10 Things to Consider When Choosing Subjects

At this time of year, high school students are deciding on their subjects for next year and it can be a minefield for parents helping them decide, particularly for Year 10 students about to enter the world of NCEA.

Tracey Beard from Career Matters works with students from age 16 (Year 11) through to age 25 in their exploration of career and tertiary study options.

10 things to consider when choosing subjects

Our interests in the world of work aren’t typically fully formed until we are around age 16. However, I do get a lot of queries about how to navigate the subject selection maze in Year 10, so I wanted to provide some general themes to think about. Each school’s subject list and each child is different, but here are some of the key things to consider:

  1. Breathe! It’s not the end of the world if they end up picking a subject they don’t enjoy. Year 11 is a time to keep the subject list broad, so they can try out new things and be open to possibilities.
  2. Year 12 and 13 are the years where their results matter, so don’t be freaking out about results in Year 11. Instead, focus on helping them build their study habits (organisational skills, priority setting, study-exercise balance, etc) and their personal confidence/mental wellbeing.
  3. Encourage them to reflect on what is INTERESTING to them in terms of subjects (not what they are necessarily good at, because they might not be actually interested in it), before picking subjects.
  4. Ensure they aren’t picking a subject just because their mates are doing it or the teacher is ‘chill’.
  5. If they find lots of classroom work confining, ensure they are doing some hands-on (or outdoors) courses that could keep them focused and balance the classroom courses.
  6. Now is the time to identify or answer any issues about their learning needs or challenges, so they are set up for Year 11 in terms of reader-writers, more time for assessments etc.
  7. Remember it’s not about you – you might love science and want your child to be a doctor, but is it worth getting them to do all three sciences in Year 11 if they aren’t showing any great love of it now? The “if s/he just does it, they will come to love it” is a risky strategy. Be realistic.
  8. From the Year 11 subjects they chose, track them out to Year 12 and 13 and see they have options to continue them if they love them, or pick up another subject if they don’t enjoy it. That way, they don’t get trapped down a dead-end path.
  9. Remember that they have lots of other needs going on at this teenager stage, so encourage/role-model the building of good character (supporting others’ achievements, personal responsibility, interests outside of academics, positive network of friends, etc)
  10. Get them to identify their goals for the year – what they want to look back on at the end of Year 11 and feel proud of (academic, sporting, cultural, personal). They don’t have to be awards, just personal growth targets/achievements that are important to THEM.

The right time to look at options

Ideally, I encourage Year 11 students to work with me in July or August. That way, they have a half-year of NCEA work behind them that they can reflect on, and they are motivated to pick the right subjects for Year 12. I’ve created a tip sheet to help parents support their child through NCEA. Click here to find out more.

Good luck!

This article was written by Tracey Beard of Career Matters.

Tracey Beard is a Career Expert. As the Founder and CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) of Career Matters, she is changing the way that young adults across New Zealand explore their career and study options. Using powerful, contemporary career search tools and personalised career coaching, Tracey empowers young adults to know themselves better, which enables them to make better decisions about their future. And when these young adults are happy and living their purpose, we all benefit. Career Matters was recently awarded the 2019 Social Conscious Excellence award from Network New Zealand.

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Follow Career Matters on Facebook @careermattersnz.

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  1. kymmage 01/09/2019 at 11:20 pm

    Yes to all this. My kids aren’t quite old enough yet but I love this down to earth and practical advice. I know for me the things I was ‘good at’ I did, but hated. I could say the same for myself in the work force too. I have done jobs I hate for a long time, just because I have an aptitude for it. I really don’t want that for my kids.

  2. candyjanenz 01/09/2019 at 4:27 pm

    I think that school is the time for students to take the subjects that they find enjoyable. The subjects that they seem to have now for students seem so interesting compared to when I was at school. Life skills are also good to learn, such as basic cooking and budgeting.

  3. Loucyd3 31/08/2019 at 9:21 pm

    My oldest is still at primary but this was an interesting read and will help.us to prepare ourselves and our kids when they are ready for college and helping to talk with them now about the path they are looking at going down in order to organize which subjects will be better suited for them early on ready for the following yrs.

  4. Micht 31/08/2019 at 12:25 am

    I love the bit of advice to remember that they are not you and that their interests may not be the same as yours.. Most important i believe is encouraging them to choose a career they will enjoy… its the key to a happy work life and a fulfilling career.

  5. Bevik1971 30/08/2019 at 3:57 pm

    Our daughter is only 6 and this will be in her future, so will be something we need to be very aware of. I have been through it already a few years ago with my son who is now nearly 26. I can remember it can be difficult choosing subjects and sticking to them. It is a very important part of the school process

  6. MuddledUpMolly 27/08/2019 at 1:34 pm

    Our eldest is still at primary school so still has a few years ahead of him before he needs to look into choosing subjects but it is great to see articles like this that are helpful and relevant for so many young people and their families.

  7. Mands1980 27/08/2019 at 11:36 am

    I have one child who will be at secondary school in another year and will have all of this to think about eventually with the other kids. Choosing the right subjects is so important but not always easy as it is hard to know what you want to do after school at that age.

  8. Shorrty4life1 26/08/2019 at 6:59 pm

    My children are still at primary school thank goodness so we haven’t had the choosing subjects delemia though. I’m absolutely dreading it as I had no idea at that age what to choose so I just sort of went with it and chose anything. Would hope my kids choose something that interests them. this was an interesting read.

  9. Jen_Wiig 26/08/2019 at 4:30 pm

    We have just finished looking at the options our eldest has for next year going into year 10 and I swear that there weren’t as many when I was at school, love how broad across the spectrum they’ve become over the years. Our deal with Roman was pick anything you like but 1 must be either Samoan or Maori as those are his ethnic backgrounds and both Dad and I regret not learning our languages esp me being a very fair skinned half Maori and Roman being very similar. He’s chosen subjects that for him he likes, he’s good at and will help him toward his goal of wanting to be a pro gamer….which good as his school is very tech friendly and its quite encouraged. I love how they give defensive driving and life skills as subject options too (maybe just his high school not sure)

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