Guide to choosing school subjects

August 27, 2021

It’s that time of year again when you will be selecting your school subjects for next year. For some of you, this will involve choosing NCEA subjects for the first time.

What to think about when choosing school subjects

There are a few things you’ll need to weigh up. It’s not just about what you enjoy – this is important to consider, as you’re likely to put more effort into the subjects you enjoy – but also about what subjects will be useful to you in the future. What are the subjects that are needed in the areas of work I am interested in?

If you really don’t know what career you’re interested in, then it’s best to keep your subjects really broad to maximise your opportunities. Anyway, you will probably change your mind multiple times about your future career!

Here are some tips to help with your decision making:

Step 1. Don’t rush your decision

It is important to take time, do the work and get it right as it may be difficult to change subjects later.

Step 2. Know your options

Look through the subject choices on School Point. Think about the subjects you are interested in taking and take note of what previous study is recommended to take those subjects.

Step 3. Think about your abilities and interests at school 

When you are deciding on what subjects to take think about things like:

  • What subjects are you good at or not so good at? What do others say you are good at?
  • What does this tell you about yourself?
  • What are your strengths? Are you a good writer, good with numbers, a practical person?
  • Which subjects have you enjoyed studying?
  • Which do you dislike and why?

Thinking about these sorts of things will help you figure out what subjects you could do and what jobs you might want to pursue in the future.

Step 4. Think about jobs that have opportunities and that might be in demand

Here are some of the ways you can find out about what jobs might be in demand in the future. Immigration New Zealand produces a skill shortage list that helps to identify where the skill gaps are in New Zealand:

NZ Long Term Skill Shortage List

However, this alone should not be the criteria for choosing a career pathway – it should be linked to your interests and strengths, as you want to find any future career fulfilling.

No-one can say with certainty what the future work environment will look like but experts predict that these seven career areas have a promising future:

  • Medicine and health care
  • Renewable energy and green jobs
  • Information technology
  • International and environmental law
  • Content creation and marketing
  • Data science
  • Financial analysis

Prior to the latest lockdown, MoneyHub selected what it believes are 20 of the most important jobs New Zealand needs, based on employability, short and long-term income and general accessibility.

The world of work is changing, so we need to think about what affect technology may have on the areas of work we are interested in and think about what skills are needed for the future.

Step 5. How will your choices affect your future?

When making subject choices, you need to think about how your choices will affect your future career options and/or your future tertiary training options. (University, polytechnics, other training providers, apprenticeships and the Defence Force.)

List the careers that interest you and then research the secondary school subjects that are recommended.  Each job profile on the Careers NZ website includes information about recommended secondary school subjects in the ‘How to enter the job’ section. Then scroll to ‘Secondary Education’.

Complete the following ‘Action Plan on Choosing Subjects’: Subject Selection Action Plan

Researching your career options and understanding the subjects that are relevant are important. Here are some other links and tools you can use to help you research more about your career options.

Possible sources of information for job research:

Step 6. Keep your career options open

Most people change their minds about what they want to do in the future. Your interests and abilities will change over time, or you might find out about new careers that you had never heard of before.

If you’re unsure about a career pathway, try to study a wide range of subjects at school. This will give you more options later on. Doing as well as you can in Maths and English is important as literacy and numeracy are important in most careers. Think carefully before giving up any Science subjects as Science can open the doors to many careers, including trades in the Defence Force.

Here is a process for deciding on subjects for Year 11 and 12 students:

  • How well do you think you are going with your Level 1 or 2 subjects?
  • What are your expectations of achievement?
  • How hard have you been working at your subjects?
  • Do you know what you need for NCEA Level 1/2/3/UE (have you chosen University approved subjects?)
  • Have you spoken with your teachers about doing Level 2 (or 3) in the subject?
  • Are there any other subjects that you have considered? Have you considered Level 2 Gateway if you are planning on a trades pathway?
  • Are you intending to return for Year 13?
  • What job and training ideas do you currently have for beyond school?
  • Do you know what the pre-requisites are for these choices beyond school? Do you know what career directions they might offer?
  • Have you checked your job and training ideas with someone in that area?
  • Have you talked over your choices with your parents, whānau and teachers?
  • Need more help? Make an appointment to talk with your Careers Advisor at school.

Subjects recommended by NZ universities for different degree programmes: –

University of Auckland School Subject Guide 2022

AUT Subject Choices

Massey University Prospectus with school subject recommendations (Pages 46 – 48)

Victoria University of Wellington School Subject Guide

Lincoln University School Subject Guide

University of Canterbury School Subject Guide

University of Otago School Subject Guide

Liston Careers website resources

Find more on Subject Selection:

Please read this helpful guide for tertiary and trades: Liston Careers – Subject Selection Information Guide