For Wake County parents and students, fall is the season to think ahead, to tour schools and to target specific enrichment programs.
Applications for early college and leadership academy programs are already being accepted. Applications open in January for the much-in-demand magnet programs, and families can familiarize themselves with all the options this Saturday at the annual Magnet and Early College Fair (9 a.m. to noon at Southeast Raleigh High School).
Some are like L.J. Pickett, who at 10 years old has a clear goal.
"I would like to go to N.C. State for college for engineering," he said.
L.J.'s parents pulled him out of private school and enrolled him in Brentwood Magnet Elementary.
"They got a chance to engineer every day, so that was a big purpose of why we wanted him to come here," his mother, Shawnonne Pickett, said.
In getting into their first choice program, the Picketts were lucky.
The Wake County Public School System's magnet programs are in high demand, and getting into your choice school is a process that can take months.
Tamani Anderson-Powell, director of marketing for the WCPSS Office of Magnet and Curriculum Enhancement Programs, says the best chance of getting into the magnet school of your choice starts in kindergarten.
"Students going from magnet elementary to magnet middle have a priority in the selection process," she said. That priority continues through high school.
And just because certain magnet schools are labeled – gifted and talented, engineering and language immersion are just three options – students in each program still learn the core curriculum followed by all Wake County public schools.
"It's really about what you think will benefit your child," Anderson-Powell said.
"We have some amazing programs in our Wake County magnet schools, but we have fabulous non-magnet schools in Wake County, schools where you really cannot go wrong."
As kids get to middle and high school and begin to voice their own preferences, those already in magnet programs get priority when transferring to another magnet program.
For all students, from rising kindergartners through the senior Class of 2017, the date to know is Jan. 7 – when the application process begins.
But Anderson-Powell recommends that parents do their research before the holidays.
"Take this time – November, December, January – to get in there and learn about the schools," she said. "Visit some of the schools you're interested in because you really want to see them in action."
You can get a snapshot view of all the magnet programs in one place at Saturday's Magnet and Early College Fair at Southeast Raleigh High School.