If you’re in year nine, your school’s going to ask you to make some big decisions soon: your GCSE options. These are the subjects you’ll study for the last two years of high school, eventually leading to exams and – fingers crossed – GCSE qualifications.
As soon as you get the bit of paper explaining your options and asking you to make your choices, your year is going to pretty much split in two. On one side, there’s the people who are completely unbothered by the process and already know what they want to do – or don’t really care – and on the other side, people are quietly crumbling under the pressure of having to make a decision which could affect their entire future career.
I was definitely the second type of person. I was pretty good at school and got decent grades, but at 14 I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life (I’m much older now and still don’t, tbh), and I felt that binning off certain subjects forever would mean closing doors of opportunity. If I wanted to be a designer I’d probably need graphics, but that would mean ditching IT, and back then all anyone could talk about were how computers were the future. I enjoyed history, but taking it would mean dropping geography and what if I decided to be a town planner? I mean, town planning probably isn’t high on the list of dream jobs for 14 year old girls, but I didn’t want to rule anything out.
I got massively stressed out by the pressure of making such big decisions. And to make everything worse, all the advice I got from adults was totally conflicted. Some said my GCSEs would define my entire career path (gulp!), others would say they didn’t make any difference at all in the grand scheme of things, which wasn’t at all helpful because I still had to make an actual decision. In the end, I took on as many subjects as I could, which meant having lessons during lunchtimes and after school, which obviously did nothing to alleviate my stress because then I was running myself ragged trying to keep up with everything.
There are no wrong choices
So are your GCSE choices really that important? Yes, but they’re definitely not worth getting stressed out over. And I know that’s easy for me to say now – as it turns out I didn’t need geography for anything and my once-promising language skills now barely stretch past ‘bonjour’ – but it’s true. You just need to approach the decision in a sensible way (and taking German classes every lunchtime for a whole year is not sensible, I promise).
What subjects do you enjoy, and what subjects are you good at? These are the obvious choices. But things get trickier when you need to pick from a bunch of options you don’t have strong feelings about, so it’s helpful to look at the balance of subjects you’ve already decided on, and make sure you have a good mix of humanities (things like language, history and geography) and sciences. You might also think about how they’re marked – maybe you do better with coursework than exams, for example. If you think university is on the cards for you, you might be panicking about potentially closing off A-level options and therefore degree options, but remember that many university courses will accept a range of A-level subjects for entry, as long as your grades are good enough. So think quality, not quantity!
Listen to your gut
Try not to let anyone else guide your decision, either. Don’t choose a subject simply because you like the teacher, as there’s no guarantee they’ll be around for the next two years, and don’t pick something just because all your friends are doing it. Yep, you might have to deal with some FOMO while they’re all together in art class, for example, but if you hate art it’s just a waste of the time you could spend getting kickass grades in a different subject. Take your time, mull it over and ask your parents and teachers for advice, but let your intuition guide you. And definitely don’t panic about closed doors – no matter what subjects you choose now there will always be a way through later if you need it.
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