SAT Subject Tests: A Primer


Published:

Photo courtesy of Laurence Gough/Shutterstock.com

Often an afterthought in the mind of applicants, SAT Subject Tests can greatly benefit some applicants and are a near-necessity for anyone with their eye on gaining acceptance to Ivy or Ivy-caliber schools. One might say that subject tests are like the Jan Brady of the college application family, easy to forget about when surrounded by the Marsha-like SAT I, essays, GPA, class rank, credit-granting AP tests and other top focal points of the admissions process.

We receive many questions on the topic and hope the following will give you a complete understanding of what these tests entail and whether or not they should be a part of your college application process.

* For the sake of clarity, a quick note about the nomenclature …The College Board removed the “SAT II” designation in 2005 switching to only “Subject Tests,” but the defunct name continues to persist in admissions parlance. In this piece, SAT II and SAT Subject Tests are synonymous.

What’s on the menu?

There are over 20 Subjects Tests, but that number implies more variety than is reality. A dozen of those 20 tests are actually in the foreign language arena and include your usual suspect tongues such as Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese as well as lesser-studied languages like Korean, Modern Hebrew, and Japanese. For several of the language exams, students can choose between a purely written exam or one that includes a listening component.

The eight non-foreign language exams cover Literature, two levels of general math, Chemistry, Physics, American History, World History, and Biology, of either the Molecular or Ecological variety.

What tests should I choose?

In terms of sheer volume, the three most commonly administered assessments are the Math Level 2, U.S. History, and Literature exams. Of the science exams, Chemistry and Biology top the popularity charts. Of course, you’ll want to choose your areas of greatest strength. If subject tests are not required by any school to which you are applying, avoid tests that are redundant in terms of what they say about you. In other words, if you already got a 5 on the AP U.S. history exam, taking the SAT II: Subject Test in the same area isn’t going to reveal any significant new information about your ability, even if you register a perfect score.

When to take Subject Tests

If tests are required by your prospective colleges, you’ll be best served by focusing on areas of strength and, of course, adhering to any program specific requirements.

We advise you to take your subject tests in June of your junior year of high school, if possible. This will allow you to maximize your exposure to key concepts in the classroom and sit for the exam while everything is still fresh in your mind. From an admissions standpoint, having your scores in hand the following fall will put you in the catbird seat should you wish to submit an application during the early admissions cycle. If you are unhappy with your scores, there is always the option to retake an exam at the beginning of 12th grade.

Required, Recommended, or Considered?

Roughly 160 colleges and universities, mostly of the elite variety, required or highly recommend the submission of SAT II: Subject tests as part of an applicant’s portfolio. Many of the most selective schools in the country such as Brown, Cal Tech, Cornell, and MIT require students to take either one or two Subject Tests.

Emory, Lafayette, Georgetown, and Stanford are among the institutions that recommend or in some cases “strongly recommend” that subject tests be a part of any application.

Many other schools do not recommend subject tests but will give them serious consideration in the application process. Institutions such as Dartmouth, Duke, and Vassar operate this way.

Colleges moving away from Subject Tests

A growing number of institutions have recently dropped SAT subject test requirements, including Amherst, Duke and Barnard. However, applicants possessing strong subject test results should still submit their scores to these institutions, as doing so may help them stand out from the competition.  If your scores are not (relatively) strong, there may be no reason to worry. Schools like Columbia, Haverford and Vassar all state that students will not be penalized if they choose not to submit subject tests.

Special situations

It is worth noting that some schools will accept subject tests in lieu of the SAT I. The University of Rochester will accept two SAT II tests in place of the SAT/ACT. NYU and Middlebury offer the same deal but require three test scores instead of two.

Other schools require more research as they only require or recommend SAT II scores from applicants to certain academic or honors programs. For engineering applicants, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and UC-Berkeley strongly advise the submission of math and science subject test scores. The University of Delaware, George Washington University, and the University of Miami all strongly recommend subject tests be included as part of any application to their Honors Programs.

If you referred to your high school teacher as “mom” or “dad” then you may be held to special subject test requirements. Northeastern, Virginia Tech, and American University all require SAT subject test only for home-schooled or other non-traditionally educated applicants.

A strong cohort

While students of varying caliber typically take the SAT I, the SAT II are mostly the domain of high achievers. Over 60 percent of SAT II: Subject test takers are in the top 20 percent of their respective high school classes. The average subject test participant scored over a 600 on the reading, math, and writing section of their SAT I, over 100 points higher per section than the average student. Keep this in mind when interpreting the percentile results of any subject test; you're pitted against much stiffer competition.

Prepare for the test

If you’re going to shell out the $43 College Board fee plus number two pencil costs (approximately 17 cents) and spend a portion of your Saturday bubbling your demographic information into a Scantron for the millionth time this year, you might as well prep sufficiently so that you can excel on the SAT subject tests.

It sounds obvious enough, but some students will take an SAT Subject Test with very little preparation on the assumption that since they aced the class at their high school, they’ll nail the subject test just the same. The flaw is this logic is that high school curriculum is truly, as The Common Core Standards purport, going to be covered and taught identically in every high school classroom across the country.

Unfortunately, it is very possible to ace an honors biology class, sign up for the Molecular Biology SAT subject test and feel like you were just thrown a nasty curve ball. Remember, unlike in an AP class, your teacher, even in a very rigorous course is aligning his or her curriculum and SAT subject test. It’s on you to learn exactly what is on the SAT subject test and then fill in any gaps with supplemental learning.

Give your subject tests the love and attention they deserve or on test day you might hear your neglected test booklet uttering the lonely whispered cries of “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

College Transitions recently collected subject tests policies from a number of selective institutions across the country, as featured below. For an updated list of colleges requiring or recommending subject tests, please click here to review. 

College

Policy

Number

Brown University

Required (or ACT)

2 subject tests or ACT w/writing

California Institute of Technology

Required

2 subject tests: Math Level II and 1 test in Biology, Chemistry, or Physics

Carleton College

Recommended

No recommended number

Carnegie Mellon University

Required

2 subject tests for certain programs

Cornell University

Required

Some colleges require 1 or 2 subject tests.

Davidson College

Recommended

2 subject tests

Emory University

Recommended

No recommended number

Georgetown University

Strongly Recommended

3 Subject Tests

Harvard University

Required

2 subject tests

Lafayette College

Recommended

No recommended number

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Required

2 subject tests: 1 math and 1 science

Princeton University

Recommended

2 subject tests

Stanford University

Recommended

2 subject tests

Tufts University

Required (or ACT)

2 subject tests for certain programs

University of Pennsylvania

Recommended

2 subject tests

Washington and Lee University

Recommended

2 subject tests

Wellesley College

Required (or ACT)

2 subject tests or ACT w/writing

Yale University

Recommended

No recommended number

This article was first published Aug. 3, 2015 updated July, 14, 2016.

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—www.collegetransitions.com—to learn more.

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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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June 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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Dads play free mini golf with each paying player at regular price.

Cost: $7.99/person

Where:
Adventure Landing
3311 Capital Blvd.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: Adventure Landing
Telephone: 191-987-21688
Contact Name: Mike Collins
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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
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Take Dad to enjoy food trucks, live music and more at Durham Central Park's food truck rodeo. All ages.

Cost: Free. Food available for purchase.

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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It`s 1863 at Yates Mill, and the yard is alive with activity! Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal.  Tour fee:...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Age 6 & under free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Cost: $1.00 per person

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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The Art Therapy Institute has been working in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools with the Exceptional Children's Program for the past ten years. Enjoy a summer art therapy groups in June and...

Cost: $20 per session

Where:
Art Therapy Institute of NC
200 N Greensboro St. Suite D-6 (2nd Floor Carr Mill Mall)
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Telephone: 919-381-6068
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Weekly basic skills cooking class offered for children ages 5-10 at Whole Foods North Raleigh.  This free class meets at the cafe each Tuesday at 4 p.m. and is offered by registering...

Cost: Free

Where:
Whole Foods Market (North Raleigh)
8710 Six Forks Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Learn about law issues including divorce, separation, child custody, child support, landlord-tenant issues, and more. A local attorney will lead the discussion. This event is free and free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Compass Center for Women and Families
210 Henderson Street
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Compass Center for Women and Families
Telephone: 919-968-4610
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Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty suncatcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Enjoy "Kate Writes a Song."

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Budding naturalists ages 2-6 enjoy a craft, engaging activity, and guided walk along the greenway. Register online. Choose course #219939.

Cost: $2/person

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
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More information

Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Website »

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Join Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old who was recently recognized by President Trump at the State of the Union, to honor U.S. veterans by placing flags and flowers on their graves...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh National Cemetery
501 Rock Quarry Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 1-530-515-3825

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Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Take your own poles or borrow one from the park through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Little eyes, ears and hearts are always watching and learning how to navigate life through Moms. Explore what it means to manage your mind and how important it is for your family as well as...

Cost: $10

Where:
Center for Excellence
3803B Computer Drive, Suite 106B
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Tracy Nolin Beerman
Telephone: 919-612-4608
Contact Name: Tracy
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Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty suncatcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Join us at Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro every Thursday at 10 a.m. for a casual storytime on the porch or even out in the yard. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Chatham Marketplace
480 Hillsboro St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Sponsor: Chatham Marketplace
Telephone: 919-542-2643
Contact Name: Craig Kolman
Website »

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Enjoy an easy-paced and stroller-friendly walk along the greenway. Suggested for ages 3 and younger with parent. Register online. Choose course #219870.

Cost: Free

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
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Enjoy a free blueberry dessert and purchase fresh blueberries from local growers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Website »

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What do Historic Yates Mill County Park and the woodland faeries have in common? They both love nature! Take a short walk near the millpond to search for evidence of faeries (sightings are not...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Kindergarten students entering year-round school practice a lunch line, get moving at recess, hop on a school bus and explore circle time.   

Cost: Free

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Enjoy a family-friendly movie and a slice or two of pizza. Purchase tickets online.

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

Where:
The Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Website »

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Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty suncatcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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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Go nutty for nature as children satisfy some of their curiosity about the world around them and parents share in the joy of discovery. Ages 3-5 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/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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A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

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
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Join the folks at Open Table UMC in the Mordecai Neighborhood for free music and food trucks.

Cost: Free

Where:
Open Table United Methodist Church
824 N. Bloodworth Street
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: Open Table UMC
Telephone: 919-561-2637
Contact Name: Andrea Chapman
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See the remake of Jeghetto’s hit puppet show co-written by Pierce Freelon of The Beast. This show was awarded two grants from the Henson Foundation. This Afrofuturistic puppet show,...

Cost: $15/person

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main Street
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 191-992-92787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
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See the critically acclaimed documentary p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} from Academy Award-winning...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
2116-D New Bern Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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The summer heat is back, and so are the insects! Join us in the Finley Center exhibit hall to do some fun insect-themed crafts. We will make butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, and other insect...

Cost: Free

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

More information

Get the real scoop on turtles, how they “earn a living," and hear a story. Ages 5 and older. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Transform a plastic storage box into a worm bin suitable for indoor use. Materials provided. Suggested for ages 6 and older. Register online by June 17. Choose course #220017.

Cost: $45/family for City of Raleigh residents; $60 for non-residents

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2761
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Go nutty for nature as children satisfy some of their curiosity about the world around them and parents share in the joy of discovery. Ages 3-5 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

After a shaded walk out to the creek entrance, take nets into the water to see some of these creek critters up close. Discuss some of the reasons it’s so important to keep these aquatic...

Cost: Free

Where:
Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
6001 Turkey Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Triangle Land Conservancy
Telephone: 191-990-80054
Contact Name: Molly Richard
Website »

More information

Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy Little Golden Books' "Jurassic Park." This action-packed and age-appropriate title is great for dinosaur lovers, both new and old. Activities to follow. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Enjoy food trucks, games and dog-related vendors.

Cost: Free

Where:
Dorothea Dix Park
2105 Umstead Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Age 6 & under free

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

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Enjoy a one-hour family friendly performance, followed by a party in the lobby featuring live music, face-painting, snacks and additional activities. The 2018 Children’s Matinee...

Cost: $17.25

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian Drive
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: American Dance Festival
Telephone: 919-684-6402
Contact Name: Sarah Tondu
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Pilobolus delivers a one-hour family friendly performance as part of the American Dance Festival. Enjoy an all-ages party in the lobby featuring live music, face-painting,...

Cost: $17.25/person

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian Dr.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: American Dance Festival
Telephone: 919-684-6402
Contact Name: Sarah Tondu
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Enjoy all-things blueberry, food trucks and more at Vollmer Farms' annual Blueberry Festival. Vollmer Farms' Back-40 Country Playground will be open and features a giant...

Cost: $15/person. Free for ages 12 and younger

Where:
Vollmer Farm
677 NC Hwy 98 East
Bunn, NC  27508
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Sponsor: Vollmer Farm
Telephone: 919-496-3076
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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 »

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Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided,...

Cost: $10.00 per boat

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

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As the Triangle continues to grow, it is increasingly important to tell the stories of North Carolina so that natives, newcomers and visitors alike feel at home in our great places. Celebrate North...

Cost: $15-$20

Where:
Historic Adams Farm
2601 Broad St.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Website »

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See the critically acclaimed documentary p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} from Academy Award-winning...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
2116-D New Bern Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Website »

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