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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Calendar

September 2019

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 Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy local bands, arts and crafts vendors, car show, kids' area, fun contests and games, plus a barbecue cook-off contest featuring veteran cooking teams.

Cost: Free

Where:
River Park
114 E. Margaret Ln.
Hillsborouh, NC  27278
View map »


Website »

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Visual artists from near and far will showcase their work, and 75 performing arts groups provide continuous music, dance and entertainment throughout the festival including extended Saturday...

Cost: $5 suggested donation; free for children under 12

Where:
Durham Arts Council
120 Morris Street
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
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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Take the family for a showcase of popular and folk music and art, dance performances, educational booths, children's activities and food from different regions of Latin America.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
Fayetteville St. City Plaza
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

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Did you know that beavers are actually large rodents? Join us at the park and discover the parts of a beaver and what they like to eat. Test your knowledge in a round of trivia and take a walk in...

Cost: Free

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

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Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

This cultural exp features live entertainment, a kids zone, food vendors, games and much more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
494 Knightdale Station Run
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

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It's 50% off ALMOST EVERYTHING! The word GREEN or BLACK will be written under the price on tags and you won't believe what's left!!! Check us out on facebook at Kids EveryWEAR Consignment Sale...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Towne Centre
1105 Walnut St
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Kids EveryWEAR Consignment Sale
Contact Name: Gail Walker
Website »

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Take the family for a balloon artists, face painting, carnival games, obstacle courses, arts and crafts and a magician. This event celebrates the grand opening of the David R. Kahn Community Campus...

Cost: Free

Where:
David R. Kahn Community Campus
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy all things pepper, kids crafts, live music, artisans, local farmers and much more.

Cost: $5 – $25

Where:
Downtown Pittsboro
Pittsboro, NC


Website »

More information

PepperFest is a celebration of sustainable agriculture, farmers, and the creativity of the Piedmont’s top chefs, brewers and artisans. This outdoor event is held in NC’s...

Cost: $5-$30

Where:
Downtown Pittsboro
205 Lorax Lane #5
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Sponsor: Abundance NC
Telephone: 919-444-9300
Contact Name: Tami Schwerin
Website »

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The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Grab your magnifying glass and help solve the many mysteries along the Old Beech Nature Trail. Who left the pile of acorns by the rotten log? Whose scat is that? Use your senses and detective...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Let’s celebrate the arrival of fall! Make a craft inspired by the leaves’ changing colors. We will bring the materials if you bring the imagination! For all ages (adult accompaniment...

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

Rags to Riches Theatre for Young Audiences presents the classic tale for all ages. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Let’s celebrate the arrival of fall! Make a craft inspired by the leaves’ changing colors. We will bring the materials if you bring the imagination! For all ages (adult accompaniment required...

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

Learn about the annual, long-distance movement of the migratory birds in our park. We will learn the difference between summer migrants, winter migrants, and permanent residents and then go on a...

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 »

More information

The library invites you to celebrate and enjoy poetry with a series of events for all ages hosted by Hillsborough’s Poet Laureate, Dee Stribling! On the last Wednesdays of the month throughout...

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

In honor of Chicanx and Latinx Heritage Month, we’ll enjoy poetry written in English and in Spanish written by Chicanx and Latinx poets.  Following questions and discussion, those attending will...

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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Apple Day features fresh North Carolina apples, an apple dessert and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Website »

More information

Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. See website for hours.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
View map »


Website »

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 “Shinrin-yoku” is a Japanese healing technique which means "taking in the forest atmosphere." Developed in the 1980s, it has become a cornerstone of preventive health...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

This family-friendly urban bluegrass festival features a dance tent, workshops and exhibit hall with instruments and gear in the Raleigh Convention Center, food vendors, a youth stage, juried...

Cost: Free-$60

Where:
, NC

More information

Enjoy down time in nature, or take part in guided art making, herbalism, outdoor yoga, storytelling, or basic women’s camping skills. Dinner and breakfast included, but take camping...

Cost: $50/member, $55/nonmember.

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

More information

Come out to the 5th Annual Wolfpack Games at Willis R. Casey Aquatic Center on Friday, September 27th at 6 PM. Enjoy a fun atmosphere and get an exclusive sneak peek at the 2019-2020 NC State...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Willis R. Casey Aquatic Center
2611 Cates Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27695
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More information

Enjoy free bowl cuts by Arrow, Worm Farms; a Most Annoying Sound Off; and Costume Contest. Wear a best orange or blue tuxes. Gates and food trucks will open and begin at 6pm with the movie starting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Raleigh Meadows
Campus Shore Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: VisitCentennial
Telephone: 704-651-3179
Contact Name: Jude DesNoyer
Website »

More information

Mums and pumpkins take center stage at this festival featuring live music and food trucks.

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. See website for hours.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
View map »


Website »

More information

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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...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

More information

Welcome fall's arrival with a food truck rodeo, car show, face painting, a craft show and more.  

Cost: Free

Where:
125 U.S. 1-A
Youngsville, NC  27596
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate the Fall Harvest with the Cary Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, September 28 along West Chatham Street in Cary! There will be contests and games, craft booths and food trucks lining...

Cost: Free

Where:
West Chatham Street
Cary, NC  27511


Sponsor: Cary Downtown Farmers Market
Telephone: 919-244-6463
Contact Name: Lindsey Chester
Website »

More information

Take part in a 1.4-mile walk for inclusiveness. Registration and activities begin at 10 a.m.; walk begins at 10:30 a.m. Enjoy refreshments, games, raffle and a decorating station. All ages and...

Cost: $15/family, $5/individual

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


Website »

More information

Campbell Law School will host a bike ride from “The Creek to the Capital” the morning of Saturday, September 28 as part of its yearlong anniversary celebration. Riders of all skill...

Cost: $40 fee includes T-shirt/lunch

Where:
Finish line @ Campbell Law School
225 Hillsborough St
Raleigh , NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Campbell Law School
Telephone: 919-865-5978
Contact Name: Lisa Snedeker
Website »

More information

Enjoy a day at the park and listen to stories from professional storytellers in this event presented by Wake County Public Libraries and Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Oak View County Park
4028 Carya Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Oak View County Park
Telephone: 919-250-1013
Website »

More information

Live Entertainment all day, including a Talent Contest. Win the Raffle. Enjoy at least a dozen international options prepared by parishioners-- Mexican, Irish, Filipino just to name a few. ...

Cost: Free festival admission. Food and raffle incur fees

Where:
J. Ashley Wall Towne Square
J. Ashley Wall Towne Square W. Third St. & W. Cypress St.
Wendell, NC  27591
View map »


Sponsor: St Eugene Catholic Church
Telephone: 919-449-5234
Contact Name: Susan Welsh
Website »

More information

Enjoy live performances, cultural exhibits, children's activities, dragon boat racing and more. Taste a wide collection of ethnic foods and delicacies created by local chefs.

Cost: $5 advance tickets; $8 at the door. Free for ages 12 and younger

Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

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: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Travel to Germany without leaving the Triangle at this German-inspired festival featuring live music and food, as well as the ever-popular wiener dog races.

Cost: Free

Where:
Lafayette Village
8450 Honeycutt Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Website »

More information

This family-friendly urban bluegrass festival features a dance tent, workshops and exhibit hall with instruments and gear in the Raleigh Convention Center, food vendors, a youth stage, juried...

Cost: Free-$60

Where:
, NC

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30 & 3:00 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

In 1979, the NC Legislature designated the Eastern Box Turtle as our state reptile. Learn how you can help conserve this valuable state symbol. Meet Lake Crabtree's adopted turtle, Shel...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Take the family for live music, crafts and food. See website for hours.

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Town Hall
301 W. Main St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Mums and pumpkins take center stage at this festival featuring food trucks and great music. 

Cost: Free

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


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

Railroad Days' 44th consecutive year features the Railroad Days pageant at 7 p.m., where a queen in five age divisions will be crowned. The festival continues Oct. 4-5 in downtown Selma.

Cost: $12/person for pageant admission

Where:
Selma Elementary School
311 W. Richardson St.
Selma, NC  27576
View map »


Website »

More information

Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. See website for hours.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
View map »


Website »

More information

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