Ensure Your Child Is University Ready

How to choose the right subjects to ensure your child is university ready


Deciding which subjects to study is a critical moment for students, with their choices carrying implications for university study and beyond. But while subject selection requires careful consideration, it needn’t be stressful. Based on my years of experience at Cambridge Assessment International Education, I’ve noticed the most successful students – who also have the highest enjoyment of their subjects – make their choices based on a few key considerations.

Here are four questions parents can ask their children to help guide and support them in their decision-making process.

What lesson do you most look forward to attending every day?

After almost a decade of schooling, students will most likely have a few subjects that they enjoy studying more than others. Understanding what these subjects are and why they like them can help them pick subjects they enjoy for their last years of schooling. For example, understanding that a student enjoys maths because they enjoy problem solving could guide them to take a business studies subject in addition to maths.

There are two main academic benefits to taking subjects students enjoy. First, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin, when students enjoy learning, they’re more likely to do well in the subject. This may seem obvious but it is often overlooked when students are ‘pushed’ into subjects because of seemingly lucrative careers.  With universities paying close attention to the marks achieved in high school for admission purposes, this can help students achieve better grades when it counts. Second, choosing a subject at school they enjoy can also help students find a course they genuinely enjoy at university as well.  Study from school to university should be a continuum. This will set them up for an enjoyable and successful university career and beyond.

Where do your strengths lie?

Once a student has narrowed the field of subjects they are interested in, they then need to examine their academic strengths. Having an honest conversation about which subjects are most likely to lead to good marks is crucial. Students need to look at where they can be successful academically in order to achieve the results they will need to support their future ambitions.

This may mean having to make a tough discussion about where student interests intersect with ability. If a student enjoys physics, for example, but struggles with the learning material and falls short on marks despite putting a lot of effort into the course, this may not be a good fit for a career in engineering – or for their future beyond school.

How will your subject choice translate into your university plans?

Once students have narrowed down a list based on interest and potential for success, they should think about how these subjects will translate into what they hope to pursue after high school. Based on what they would like to study at university, students should be aware of the subjects required for a – post school education course. If they are looking to gain entrance to a university in South Africa using a Cambridge International qualification, a student would need to need to make sure that their choice of Cambridge International AS and A Level subjects meet the minimum requirements for the local certificate of exemption and the entry requirements for their intended degree course at the specific university. This is particularly important if they have a specific career path in mind such as medicine, engineering or law, which may have specific subject requirements. Therefore, students should check the entry requirements carefully for their chosen course well in advance of submitting their application.

To find out more about the criteria needed for different further education courses, look at university websites. They will post the requirements for each course on their website – including the subjects that need to have been studied previously and the baseline marks students will need to have achieved in order to be considered for admission. 

How is the world of work changing?

Students also need to think about the future world of work. In such a rapidly modernising world we can’t predict exactly what students of today will be doing in the workplace of tomorrow.  Technological development has never been as fast in human history as it is today, and it will never be this slow again! To understand the skills and qualifications they may need for their ideal career, students should speak with a career adviser. The internet is a readily available source of knowledge to find out what a specific career is all about or what new careers may be looming.  However, base skills in language and numeracy will remain relevant well into the next millennium.  Cambridge believes, for example, that our subjects need to guide learners on the path to becoming critical thinkers, which essentially means they have their own opinion about a topic.  And can integrate knowledge from various subjects in a cross-curricula fashion.

It can also be helpful to speak to someone already working in an industry that the student might like to work within in the future. They can offer insight into the nature of the work, what subjects will help prepare them to enter the workplace and the skills that are required. These won’t just be practical skills but also transferable skills, such as resilience and problem solving. A student can then take steps to ensure that they are developing these skills while still in school. Many companies in South Africa also offer job shadowing to high school students for this reason.

Choosing subjects is an important time for students and their families. This is especially true in South Africa where to gain matric university exemption, specific combinations of subjects are required. With so much information and advice available, it’s easy to get lost in choice. Therefore, taking a step back to focus on a student’s interests, abilities and future goals can help them choose the subjects at school that are right for them and their future. Learning more through external resources, whether a website or a career adviser, can also help students to marry their interests and skills with courses that will help them achieve their long-term goals. 

Juan Visser, Regional Director Sub-Saharan Africa at Cambridge Assessment International Education

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This edition

Issue 58