8 steps to choosing school subjects

Practical tips

Choosing school subjects can be tricky, but with these eight steps your young person will have them sorted in no time.

Choosing school subjects is often not an easy task. The system for picking subjects can seem complicated and it isn’t always clear what subjects are needed for particular career pathways.

By following these eight steps, you can easily work out what subjects are the right ones for your young person.

Step 1: Attend school information evenings

Most schools have information evenings where parents and students can speak with teachers about the different subjects they could take. These usually take place in term 3 and can be helpful in guiding you and your young person as you go through the process of choosing subjects for the next year.

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Step 2: Look back on subjects taken before

It's often a good idea for you and your young person to look back at the subjects they have taken before. Are there any subjects they particularly enjoyed or are good at? They are more likely to do well when they enjoy the subjects they take.

Step 3: Choose subjects for a range of careers

If your young person doesn’t know what they want to do as a career, or even if they think they do, it’s important to choose subjects that will prepare them for a range of different careers.

It’s a good idea to choose STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects as those skills are of growing importance for future jobs and are in high demand by employers.

Your young person may also benefit from doing programs like STAR and Gateway. STAR allows students to do tertiary study while at school. Gateway allows students to earn NCEA credits while working one day a week.

If your young person does know what they would like to do after they finish school, tools like Subject Matcher on careers.govt.nz are helpful for seeing which subjects relate to which jobs.

Step 4: Choose subjects for the course they want

If your young person is planning to do some tertiary study after secondary school it’s important they choose subjects that will help them get into the course they want.

If they want to attend university they should choose subjects that will give them the required literacy and numeracy credits. English and maths are the most common subjects for gaining literacy and numeracy credits. However, these credits can be gained from many other subjects.

If they know what course they want to do, check the education provider’s website to see what subjects are required or recommended for the course.

Step 5: Check the subjects are right for NCEA

In order to study a subject at NCEA Level 2 your young person may need to study it at NCEA Level 1 first.

Some subjects at NCEA Level 2 or 3 may need them to have studied a combination of NCEA Level 1 or Level 2 subjects. An example is physics – you usually need to study mathematics and science at NCEA Level 1 to study NCEA Level 2 physics.

If you’re unsure about the right NCEA subjects, get in touch with their school’s career adviser or dean.

Step 6: Career expos can be helpful

Career expos bring together universities, training providers, ITOs, polytechnics, defence forces and sometimes employers in one spot. By going to a career expo your young person can get advice on what subjects they should take for careers that interest them. 

Step 7: Encourage them to speak with a career adviser

Speaking with a school’s career adviser is helpful for young people who don’t know what subjects to pick. A career adviser can explore different career pathways with your young person and guide them in picking subjects for particular careers.

Step 8: Get subject choices in on time

Once you’ve nailed down the subject choices together it’s important for your young person to submit them on time to get their first choice subjects. Subject choice for the following school year usually takes place in term 3.

If their subject choices are submitted late, the school may place them in their second or third subject choices.

If they want to change a subject after getting their NCEA results they will need to arrange this with their school. Many schools have subject confirmation days after NCEA results have been released to make the process of changing subjects easier.

Get in touch with us for career information and guidance

For personal advice your young person can talk to their school’s career adviser or dean, or contact us for information and guidance.

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Updated 10 Jul 2023