Subject selection to set yourself up for success

It’s easy to look at success and try and find a common denominator, but what’s the trick to getting there? Whilst it’s true that every successful career is built on a solid foundation of knowledge, I believe it’s consistency and planning that’s the real key to success. If I hadn’t spent the time to really think about my subjects in year 10, I would’ve found my first year at University exceedingly difficult.

Confused about which subjects to pick?

Confused about which subjects to pick?

No matter what pathway you have your sights set on, you can set yourself up for success by getting off on the right foot with your subject selections. You’ve probably already heard that the subjects you choose in year 11 and for your HSC, should be ones you genuinely enjoy. This rule hasn’t changed. It won’t ever change. Interest in what you’re studying is a huge motivator to study!

Things to think about

You probably already knew that! What other factors should you be considering? This article will set out precisely some of the considerations you should make, to help make your first year at University as easy as possible! It will make your first year less stressful, and more fun, so you can spend time doing the important stuff like meeting new people, and not worrying whether you’re out of your depth.

Build a strong foundation

One subject that is common to every STEM degree is a first-year mathematics course. Maths courses aren’t just for mathematics majors, they’re ubiquitous in STEM degrees. Mathematics is the language of a scientist. Most universities list their prerequisites and assumed knowledge on their faculty pages.

Remember: Even if you don’t complete any mathematics at high school you WILL still be able to enrol, you’ll just have to complete a bridging course. The door is always open; it is NEVER completely shut. The same applies to all other courses. If your course required Chemistry, or another HSC course you didn’t complete, don’t fret! There are bridging courses for all these courses. These are basically short courses that allow you to catch up!

My goal here is to help make your first year as easy as possible. I cannot more strongly endorse completing at least Mathematics Extension 1 for your HSC. It is assumed you know all the things covered in this course at most major institutions including UNSW. Here is a passage directly, from UNSW’s first year advice page:

“Mathematics 1 is mainly intended for students who did HSC Mathematics Extension 1. You can enrol in Mathematics 1 if your HSC Maths + Extension 1 mark is over 100… For marks lower than this, we strongly recommend that you do the Mathematics Bridging Course

You can read the entire page by clicking here.

Start Specifying towards your goal: Science Pair, Engineering Studies

Once you have a strong foundation, we need to start looking at what specific subjects will be most helpful for your degree. Here’s a rough summary that might help you:

Interested in?Try:
Anything Bio: Biomedical Engineering, Medical ScienceBiology
Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, or Mechatronic EngineeringEngineering Studies
Coding/Software Engineering?Software Design and Development
Networks/Databases?Information Process Technology
Physics and/or Mathematics?Mathematics Extension 1

Fill the rest of your subjects with things you like!

I said at the beginning of this post, to take subjects you like. In case you’re not convinced, let me take a moment to try and convince you! Is there a subject you’re taking right now, or one you’ve taken in the past that you just despised? Imagine having to take that course for another two years. You won’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

You’ll put off studying, which will make the exams harder, which will make you more demotivated and hate the subject even more. It’s a vicious cycle, that you don’t need to put yourself through. Never pick a subject just because you’ve heard it scales well, and don’t pick a subject just because someone else tells you to! That includes me! I said to strongly consider Mathematics Extension 1, because it will make your first year easier, but if you hate mathematics, don’t take it if you don’t want to!

Good Luck

So there you have it, now you know what to think about before you make the big decision. Take a maths course, pick a subject close to your degree, and fill the rest of your units with other subjects you’re passionate about!




Vamsi Srinivasan is looking to uncover the next hidden truth of the universe. He was fascinated by the beauty of Physics and Mathematics during his HSC. Now, he’s in his third year of a dual degree in Physics/Computer Science. Vamsi wanted to share his passion for Maths and Physics and has been an Art of Smart coach for the past 3 years. He coaches students in Physics as well as all ranges of HSC Maths from General to Extension 2. In his spare time you can find him watching Tennis or listening to his favourite podcast ‘Hello Internet’.