Grade 9's Have To Choose Wisely To Avoid Future Regrets

One of the biggest life choices is currently staring Grade 9-learners in the face: selecting the subjects they will sit at the National Senior Certificate exams. While making this choice is exceptionally hard, it will have a far-reaching impact on the rest of learners’ lives and must be taken with care, an education expert warns.

Grade 9's have to choose wisely to avoid future regrets, says expert

“At 15, most young people struggle to commit to weekend plans, never mind making decisions that could alter the course of their lives. But deciding on your subjects has to be done, and can be less intimidating when certain guidelines are taken into account,” says education expert Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of the Independent Institute of Education, the largest and most accredited registered private education institute in South Africa.

Consider the destination and work back from there:

“Most young people will want to achieve a matric pass that will let them study towards a degree, and some will have aspirations for degrees that are very strict about the subjects you must take and how well you must do. If you are sure about what you want to do, you must study University and private college websites to determine their requirements, and let this guide your subject choices,” says Coughlan.

For those who are not yet 100% sure about what they want to be when they grow up, Coughlan suggests making choices that will keep a wide range of options open.

“There is a list of designated subjects which are the ones that higher education institutions require for admission. Ensure that all your subjects are drawn from that list, unless you are absolutely sure you want to pursue a career that won’t require higher education,” she says.

Gateway subjects leave more routes open:

“Gateway subjects are ones such as Maths and Science, which keep your post-matric options open because so many areas of further study require them. If you struggle in these areas, consider keeping only one of them, preferably Maths. If you really have no aptitude, and your best efforts to master this field have not paid off, then opt for Maths Literacy. But remember that your choices will then be limited, as many degrees require that you have passed Maths.”

What makes you happy? What do you dream of doing with your life?

“Consider taking those subjects that match your career dreams and include them,” says Coughlan.

“Also, choose at least two subjects that you really enjoy and in which you can do well – even if your friends think those are not ‘cool’ or ‘real’ subjects. Remember that admission to higher education is performance-based, so it makes sense to do very well in some subjects rather than badly in all of them because you chose only gateway subjects.

“For example, if you know you will need Maths but are struggling with it, it may make sense not to do Science and instead to do a subject that requires less mathematics, such as History, so that you can raise your overall point score. This will also help to reduce your stress and enable you to give more time to Maths so that you can do better.”

Bring on the real world!

“Not everyone will want to pursue a degree after matric, and making subject choices will be more flexible for these learners,” says Coughlan.

“The South African National Senior Certificate has four levels of pass. One of them is the degree pass, but you could also qualify for diploma or higher certificate study. These two qualifications, which are normally vocationally or career-focused, could give you access straight to the world of work and even degree study if you wanted to do this later.

“There are also options in public and private FET Colleges, or you may even want to start your own business.

“In these cases a pass that enables access to higher education may not be as important, and it makes sense to include subjects with a business or computer basis.”


“Keep your options as wide open as you can for as long as you can, so that if your needs and interests and aspirations change by the time you are 17, you are not boxed into a corner by the decisions you made today,” Coughlan says.

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