Pre-College Advising • Pre-College Planning Guide

How Do I Select the Right Subjects in High School?

POSTED ON 03/31/2018 BY The Red Pen

How Do I Select the Right Subjects in High School? | The Red Pen

Making the right subject choices in high school is a crucial task for parents and students. The right subjects can boost your child’s academic performance and influence their undergraduate college choices in India or abroad. However, this may be confusing, given the different curricula and subjects available, including IGCSE, CISCE and IB among others. The challenge arises from having to choose subjects within the curriculum’s constraints. Also, subject choices vary among schools following the same curriculum; some IGCSE schools offer coordinated sciences, while others separate the three sciences, allowing students to drop one altogether. Understanding both each curriculum’s constraints and the subject combinations offered will help you and your child make an informed decision.

Here are a few country-specific tips to help your child choose the right subjects in high school:

1) Studying in India after grade 12:

In India, students have to choose a ‘stream’ or an area of study such as arts, sciences, engineering, commerce, medicine or law at the end of their second year of junior college or after grade 12. Some specialisations, such as engineering and medicine, require an entrance exam and the grade 12 national board exam. Usually, subjects within ‘streams’ are predetermined with limited flexibility.

Here are some prerequisites for popular streams:

Medical entrance exams such as NEET Physics, chemistry and biology/biotechnology
Engineering entrance exams such as JEE Physics and mathematics are compulsory, along with one of the remaining sciences
Science Physics, chemistry and biology
Business Commerce or science subjects with limited focus on humanities subjects
Humanities Commerce or science subjects
Liberal Arts Opt for core subjects

Several universities, including Ashoka University, O. P. Jindal Global University, Flame University and Symbiosis International University, are incorporating an international approach in their application process and learning experience. Remember that your child’s grade or marks in the grade 12 board exams are a criterion for acceptance into college, so help them choose their subjects carefully.

2) Studying in the UK after grade 12:

Most colleges in the UK set minimum entry requirements for each course of study; subject prerequisites along with minimum requirements on grade or marks are usually clearly stated.

For example, a BSc in Management Science from University College London requires math. IBDP students need 38 points with a total of 18 points in the three Higher Level (HL) subjects, with no score below 5. In addition, a 6 in mathematics is required. Students from Indian boards must have studied five subjects, with a total score of 90 percent. On the other hand, an integrated BSc and MBBS in Medicine from University College London requires 39 points in the IBDP exam with 19 points in three HL subjects, with no HL score below 5. Also, students will need a 6 and a 7 in biology and chemistry in either order. Students from Indian boards are not eligible to apply.

These specific requirements vary by college and course so check each course requirement carefully.

3) Studying in the US after grade 12:

US universities emphasize a more holistic education. Students are allowed to change their major of study or decide this by the end of the second year of college. Most universities look for students who are well-rounded, with diverse subject choices such as English, social studies, mathematics, science and a foreign language, no matter what they choose as a major. For example, even a student who selects engineering as a major must have taken sufficient courses in history and English to be considered a competitive applicant. All scores between grades 9-12 are reported on the transcript and are taken into consideration.

Students cannot pursue professional studies such as medicine or law at the undergraduate level; these can only be studied as postgraduate courses.

4) Studying in Canada after grade 12:

In Canada, the importance of subject selection is university and programme-specific. Some universities have flexibility when it comes to academic requirements, whereas competitive programmes such as engineering or business have specific prerequisites.

IB applicants to the University of Toronto’s engineering programme, for example, must have a minimum predicted score of 30 (excluding ToK and EE points), with a minimum score of 4 in mathematics (Analysis and Approaches at HL, Analysis and Approaches at SL or Applications and Interpretations at HL), chemistry, physics and English. Students from Indian boards are required to provide excellent grades in mathematics (including calculus) physics, chemistry and English.

At some universities, if applicants are not able to present a required prerequisite subject, it may be replaced with an AP exam, IBDP result or GCE A level.

5) Studying in Australia after grade 12:

Universities in Australia have a minimum entry requirement that is university and programme-specific as well. For a STEM-related degree, for example, relevant science subjects in high school are required. For other non-STEM majors, universities require four or five core subjects including sciences, history and economics and a second language.

6) Studying in Singapore after grade 12:

Subject requirements for Singapore universities depend on the programme. For example, if your child wants to pursue STEM majors at Nanyang Technological University, studying the highest level of mathematics available in their curriculum is crucial. Most courses ask students to meet an overall condition rather than requiring a minimum grade in individual subjects. Whenever possible, opt for the most rigorous core subjects. If English is not the primary language of instruction in school, an English proficiency test may be required.

Sometimes despite best efforts, students are still confused about what subjects to take. Here are some general guidelines that will help:

  1. Do not drop mathematics or science after grade 10 as this will limit options
  2. Engineering usually requires mathematics and physics throughout high school
  3. Business streams usually require mathematics at the highest possible level, especially in the UK
  4. Most UK colleges require chemistry, mathematics and biology for medicine
  5. For architecture, mathematics and physics are usually required, while an art or design-based subject is useful
  6. For art and design, an arts-based subject or a related project is preferred. Also, you may be required to submit a portfolio, which is university-specific

If you and your child would like help with board and subject selection or have specific questions about eligibility to a particular university with a particular subject mix, then get in touch with us.