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High school subject selection – A guide for parents

Subject selection is an exciting and stressful time in every high schooler’s life (and their parents).  There’s no doubt that even students feeling confident about their options or future plans will experience the weight of their decisions. The best thing parents and carers can do to help is to be supportive while they work through the options to make the best decision for themselves.

Subject selection – The whys

Until senior high school, your child’s education is all about teaching them the basics in lots of different learning areas. It ensures that they have great foundations to work from and allows them to sample lots of different subjects.

What comes next is the opportunity for them specialise and take a deeper dive into subjects they’re passionate about and enjoy learning.

Subject selection tips for parents

We’ve pulled together our top tips for supporting your child so they can make the best possible choices.

It needs to be their decision

Although it’s hard to see them struggle, this really is a time when your role is just to offer the support or guidance that allows your child to choose the subjects they want to continue studying.

Prerequisites are important, but not everything

If your child’s considering heading to university and has some idea of what they’d like to study, encourage them to check the prerequisites for courses they’re interested in. And, if none are listed, it’s a good idea to research the assumed knowledge they’ll need once they start the course to help them to keep up.

It’s not ideal if they’re considering taking a subject in Year 11 and 12 solely because it is a prerequisite for their preferred degree, but they don’t enjoy it and aren’t interested in it. You could point out that future studies could be unrewarding and they can also expect to find themselves in a job they may not enjoy and aren’t interested in down the track.

Focus on strengths and keep options open

Year 10 students aren’t known for their rational decision-making skills, and 45% don’t have a clear career aspiration (Yu & Warren, 2019). This is where you can guide them and help them stay on track.

Here are a few examples of some less-than-ideal decision making when it comes to subject selection:

  • Choosing subjects they think will scale better or are “easier” in the hopes that might help them to get a better ATAR
  • Selecting subjects they think will look better on their resumes
  • Avoiding subjects they love because they think they’re too easy or not linked to a career path that’s been visible to them

Instead, encourage them to lean into their strengths and consider subjects that they enjoy, they’re interested in, and that they’re really good at. Teacher feedback could encourage and help them to do this.

“Choose the enabling subjects, the ones that will keep the doors of opportunity open…”

Dr Alan Finkel, Australian Chief Scientist 2016-2020

Seek feedback from educators at school

When there’s an open conversation and flow of information between students, parents, and the school, it could help make subject selection much less of a dilemma. Making an appointment with the school’s Career Practitioner or Guidance Officer or attending information sessions can help you and your child navigate subject selection.

Consider the labour market in your area

Sometimes students think that if they study certain subjects at school and uni, they’ll be able to enter their chosen career straight away. Which might be true for certain cases, but it’s also heavily dependent on where they’ll be living and what opportunities are available locally.

It’s worth looking into what jobs are are available locally as part of the subject selection and career exploration period. If your young person is really motivated and enthusiastic, but opportunities are scarce locally, you could look at regions nearby, around the country, or even globally where they might more easily find work in their chosen areas.

Don’t discourage them from studying subjects they’re passionate about; instead take some time to research other careers where their skills and qualifications might also come into play.

Keep calm and be a champion

Conversations with your child are always the best way to find out where their heads are and what their struggles might be. Whether it’s micro-conversations in the car or long chats over dinner, talking openly and honestly can be incredibly valuable and help your teen feel reassured in their decisions.

Find out more

If you’re looking for other resources, we’ve published a workbook to help high school students to scaffold their thinking processes and work out what they’re good at and what they enjoy. If your child’s school is a Study Work Grow member, they can access the workbook for free as part of their membership – they just need to ask their Careers Advisor.

Or you can read more information about subject selection on our website here.


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