Choosing School Subjects

The process of finding out how to choose school subjects from a career perspective is vital for students going into Year 11 or Year 12 next year and helpful for students in lower grades. Students, you need to work backwards when planning your school subjects.


Australian school students in the upper middle and secondary years will soon be making school subject choices for next year. Many students worry about choosing their school subjects and career practitioners are likely to have conversations with many students and their parents or guardians about subject choices from a career perspective. Grow Careers has some general advice about choosing school subjects, but this blog goes into more detail.

The process of finding out how to choose school subjects from a career perspective is vital for students going into Year 11 or Year 12 next year and helpful for students in lower grades. Students, you need to work backwards when planning your school subjects.

1. Start With Your Career Ideas

You need to start with the full range of career possibilities you currently have in mind. If you don’t have any career ideas in mind yet, it might be useful to see your school career practitioner to get some help to work out some career possibilities. If you are home-schooled or there is no-one currently at your school who can help you with career planning, you may wish to sign up or log into the My Career Profile section of the myfuture website, complete some of the activities to build your profile and then select the ‘go to suggested occupations’ link and research occupations that appeal to you. Talk to people who know you well about your career profile summary and the occupations you mark as your favourites. See Grow Careers, ‘How can I explore career options?’ for other ideas and links on how to research career possibilities. If you do not have access to a career practitioner and would like professional support, you can locate a qualified career practitioner on the Career Development Association of Australia website.

2. Identify Courses that Lead to Your Career Ideas

Grow Careers provides links to several Australian course databases. All the course databases you can access from Grow Careers are good. However, The Good Universities Guide enables you to quickly locate course and subject requirements.

3. Find Out School Subject Requirements

For each course of interest you will need to find out if there are:

  • Prerequisite subjects. You will not gain entry into a course if you have not successfully completed the prerequisite subjects.
  • Assumed knowledge subjects. This means that the course assumes you have successfully studied the assumed knowledge subject. If you do not have the assumed knowledge subject but do have I high enough ATAR or suitable OP you may be selected into the course, but you may have trouble coping with the demands of the course. Alternatively, you may need to successfully complete a bridging or foundation course. Therefore, you should include assumed knowledge subjects in your study plan.
  • Recommended subjects – these subjects will help you in your chosen course. It is a good idea to include them in your senior secondary study plan, but if you haven’t, your chances of being selected for the course are not affected.
  • Helpful subjects. You need to work out which school subjects may be helpful by reading the units you will study in the course. To do this you will need to locate the courses of interest on the institution website. Grow careers has links to all Australian universities and all Australian TAFEs. You can find private course providers from the Study Assist website, also accessible from Grow Careers. Studying school subjects related to the units you will study in a course of interest can provide you with useful background as well as giving you a taster of aspects of the course before you get there. This can also help you to decide whether the course is really for you. For example, if you are interested in studying a business course majoring in Accounting, you could study Accounting in Year 12 to as useful background, to gain an understanding of some aspects of Accounting before going on to university or TAFE and to confirm or otherwise, your choice of major.
Here is what you do to locate prerequisite, assumed knowledge or recommended subjects from The Good Universities Guide:

  • Select the careers tab and enter the career option you are considering in the keyword search.
  • Select the occupation. At the bottom of the page you can locate courses leading to the occupation by state or territory.
  • Select your preferred state or territory and select courses that interest you. Here you will find the entry requirements.

If you are researching a course in a state or territory other than where you live, you may need to find out the equivalent subjects for interstate students. The Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) for courses in NSW and ACT, the Tertiary Information Service Centre (TISC) for courses in Western Australia and the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC) have guidelines about the equivalence of subjects across states and territories. For VTAC , you will need to enter a search such as ‘equivalent prerequisites for interstate students’ to reach the equivalence table where you can compare subjects in different learning areas across the nation.

If you are planning to apply for highly competitive courses with a high ATAR or OP, which are not offered by a large number of universities, you should plan your senior secondary subjects so that you can apply for as many of these courses across the country as possible. Physiotherapy is one example of a highly competitive course. An investigation of all undergraduate Physiotherapy courses reveals that English, Chemistry, Maths, Biology, Physics cover most courses. Some courses include one or more of subjects such as Physical Education, Health Education, Environmental Science, Earth Science and Integrated Science among the acceptable subjects for entry. Indeed, English, Chemistry, Maths, Physics and Biology keep almost all courses in Australia open, although you need to be careful about which particular Maths subject you study as some Maths subjects are not acceptable for some courses. Your school career practitioner can provide you with the precise information you need.

Many courses will not have definite Year 11 or 12 entry requirements. You can gain entry into some courses provided you have an appropriate ATAR or OP, or provided you meet other criteria such as a portfolio or audition. For these courses it is a good idea to identify helpful subjects and include these in your senior secondary study plan. Visual and performing arts or design courses often do not specify subject prerequisites, but will require a portfolio of recent work or an audition. Clearly studying related school subjects that will help you prepare a quality portfolio or audition will help you to be selected into the course.

Some courses do not have prerequisite subjects other than standard university admission requirements. For example, the entry requirement for the Bachelor of Education (Health and Physical Education) degree at the University of Tasmania is ‘normal minimum university admission requirements’. However, examination of the units of study involved in the course would suggest that subjects such as Sport Science, Biology or Health may be helpful.

Some courses will not specify senior secondary subjects as prerequisites. For example, Hobsons Course Finder advises that for Certificate III in Engineering – Fabrication (i.e., Boilermaking) there are no minimum education requirements for TAFE NSW and Queensland, Year 10 for TAFE in Western Australia, Year 10 literacy, numeracy and Maths for ACT and a contract of training for TAFEs in other states and territories. If you are aiming to secure an apprenticeship or traineeship you may wish to consider studying subjects such as English and Maths in addition to other subjects related to the particular apprenticeship or traineeship occupation you have in mind. For example, you may consider studying a related VET subject.

4. Plan Your Studies for Success

Importantly, the school subjects you choose should be subjects that you will enjoy and in which you will experience success. It is therefore essential that you that talk to your parents and guardians, your teachers, your school career practitioner or curriculum coordinator during the process of choosing school subjects for next year. These people can help you plan your subjects so that you are likely to experience success as well as entry into your preferred courses or pathways to your preferred courses.


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