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If the thought of planning your future based on your high school subject choices makes your stomach do a somersault and your palms sweat like crazy – you’re not alone.

Deciding what you want to do with ‘your life’ is a huge decision to make when you’re in high school, and it’s not one that everybody is ready to make. Deciding what you do with your life can take years – if not a lifetime.

It’s okay if the pathway you set in high school ends up changing later *but* If you can make that pathway as smooth as possible, it definitely helps.

A smooth pathway comes from choosing high school subjects that will help you stay committed to your education and set you up for a future in a career you enjoy.

But what if you’re not sure what you want to do after school? What do you do then?

To help you out (wherever your head is at), we’ve put together some dos and don’ts for subject selection.

What you should do when choosing high school subjects

Pick things that you are interested in

Not exactly an earth shattering revelation, but it’s surprising how many people will opt for subjects that they think will get them a better ATAR due to scaling (e.g. advanced maths and physics for example). While an ATAR can be important, so is your mental health and your long term enjoyment in your career, so pick things you are interested in, along with things you might need (e.g. subject requirements for tertiary courses). It’ll reflect in stronger grades, which will in turn help your ATAR if you go for one.

Stick to your goals

Maybe an ATAR isn’t your goal and you’re keen to get your QCE. Maybe you’re interested in a VET pathway – if that’s the case, you’ll be glad to know that VET subjects go towards your QCE (up to 8 credit points per subject). You can combine these with other subjects as well, so if you decide you want to go for an ATAR as well, you still can with 4 General subjects, plus one VET qualification at Certificate III or above. You may also be given credit at TAFE for units of competency or qualifications you have completed during Years 11 and 12.

Remember – an ATAR is not the only way to gain your ticket to uni, so focus on getting your QCE. Choosing subjects on that basis may actually take some of the pressure off. Bottom line – focus on subjects that you love and you’ll be motivated to succeed in, and you’ll go a long way to achieving your goals.  

Speak to others 

It can be a hard choice to make, so open up to your school’s career guidance person, parents, teachers or your mates and see what their thoughts are. Just remember that it’s your life, so while it’s great to get guidance, only you get the final say on what you want to do.

Do your research

Take a look at potential careers that interest you, or look at careers that can come from things that you’re interested in, like gardening or cooking and see if there’s subjects that align and will point you in the right direction.

If you have a career in mind that requires study at uni, be sure to check out what the prerequisites (past subject requirements) are. You don’t want to get part-way through year 11 before finding out you should be doing a particular subject!

Not sure? Try a mixed bag

If you’re not sure what you want to do after school, or you’ve got a few different ideas for what you may want to do, try diversifying your subjects. This will keep your options open to explore a variety of career pathways. There’s heaps of ways to structure your subject selection to achieve your QCE, talk to your teachers and your guidance officer for some ideas. Just remember to choose subjects that you are actually interested in.

What you shouldn’t do when choosing high school subjects

Do what your mates are doing

If you can’t stand science but choose to do physics because your friends are doing it, it’s not going to be a fun time.

If it turns out that you and your mates want to do the same thing – that’s a win. But if it turns out you want to do different things, at least you’ll be doing subjects you enjoy, and your grades won’t be suffering as a result.

Pick ‘the hard subjects’

You may be thinking that choosing ‘harder subjects’ will help you get a higher ATAR due to scaling, but if it’s something you’re not interested in (or struggle to understand), back away. It’s better to do something that you’re actually interested in and set yourself up for better grades and a solid foundation for tertiary studies.

Panic and feel like you’re stuck for good

While the goal is to pick subjects that interest you now and align with your career pathway (if you have one yet!), it’s okay if your interests start changing. Depending on what Year level you’re in and how far you are into the subject, you can usually request a subject change. And even if you get to the end of Year 12 and discover that your interests have changed, provided you achieve your QCE, your options are open regardless of which subjects you chose.

Hopefully these tips have got you feeling a little less worried about choosing high school subjects and shown you that if your plans change, that’s okay! If you’re still feeling worried about choosing subjects, try speaking with your parents, another trusted adult, your teachers or your school guidance officer.

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