetransitions.com.

 

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College Transitions

Expert advice for finding the right fit


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 2019

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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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary, play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
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Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

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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: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough and Ayr Mount Historic Site presents a weekend of activities centered around Scottish heritage, colonial history and the wildly popular...

Cost: See website for ticket fees

Where:
Ayr Mount Historic Site
376 St. Mary’s Rd
Hillsborough, NC
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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: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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Make witchy legs for the Halloween season. Ages 6-10. Register online. Choose course #126766.

Cost: $31/resident, $40/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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  Join us to celebrate the fall moon! During a full moon in October, the mystical powers of the moon are revealed in many ways, so be on the lookout for live scarecrows, werewolves and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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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
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Ride a bike on the streets of Carrboro. Enjoy bike decorations, giveaways, healthy snacks and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Elementary School
400 Shelton St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Activities include large KidZone with fire engine, face-painting, giant games, inflatable obstacle course, and paint-a-pumpkin. Kids can enter their original pumpkin carving in the Carved...

Cost: $10/adult, $5/child. Free for ages 5 and younger

Where:
Commons at North Hills
4321 Lassiter at North Hills Avenue
Commons
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Midtown Raleigh Alliance
Telephone: 919-606-6068
Contact Name: Tara Robbins
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary, play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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We are starting the Halloween-time festivities early! Join us for some make-and-take craft time in the park and create a “monster” to take home. We will bring the materials if you bring the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Ages 11-17 learn how to make desserts perfect for Halloween. Register online. Choose course #127729.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Website »

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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary, play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
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 a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Bring your budding naturalist to the park to learn about our eight-legged friends that call the park home. A craft, engaging activity or story and a guided greenway walk through the wetland will...

Cost: $2

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood

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Read the story by Laura Numeroff and make brownies. Register online. Choose course #127716.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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It's a Fall Homeschool Day at the JC Raulston Arboretum! Join us for a fun rotation through hands-on stations to learn about a variety of fall topics. Students will have a chance to interact with...

Cost: $5.00 per child for Arboretum Family members, $7.50 per child for nonmembers

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Road
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: 919-513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary, play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary, play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

It's a Fall Homeschool Day at the JC Raulston Arboretum! Join us for a fun rotation through hands-on stations to learn about a variety of fall topics. Students will have a chance to interact with...

Cost: $5.00 per child for Arboretum Family members, $7.50 per child for nonmembers

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Road
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: 919-513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124908.

Cost: Free

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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This program is designed to move at a toddler’s pace: Run. Stop. Pick dandelions. Run. Climb on a rock. Find an interesting leaf! Join others for an easy-paced hike around the greenway...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy dinner with your family on us! On Thursday, October 17th, The School for Creative Studies PTSA will be hosting its 3rd Healthy Eating Tasting Night. Local Chef Carmen Settles of Full Street...

Cost: Free

Where:
The School for Creative Studies
5001 Red Mill Rd.
Durham, NC  27704
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Sponsor: The School for Creative Studies PTSA
Telephone: 919-560-3535
Contact Name: Tanisha Davis
Website »

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Just in time for your next dress-up event!  Join us to make a tutu.  Kids 8 and up and teens make one for yourself!  Adults make one for yourself or for a child!   Call to register,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary, play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Homeschoolers of all ages enjoy a day of hands-on activities focused on the history of slavery and freedom in North Carolina. 

Cost: $4/student

Where:
Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy
Durham, NC  27712
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Telephone: 919-620-0120
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Sip cider and enjoy a cookie while listening to music and a storyteller. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Weaver Street Market Lawn
101 E. Weaver St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Website »

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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
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Website »

More information

We think about bats this time of year for Halloween. Join us as we learn the truth about bats and their importance to the ecosystem. After a wonderful story we will take a walk to some places...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Come join us for a party of spooky proportions! We will have classic monster mash games including a mummy wrap, Halloween Fear Factor eating challenge, Tarantula Toss, and other fun party...

Cost: Adults & Kids Over 14 years of age:$44; Kids 13 and under: $39

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Telephone: 919-410-7347
Contact Name: TreeRunner
Website »

More information

We think about bats this time of year for Halloween. Join us as we learn the truth about bats and their importance to the ecosystem. After a wonderful story we will take a walk to some places...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

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Join local bird expert Larry Zoller as we explore the different habitats of Harris Lake County Park to look and listen for our resident birds as well as fall migrants that have stopped to rest...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

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Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

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Join the Preschool Teachers at Chestnut Ridge for a fun-filled morning of nature inspired activities in the great outdoors at Camp Chestnut Ridge. This event is for anyone interested in learning...

Cost: Free

Where:
Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center
4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Road
Efland, NC  27243
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Sponsor: Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Becky Garus
Website »

More information

The World Beer Festival Durham features a sampling of local, national and international breweries. Adults can also enjoy food and live music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15-$60

Where:
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Blackwell St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary, play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Make little pumpkins, a black cat and other Halloween creatures with polymer clay. Ages 5-10. Register online. Choose course #127352.

Cost: $19/resident, $25/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Make a mini shadow puppet theater out of a file folder and mini shadow puppets. Please bring your own light source such as a flashlight for the full effect. Space is limited, advance registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Library
Inside McDougle Middle School
900 Old Fayetteville Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Orange County Library
Telephone: 919-969-3006
Contact Name: Jody Smith
Website »

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Is your dress-up closet looking drab?  Discover a new costume at the library’s Costume Bazaar!  Every child can select one complete costume and stay to create new accessories to go with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Games, entertainment, vendors and kids activities await families in an event that celebrates National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month. All ability levels welcome.

Cost: Free

Where:
Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park
1309 Halley St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Discover the flavors and history of African American foodways Saturday, Oct. 19, 12 noon to 5 p.m. at Historic Stagville. The “Harvest, Forage, Feast” program explores the history of...

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Highway
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

Join us for the seventh annual Canine Contests! We're looking for the best dog tricks and canine costumes in Wake County! If your dog has a special talent and/or a super cool costume, come and show...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Since the 1850s, North Carolina farmers have been going to the State Fair to learn about ways to improve their farming practices. Discover the origins of the State Fair and the history behind some...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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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: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

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Enjoy a yoga session in costume, games and treats. Ages 5-10. Register online. Choose course #127452.

Cost: $19/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Park Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

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Shop with more than 40 businesses operated by local children ages 6-14.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Commons at North Hills
421 Lassiter at North Hills Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Discover what's happening as the sun sets and listen to stories around a campfire. All ages with adult. Register online. Choose course #127673.

Cost: $18/resident, $24/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

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