Navigating subject selection in year 10

It’s decision time.

For careers advisers, that means floods of students who have been passively listening to your advice for the past few years suddenly at your office door begging for answers.

I speak from experience after working for a university and travelling the careers market circuit for over two years (some of you may even remember me). I’ve seen the spectrum of students: those who have had a plan since year 7, those who have an idea but need some more information and those who don’t have a clue.

So let me help you out with some insights I have learnt over the years. Here is my survival guide for Year 10 students choosing their year 11/12 subjects.

what subjects are right for you?

What subjects do you like?

This is the main question every Year 10 student should ask themselves. Your careers adviser has no doubt already told you that you should always choose subjects that you enjoy, as they’re the ones you’re likely to do well in.

If you’ve been studying subjects you love, and getting good marks, do you really want to throw that all in because you think other subjects might give you a better ranking and lead to greater university options? Don’t go down the path of purely choosing what to study based on outside influencers, as this can be a risky move that has the potential to backfire. You have a greater chance of succeeding by following your passions. And remember, achieving an ATAR and going to uni isn’t for everybody so don’t force yourself into a study path just because you think is the norm.

Why is this so important?

Like a lot of people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was at school. Even towards the end of year 12 (eeek!). When I was in year 10, I chose subjects purely based on what interested me at the time. I did, however, throw a maths unit in there for good measure as I thought it would better my options. Luckily for me, I was able to drop it from my subject list when it became clear that maths just wasn’t my forte … not even in the slightest. In the end, the subjects I had chosen because they interested me did result in a high ATAR (well, UAI in my day) ranking and I had no troubles getting into the university course of my choice.

Think about your subject selection as a whole

While it’s important to choose subjects you’re passionate about, you should also consider how they work together as a whole. If you’re more of a creative type, studying visual arts and design and technology might seem like a good idea. But are you ready to commit yourself to two major works?

Remember to also take into consideration any state or territory, or school, subject requirements you might have to abide by. For example, in New South Wales you are required to complete two English components are part of the Higher School Certificate. If you attend a religious school, then it is possible that you may have to include religious education in your pre-tertiary subject load.

Some schools also offer the International Baccalaureate as an alternative to the more traditional Higher School Certificate or equivalent, so ensure you get the right information for your chosen mode of study. Your school counsellor or careers advisor should be well versed in all the options available through your school so are always a good resource to use.


Fortunately more schools are recognising that some students just aren’t cut out for theory based learning and perform better with practical study such as vocational education. If you’re interested in a practical vocation then this is particularly important as you can start your VET coursework while you’re still at school. You can achieve up to a certificate III in a range of areas, kick-starting your career before you even leave school. The Australian Qualifications Framework is a good reference guide to check what you can achieve through at what stage and through which institution.

what you can stay and when
Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)

If your school doesn’t offer an integrated VET program, speak to your careers adviser and local TAFE about your options.

Subjects for uni preferences

If you have a specific university course in mind, do your research so you’re prepared for any prerequisites or recommended knowledge. Let’s say you’re looking at accountancy as a career. Have a look at a few different university courses to see what prerequisites you need. Different universities and courses have different requirements so make sure you shop around and compare each one.

Sometimes course requirements include ‘recommended studies’ that might help you in your subject selection. For example, for UNE’s Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting), the entry requirements include a prerequisite of any two units of English and recommended studies as any two units of maths. They also recommend prior knowledge in economics and business so this might lead you to choose business studies, economics and mathematics as part of your subject selection.

Bridging units and courses

Sometimes there might be a prerequisite to the uni course of your dreams that you’re less than thrilled about (cough…maths…cough). Don’t stress about including them into your subject selection. Universities sometimes offer bridging units in their summer sessions so if you didn’t study a prerequisite unit at school (or did and failed it), there’s a possibility you can study it at your chosen uni and be up to speed before you even begin your degree.

There are also plenty of possibilities when it comes to bridging courses and using internal transfer from one course to another to get you into your preferred course. For example, if you are looking to study primary teaching at university but missed out on an offer, you may consider studying early childhood education through TAFE as a bridging course. Who knows, you might gain your qualification and decide that early childhood education is a better fit for you after all.

Don’t forget alternatives to traditional on campus such as Open Universities Australia, Australia’s largest online distance university education provider. This is not only a convenient and flexible way to earn a qualification but can also be used as a pathway into a range of courses.

Subject selection traps

There are a lot of variables that can affect not only your final mark but also your ranking in the eyes of a university. Two of the biggest culprits include scaling and bonus points. These are designed to bolster already high performers but they won’t be much help if you aren’t doing well. Don’t fall into the trap of choosing a subject simply because it was scaled up the previous year. If you don’t get good marks, that scaling isn’t going to make much difference in your final result.

Similarly, some student try to play the bonus points game and pick units that will gain them the most bonus points. You need to remember that bonus points differ between universities and, just like scaling, are only effective if you reach a certain mark in units relevant to the course you want to study. So again, if you choose something you aren’t interested or good at because you think it’ll get you extra points, you may just end up with bad marks, no points and no offers.

Other resources

There are plenty of resources to help you make your decision. Your school is always a good first port of call but many post-school providers offer information specific to students in year 10 as well as other information you may find useful. Your state or territory admission centre should also provide information for students who are about to choose their subjects. It’s a good idea to get familiar with these sites if you are considering university, as these are your portals for applying to courses in year 12.

  • NSW and ACT – UAC
  • Victoria – VTAC
  • Queensland – QTAC
  • Western Australia – TISC
  • South Australia – SATAC
  • Northern Territory – SATAC
  • Tasmania – UTAS

It may seem like information overload but there are plenty of resources out there to help you make the right decision for you. Just remember that you don’t need to have all the answers – choose what makes you happy and watch the good results roll in!

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