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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Sarah Jefferson, Senior Lecturer in Education, Edith Cowan University


Many Year 10 students are beginning to think seriously about what subjects they might pick for years 11 and 12.

These are important decisions – not just because they may form the basis of further university study and career paths. They will also be the focus of the final years of schooling and could turn into the skills students carry forward into their adult lives.

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Choosing your senior school subjects doesn’t have to be scary. Here are 6 things to keep in mind

This reminds me of a school awards night I once attended. The keynote speaker was a former student who now worked as an emergency trauma surgeon. In Year 12, he studied typical pre-medical school subjects like maths, physics and chemistry. But he also did drama – a choice that was questioned by the school at the time.

The doctor told us how drama turned out to be the most useful subject for him. It had given him the ability to work well with a diverse team in a highly-charged space, whether it be a stage or an emergency room.

This shows how important it is to make informed choices and how it is worth encouraging children to think outside the box.

What’s happening to teenage brains as they decide?

These decisions are happening as teenagers’ brains are going through significant changes. This includes “pruning” of the teenage brain where it gets rid of grey matter it isn’t using.

Alongside this, new neural pathways and connections are created. This means information processing is becoming more efficient.

All this pruning, developing and strengthening varies from person to person and means their interests and passions can change considerably over this period.

A student works with an electronic device.
Teenagers’ brains go through rapid changes, which can see their interests change.
Vanessa Loring/Pexels, CC BY-NC

What are the rules?

There are a huge number of options to study, from academic subjects that contribute to your ATAR, to vocational education and training courses.

Students and families should familiarise themselves with the core requirements (all students need to study English, for example). Also note some degrees need you to have studied certain subjects or have assumed knowledge prior to commencing study.

Read more:
What actually is an ATAR? First of all it’s a rank, not a score

How can parents help?

Here are some ideas for parents and carers who want to help their children navigate what’s best for them in the final years of school:

  • Chat with your child about their interests and passions: it’s understandably challenging for a 15-year-old to map out their life too far ahead. A good place to start is a comprehensive site such as Your Career. This can be a constructive way to together have a look at fields that fall in their line of interest and then discuss

  • Be informed of the options: attend any parent information sessions held by the school to ensure you are up to speed with the choices it is offering. Be prepared to advocate for your child when appropriate to enable them to study subjects they enjoy or show and interest in. Remember there is a great deal more flexibility with pathways today and just because someone says your child “has” to do a subject it doesn’t mean it has to be done now

  • See the big picture: what does your child want out of the final years of school? Is it the highest possible university entrance rank? Do they want to start developing workplace or trade skills? Understand there are plenty of options beyond school – whether it be vocational training, an apprenticeship, university via an ATAR or going to university via a non-ATAR pathway

  • Get input from others: school careers counsellors can provide excellent advice. If your school has one, encourage your child to make an individual appointment. See if your child can talk to people working in fields they may be interested in.

Read more:
‘Thinking about my future is really scary’ – school leavers are not getting the careers support they need

  • Be flexible and patient: it’s highly likely your child will change their mind with their subject choices. This is absolutely normal and it’s important for you to listen to and support them as they navigate these challenges. If we are meant to undergo five to seven career changes during our lifetime, then we need to make it safe for our children to do so from the start.

One last thing

Our children are unique and will have their own dreams and aspirations. So their subject choices may not reflect what we’ve done or want them to do and it is important to take a breath and step back from imposing our views on them.

A young person sitting near a window, painting a canvas.
Children’s subject choices may be very different from what parents would select for them.
Karoline Grabowska/Pexels, CC BY-NC

We can point things out like, “if you really want to do engineering it might make sense to study maths now, so you don’t have to do a bridging course”. Or, “you seem to really love design and technology and visual arts”. But ultimately the choice is theirs.

And in fostering our children’s sense of ownership of these choices, we are contributing to their ability to become lifelong learners.

The Conversation

Sarah Jefferson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Year 10 students are thinking about their final subjects – here’s how parents can help –