Subject choices

Subject choices can be a stressful time for both parent and child.

For your child, it might be the first significant decision that they’ve made about their future. They could be feeling overwhelmed or confused about which direction to take. For you, it might be hard to see your child stray from the path you’ve always wanted them to take.

The world we faced when we left school is very different from the world young people are facing now - and it’s easy to feel out of the loop about subject choices and qualifications.

It’s important to remember that qualifications have changed – and will continue to change. This guide will help you understand how qualifications will work today.

We’ve worked with our careers advisers to explain your child’s options, routes and possible destinations.

What to consider in S2/S3

When picking subjects in S2/S3, it’s best to keep choices very broad.

Often, children may be unsure of the impact their choices could have on their future. If you’re talking to your child about what they want to be when they grow up, they might say things like ‘professional footballer’ or ‘pop star’. They might seem naïve, and unrealistic to someone older.

It’s important to talk.

Ask them to:

• Think about themselves three years in the future, compared to where they were three years ago
• Reflect on how much they’ve changed to help them understand the impact of these choices
• Think about the ‘type’ of subjects they’re going to choose - are they literary, logical, creative or practical? If they’re all very similar, it may be difficult to change their mind on the direction they’ll take

What to consider in S5/S6

By this age, young people are likely to be more clued up on their options – with a better idea of where their strengths and skills lie, and a more realistic outlook on their future career.

Remember, if they’re investigating university or college as an option – it’s important to look at the entry requirements. Often, people can be quite surprised that courses don’t look for specific subjects but certain grades in a couple of disciplines.

Certain subjects can carry misconceptions too. For example, P.E. at Higher level isn’t just running about in gym kit – there’s a lot of work taken up in lesson plans and learning about the body.

If you have concerns, do some research. Speak to their teachers about their employment options.

Articulation routes

If things change, or don’t go to plan – it’s important to remember that there’s more than one way up the ladder. That’s where articulation routes can come in.

Your child may hope to go to university but worry they may not achieve the necessary qualifications. An articulation route could be an alternative path, removing some of this pressure.

It can:

• Start at various levels for school leavers from those leaving in fourth year to those that leaving in sixth year with some Highers
• Lead straight into degree programs, if they successfully complete a path of HNC/HND qualifications
• Help them use college as a bridge between school and university

Talk to them about how they could use an HNC/HND as a springboard into the university course of their choice.

Try to have realistic expectations linked to your child's strengths and skills. Be wary of setting too high an expectation and support your child to make their own decisions.

Speaking to your school and the school careers adviser could help you and your child get a clearer picture of what subjects and level might help them achieve their goals.

Where you fit in

As parents, there is an important role to play in career development.

You are a source of support, reassurance and encouragement which can help children to have the confidence to pursue career opportunities that are right for them.

Everyone’s had to make career choices, and sharing your own experience will help build trust.

If your child is struggling to choose, they will not be alone. Encouraging them to talk to their friends can be reassuring. Speaking to teachers and careers advisers can give them the information and guidance that can help them too.

It can feel there’s a huge focus on subjects and qualifications at school, but some of the skills and qualities learned at home, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs can be just as important.

Encourage your child to consider all their options. This can include apprenticeships, work experience or going straight into the world of work.

In our skills-focused economy, it’s possible to be a success without top grades.

The ‘Strengths’, ‘Skills’ and ‘About Me’ tools on My World of Work could help them work out their qualities and what they could be suited to. Why not try these together?

And remember, if you’ve got any questions, our careers advisers are here to support you.

Go back to careers discussions