Varsity selection starts even before high school

Monday March 25 2013



By MAHUL SHAH [email protected]

You have been asked to choose subjects for high school. Your choice will determine whether and what you can study in a foreign college or university and, ultimately, your career.

Choosing subjects can, therefore, be a daunting task for a teenager. Throw in diverse advice and pressure from parents, family, teachers, and friends, and the young person can get even more confused.

Where then do you start?

Identify your strengths and also what you really like to do. Taking on subjects that you are not strong in will only bring down your final high school results. It will also deny you the chance to have an enjoyable study experience. A weak score may further lock you out of courses at university.

Think about what careers you want to get into. Work backwards to what qualification you need to get into this career.

Have a look at several universities and their pre-requisite subjects for entry. These are the subjects you must take.

For example, if you want to become an engineer, then you must make sure that you have chosen physics and maths. If you want to become an environmental scientist, then maths and chemistry are a must, with biology being optional.

You also need to make sure that the subjects you choose offer a range of study, are manageable, and provide you with a variety of skills. Bear in mind the need to have time for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Sport, clubs and societies, leadership (prefect), and volunteer work will help to enhance your academic performance and give you multiple skills.

Go out and get work experience. Ultimately, you need to know if the career you are thinking of is what you really want to do. By getting first-hand experience, you will be able to make an informed decision on your career and, therefore, your subject choices.

There will always be compulsory subjects. Maths and English are a must. Then, depending on what curriculum you follow (for example, KCSE, O/A levels, IB) you will have a choice of subjects.

Ordinarily, you will be required to take at least one science and one humanities subject.

Remember that humanity subjects such as history, geography, economics, or business studies, are usually not a pre-requisite for entry into university. Science subjects such as physics, chemistry, and biology can be pre-requisites.

This means that if you are not sure of what you want to do at university and have not taken science subjects, many degrees (and careers) will not be available to you.

So now that you have an idea of what you may want to study, what do you do next?

Enrol in maths, English, and subjects you know you will need. You have to thereafter choose from electives. Do not take a subject because your friends have done so, or your favourite teacher is teaching it, or the lesson is planned for just before lunch and the classroom is near the canteen. Make these choices yourself first, then consult your parents, older siblings, and teachers.

Make sure that you have a variety of subjects that you have enrolled in. You will find that you will be strong in some and may need to try harder in others. By having a broad range of subjects, the work load of one should balance the workload of another.

In the long run, you will be the one who has to attend class, learn, and study. Take subjects that you enjoy, that challenge you, and which will help you with your chosen career pathway.

The writer is a director at the International Education Centre