Career Change's aim is to help both adults and school students to set clear career directions to give you a sense of purpose and direction.

Choosing your school subjects

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Russell Booth
School Students

In the fourth school term, school students will finish the task of choosing the school subjects it can be an anxious and confusing time not only for students but also parents especially when the students may not be sure about what career path they are going to choose when leaving school. With a bit of research the process around choosing school subjects can be made a lot less stressful for everyone.


Keep your career options open

Time and again you will hear school career advisers say to students ‘keep your options open’ especially when the career direction is uncertain. Interests and abilities naturally change whilst at school as new subjects are introduced and an awareness of future career options develops. It is quite acceptable to study a wide variety of subjects as long as they are ones that will be enjoyed and ones that will lead to success. This will ensure that you will have the necessary grades (if not the right subjects) to demonstrate to both a future employer and tertiary institute that you can apply yourself; that you can be taught and learn.


Do the research

Most young people know what subjects they like and dislike and which ones they can succeed in. An excellent resource to use if the career path isn’t clear is the Subject Matcher on the Career Services website.  On the home page click on the online tools link and then click on the Subject Matcher link. The Subject Matcher can generate lists of jobs by matching the subjects you enjoy or are interested in at school to the subjects needed for specific jobs. It can even suggest alternative career ideas for those who seem set on their career options.

Each job profile outlines what school subjects are needed to enter the job and whether the subjects are ‘useful’, ‘preferred’ or ‘recommended.’ Rarely will you see a subject listed as ‘essential.’ This is a good basis to help decide which subjects should be taken at school and at what level. The job profiles also list the tertiary courses and subjects that may be needed to enter the job.

For example:

  • There are no specific subjects to study at school to be a travel agent, but English, maths, geography and languages would all be useful
  • To get a plumbing apprenticeship important subjects include English and maths (especially at NCEA Level 1) but also science, technical drawing and workshop technology.
  • To be a qualified accountant you need to get University Entrance which is a minimum of 42 credits at Level 3. You will need at least 14 credits in maths at Level 1 but 8 Level 2 English credits. Accounting could be included as one of the other subjects to make up the total Level 3 credits, but it isn’t essential.

In terms of this last point, it is worth remembering that if you don’t study your degree-related subjects such as accounting or other specific subjects at school there are other options. You can ‘recover’ subjects through enrolling on tertiary summer courses or introductory papers in your first semester at the university or institute of technology.


Find out what's available

Of course each school is likely to offer different subjects and combinations of subjects. This may depend on the timetable at school but also subjects like Maths and English may be compulsory in certain years. You will also need to talk with the careers adviser, subject teachers and Deans to find out whether you have the ability and previous knowledge to succeed in some subjects, especially at higher levels.


What else is on offer?

Find out if your school offers options like Gateway or Student Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR). The STAR offers opportunities to learn in subjects not normally offered at school (e.g. hairdressing, hospitality, and traditional trade subjects) or at a higher level than the school can offer. Each different school uses the STAR in different ways. Find out who the STAR co-ordinator is in your school and talk with them about your individual needs.

Gateway is hands-on and practical and designed to assist schools to make learning relevant to the needs of all students and to ensure that young people have a smooth transition from school to work. Students are assessed in the workplace for unit standards that contribute to the NCEA, as well as industry specific National Certificates for an apprenticeship. It is more than a work experience programme and aimed at students who are motivated to achieve. Gateway students are placed in a wide variety of industries including hospitality, automotive, retail, tourism, engineering and building and in a workplace in their local community.


Getting further help

Of course websites can only give you a guide. The best approach is to talk to people who know about and deal with this information on a daily basis. Your careers adviser at school, a Modern Apprenticeship Co-ordinator, employers and tertiary careers and course advisors can all help you decide what subjects to take.

These articles are written by Russell Booth, Director of Career Change Ltd, click here to email.  They will include strategies and suggestions for you to consider and point you to useful resources to help you make well-informed career and employment decisions.