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Which subjects should I choose?

If you know what you want to study.
If you don't know what to study.

How you approach your choice of Highers and/or Advanced Highers may depend on whether you want to study at a Scottish University or elsewhere in the UK.

  • Generally Scottish universities don’t explicitly state that some subjects are accepted whilst others are not.
  • However certain degree programmes do ask for specific subjects to be included in the group of Highers necessary to be accepted onto the programme.
  • This is to ensure that students can cope with the level of the course content.

It is important to show breadth of study, as Scottish institutions traditionally look for this as preparation for the first year of university study because of their broad based degree structure.

Research and careful thought is key to choosing your Highers. It might feel a bit overwhelming, but use the suggestions below to start narrowing your options.

Decisions © AmyLaughinghouse iStockphoto.com
© AmyLaughinghouse, iStockphoto.com

Things to consider if you don’t know what you want to study

  • Get help and advice from Guidance Teachers and Careers Adviser to think about where your strengths, abilities and preferences lie, and use this to start exploring your choices and options.
  • Take time to research potential career options and university programmes to develop a clearer understanding of what are the best subject choices for you. If you know, think about the career or broad sectors you would perhaps like to work in.
  • Attend Higher Education Conventions, university open days and events at school to find out as much as you can, and to get answers to your questions.

There are lots of options at university to study subjects that don’t link to a specific career. Remember that a degree will open up lots of different job opportunities and give you skills, knowledge and experience that will be beneficial whatever direction you decide on after university.

  • Make sure you choose subjects you enjoy and are confident you can achieve the overall grades you will need for university entry. Could you study something similar at university?
  • Some universities will refer to 'minimum entry' and also 'typical offer', which is likely to be higher, so make sure you are choosing a set of Highers in which you are most likely to achieve the 'typical offer' requirement.

If you are not certain what you want to do, look at taking a breadth of subjects to keep your options open, as some universities are not keen on subjects that are too similar, for example biology and human biology.

  • If you decide not to study a subject a Higher make sure you consider the implications. Make sure you know what doors, if any, you are closing by not having a higher qualification in that subject.
  • Be careful of taking on too many new subjects and take time to get familiar with course content before making any final choices
  • Some, but not all, Scottish universities have a list of approved Highers, which will be available on their websites, so if you are uncertain over a certain Higher choice – double check.
straight path © Marco2811, fotolia.com
© Marco2811, fotolia.com

Things to consider if you know what you want to study

Research is key here as there may be variation between institutions and between what entry requirements are expected in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

  • You should start you research by looking at courses at various universities. Course chooser will give you an indication of the entry requirements.
  • The UCAS website and individual university websites are also key places to start. Always check and confirm entry requirements before making choices in S5 or S6.
  • Take time to look at degree content as even degrees with the same or similar names can vary in content between universities.
  • Find out as much as you can about career choices you are considering and the routes into these areas. My World of Work is particularly useful for students in Scotland.

Some courses require a certain set of Highers, for example engineering or science degrees, while others will have no specific subject requirements. Don’t hesitate to contact university recruitment and admission offices directly to get advice and any clarification to ensure you are confident in your choices.

  • English and Maths Highers are not automatically required for every programme, so if they are not a strength for you it is important to confirm what is required by the programmes you are considering applying for.
  • In addition to choosing Highers which are required for your programme of study, consider subjects which will build relevant skills, e.g. essay based subjects for social sciences or business degrees.
  • Some programmes may also include a requirement for a National 5 in, for example, English, maths or science, so ensure you are aware of this in addition to any specific Higher requirements.
  • Certain programmes (medicine, veterinary medicine, art and design, performing arts, or social work for example) are likely, in addition to academic qualifications to be looking for evidence of your interest and/or ability in the subject you are applying for. S6 is an important year to build experience, portfolios, insight and to take any opportunities to meet specific requirements.

Check out our Course Chooser – search for courses you're interested in, and get a guide on the entry requirements.

Increasingly aptitude tests are being used as part of the selection process for some courses.

  • It is important to take time to become familiar with these.
  • Examples are the UK Clinical aptitude test for medicine.
  • The national admissions test for law.

Where to find more information about choosing your Highers.