Pre-College Advising • Pre-College Planning Guide

Subject Selection – Frequently Asked Questions

POSTED ON 12/30/2022 BY The Red Pen

Subject Selection – Frequently Asked Questions | The Red Pen

Choosing the right subjects in high school is imperative. However, we see many parents and students struggling to make the right choice for them. While many things may be highly specific to you, there are some general questions that most of our Mentorship students end up asking us. Keep in mind that these are guidelines and there may be exceptions.

1) What are core subjects? Why are they important?

Core subjects are the foundation of most Indian and international curricula. The core subjects include:

  • Language A; the language of instruction
  • Language B; second or foreign language
  • Humanities and social sciences; history/geography/politics
  • Lab sciences; biology, chemistry and physics
  • Mathematics

Most competitive universities, especially in the US, prefer students to take these subjects throughout high school or at least for two years. This is because these subjects are the foundation of every child’s academic education. These subjects also enable students to develop a broad range of knowledge and core skills that are beneficial, regardless of what career pathway they pursue in the future.

Students can take non-core subjects in high school. However, a mix of core and non-core subjects is better than taking only non-core subjects, regardless of the student’s academic major.

If your child is studying the A Levels or an Indian board such as the ISC, CBSE, or HSC and wishes to take a core subject that is not offered in their current subject mix, they can take an Advanced Placement (AP) exam. Alternatively, they can take credit courses or summer programmes to help diversify their profile or supplement the courses offered in their high school curriculum.

2) Is studying science a requirement for grades 11 and 12?

If your child is applying to competitive universities, it is always recommended to have a lab science for at least two to four years in high school, depending on the course. Lab sciences refer to biology, chemistry and physics.

In the US, admissions officers are looking for holistic and well-rounded applicants who have a mix of subjects that go beyond the core. Having a lab science is one way of demonstrating versatility.

In the UK, lab sciences are a requirement if your child is looking to study pure science or engineering. Alternatively, having a lab science within the subject mix for majors such as computer science, business or economics is preferred.

For other global destinations, there is usually no requirement. However, at The Red Pen, we recommend all our Mentorship Programme students study a lab science in their final two years as it adds diversity and strengthens your child’s academic profile.

3) Is Environmental science (EVS) considered a science?

Environmental science falls under the science category in most curricula, both international and Indian. However, EVS is not a lab science and is viewed as a less rigorous option than taking biology, chemistry, or physics. If a student is not considering a direct science or even STEM major in university, then they can consider taking EVS. Nevertheless, we would recommend that students consider lab sciences as this will help boost their academic profile and give them more options in the future.

Does it help to study a different second language in grades 11 and 12?

The first thing you should know is that universities do not view language change negatively. Also, a foreign language is not a mandatory requirement for grades 11 and 12.

Having said that, if your child chooses to continue studying the same language, whether it is Hindi or any other foreign language, it shows consistency and depth. However, if your child’s school offers the opportunity to switch languages and they are interested in doing so, then this demonstrates curiosity and willingness to learn. Additionally, taking a new language could add diversity, making your child’s academic profile unique.

Can my child switch to an Ab Initio language for grades 11 and 12?

The IBDP is one of the few curricula to offer foreign languages Ab Initio for grades 11 and 12. This is ideal for students who struggle with their current foreign language or want to explore another language for their final two years of high school. Also, students interested in linguistics, international affairs and global business should ensure they have mastered their current foreign language before considering switching to an Ab Initio language.

If your child is considering studying in a country where English is not the official language, for example, Germany, it might be a good idea to demonstrate proficiency in the local language. This can make their application more competitive.

If you are looking for answers to more specific questions about identifying and choosing academic pathways, get in touch with us!