Getting to choose my subjects in high school was equal parts exciting as it was downright confusing. It was great having some control, but I was also under lots of pressure to make the ‘right’ choice – whatever that means.
So like most of my friends, I chose my subjects based on the degree I thought I wanted to do and didn’t consider anything else. I looked at the prerequisite subjects and locked them in. Then I looked at the ATAR requirements and chose the rest of my subjects based on that.
As it turns out, trying to game the system wasn’t the smartest choice and I later learnt a few things I really wish I’d known before choosing my subjects.
So, for the benefit of all you out there trying to decide what subjects to pick – and to everyone else still trying to figure out your future – here are a few things I wish I knew back then.
1. ATAR isn’t everything
The ATAR scaling system is confusing at best, and choosing subjects to try and cheat a good mark can blow up in your face and make you miserable in the process. Simply put, you’ve got a better chance of doing well in subjects you either like or are actually good at, preferably both; don’t listen to anybody that says otherwise!
2. You’ve got more post-school options than you think
Your ATAR isn’t the only measure of success, and neither is going to uni. You’ve got heaps of other options after school and all of them can help you lead a successful, fulfilling life. Most notably, vocational education and training (VET) courses, including apprenticeships and traineeships, don’t even require an ATAR and studying one can help you land a wide range of jobs.
You’ve got the typical cashed up tradie route, but there are also courses available in areas like medical technology, cyber security, photography, media, and engineering. Had I known about all these possibilities, I would have chosen vastly different subjects and saved myself a lot of headaches.
3. It’s okay to choose a subject you might drop
Like I said, trying to choose my subjects had me torn up in all kinds of ways and I spent most of the time just worrying. I thought I was stuck with all the subjects I chose and that every decision I made now was definitely going to impact my ATAR and career, no exceptions.
Of course, this was kinda silly. It was totally fine to drop a subject in Year 12 and doing so actually helped me focus on my remaining units which improved my results and overall wellbeing. I wish I knew not to worry so much, hey?
4. You don’t have to choose just purely academic subjects
I was already halfway through Year 12 when I realised some people in my year were studying vocational subjects at school. Turns out you can study a range of VET courses in school, including construction, businesses services, hospitality and entertainment.
Choosing one of these courses means you’ll gain a qualification while working towards your HSC, and some courses will also count towards your ATAR. There’s even the option to take on a school-based apprenticeship so you can actually earn a wage while still at school.
5. Where the jobs are
All my mates that went down the VET route got the last laugh when they ended up with jobs quicker than the rest of us. The stats back it up too – in 2018, just under 80% of VET graduates who did an apprenticeship or traineeship were employed after their training. For those that finished a trade apprenticeship, this figure grew to 91%.
Turns out there are loads of jobs available in vocational areas I hadn’t even considered. Apparently there’s a boom in the construction industry with more than 300,000 jobs expected to open up in the next ten years – wouldn’t it have been nice to know that while I was at school?