Have you always known what you wanted to do with your life? Are you just starting to figure it out, or are you stuck making a decision between different career paths? Maybe you’ve got no idea at all?

However you respond to these questions, you are not alone. Figuring out what you want to do can be tough for some, but it’s helpful to start thinking it through now. Choosing the right subjects to study at high school will help set you on a successful path – but how do you know which are the right subjects?


Things to consider

A great place to start figuring out what subjects to choose is to ask yourself a few simple questions: What do I enjoy? What am I good at? What are my values?

Doing something that you don’t enjoy at all is really difficult, and less likely to be successful.

“If you hate a subject, even if you are good at it, your workload may be overwhelming come exam time,” says Bicky Lee (23). “If you love the work, it will be much easier.”

Leigh Bedford (16) agrees: “If I didn’t enjoy it, I think I’d fail heavily.”

Choosing subjects you are good at, as Serena Low (21) did, will raise your rank score, which is important for university entrance.

“First I chose subjects I’d need in any job (English/Maths (Stats)), then I chose subjects that I thought would be beneficial to the job/degree I was thinking of (Business) and then I filled the rest up with subjects I knew I was good at, absolutely loved, and also thought I wouldn’t have a chance to be involved in once I left high school (drama, dance, photography, music),” explains Serena. “I left high school with all of my NCEA’s endorsed with Excellence due to picking those last subjects I was good in, which got me into my degree. There were only 15 spots in my conjoint and I got the last spot ’cause of the extra Excellences I had.”

If you’re thinking of continuing with a subject you studied this year, consider how well you did in it this year. “It’s a good indication of whether you’ll be able to attain good grades as the subject gets harder,” explains Maggy Liu (17).

Other things students consider are: What specific internals/externals does your school provide? How much of the course is outside the classroom? What will the extra fees for trips cost? What options are available if there aren’t enough numbers to make up a class? Who will the teaching team be? What will I actually be learning?

Remember that everyone’s path to success looks different, so you might like to consider an alternate route, such as taking a gap year to travel, save money or volunteer.

Of course, if you already know what job you want to be doing when you leave school, find out what you need to study to set yourself on the right path.

Whatever your aspirations, ask yourself if they are truly in line with your own values.

“For me, it was: What do I value? What do I like? How can I be a force for good?” says Hugo Robinson (21). “My biggest piece of advice to myself was/is: Make sure your aspirations are earnestly yours, and don’t let them stop you from being a multi-faceted human being.”


Where to go for help

For many students, careers advisors and teachers are a good starting point for help and inspiration. However, this doesn’t work for everyone. Others, such as Maggy Liu (16), find it more helpful to talk to students from higher levels or people from the industry they aspire to work in.

“I was a bit cynical towards adults,” says Maggy. “I didn’t think counsellors have enough specific knowledge on subjects to give me any useful information and I thought teachers would be biased.”

Do your own research online, such as via Careers NZ. “I looked on careers.govt.nz to see if there were any requirements for what I wanted to do,” says Kasey McDonnell (19). “They’re really good for that stuff.”

You can get information from subject handbooks and by asking students in the years above you how they are finding their classes. When it comes to choosing university subjects, take advantage of open days, prospectuses and enquiring online with specific questions.

And if the subjects you’ve chosen aren’t what you expected?

“Don’t be afraid to swap and drop classes if they don’t turn out okay,” says Kasey. “It’s much nicer changing than continuing on with something that isn’t enjoyable or relevant to what you want to do.”

Sophie Stone (16) advises caution, however: “f you are thinking about changing a subject, question why, and find out realistically how easy it will be for you to make that change. It’s not impossible, but always think things through.”

Once again, it’s important to remember that different things will work well for different people, so keep in mind that you are a unique individual.

“The best advice I ever got was from people in the industry I wanted to get into and also from people who know me well,” says Bicky. “Not everyone’s journey to success looks the same!”


If you do want to explore your options or get help with subject choice, check out Careers NZ or chat online here.