Choosing Leaving Cert subjects

Parenting: How you can help your child choose the right subjects for them

Talk to your child about what suits them, and what areas they might like to study at third-level. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty

Talk to your child about what suits them, and what areas they might like to study at third-level. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty


Sometimes, it can seem like your lovely child has been stolen by this sullen teen, and you’ve lost them. But research shows that parents have a strong and ongoing influence on their child’s choice of subjects and their eventual career direction.

The final two years of secondary school can be a tough slog for most young people, so it’s important to keep them as engaged as possible - and subject choice may just be the key. As well as this, the subjects they sit for their Leaving Cert, and the level at which they sit them, can determine what college courses they are eligible for.

So how can you help your child choose the right subjects for them?

* For a start, “for them” is the key: remember, this is about them, not you. Not your ambitions or aspirations for either them or yourself.

* Ideally, Leaving Cert subjects will be considered long before your child has even been enrolled in the school. So, while you’re choosing a school for your child, keep this in mind.

* A small school, with smaller class sizes, might seem ideal, but bear in mind that this might mean they offer less subject choice.

* Ideally, a school will offer all three science subjects - physics, chemistry and biology - as well as home economics and the technical subjects such as engineering and design & communication graphics (DCG).

* It’s fairly normal for schools to separate students into pass and honours classes for individual subjects, but streaming by general ability for all subjects (usually done on the basis of first-year exams) is a backwards practice that actively harms students in the weaker streams while not delivering a bonus for the stronger classes.

* The best schools will allow students to sample a wide range of subjects in first year.

* Talk to your child about what suits them, and what areas they might like to study at third-level. Physics is held up as a subject that can open many doors, but there’s no point in your child doing it if they’re not that interested or don’t have the mathematical aptitude.

* Chicken and egg, as third year and Transition Year students probably haven’t given much thought to what course they want to do, but they should at least be made aware that certain subjects are either helpful or necessary for college courses: they won’t get into certain engineering courses without higher-level maths, they won’t get into most medicine courses without a science subject, chemistry is required for veterinary science, studying a language as a major component of a third-level course (such as Law and French) will usually require you to have at least a pass in that language at Leaving Cert level. DCG can be useful for architecture.

* For many students, their biggest dilemma might be where a timetabling clash means they can’t take on all the subjects they’d like. If they’re really interested in a particular subject, they could consider studying it outside school hours - although they should be aware of the extra time this will take and how this might affect their overall study plan. Some schools lay on or facilitate extracurricular subjects, or your child could consider studying it in a grind school or online, such as on a reputable study site like

* Some subjects are more likely to elicit higher marks than others, and it’s hard to blame students for wanting that easy honour when they’re faced with the ordeal of the Leaving Cert. But there’s a good reason why music, art and minority languages come out on top, and it’s not because the subjects are easier: it’s because art and music tend to attract students who are particularly interested in them, while minority language students are likely to speak the language at home - so perhaps don’t get your non-creative, monolingual child signing up for Czech and art just yet. Outside of these subjects, the “easiest” honours include Irish, agricultural economics and engineering. The three science subjects have the among the lowest honours rate, but here students have a higher chance of getting a H1 than in all subjects outside the minority languages and applied maths.

* Parents are busy, but if you’d particularly like to see how well your child’s school is performing in a certain subject area, the Department of Education’s school subject inspection reports are easily accessible online.

* Have some flexibility: some subjects, such as Spanish, have more demand than the number of teachers available.