Subject choice

Selecting the right subjects for senior cycle, and the level at which to take them, is a critical task faced over  60,000 second-level students every year. Before embarking on the Leaving Cert. programme students must consider their future educational goals as decisions they make now can have consequences for future college applications.

There are good reasons why students tend to have a science subject and a third language in their arsenal and, as you will find out if you read on, there are no “soft” options on the Leaving Cert exam.


Video: Studying STEM subjects in school and college and their importance for Irish industry.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Leaving Cert Subjects 

STEAM – What does this stand for?

National framework of qualifications.

Things that employers look for in all employees –  1 Motivation and enthusiasm  2  Teamwork  3 Communication skills 4 Flexibility and adaptability 5 Problem solving and initiative.


Subject Choice

Talk to older students or brothers and sisters who are studying same subject.

Try a quick glance at some of the text books.

Talk to the subject teacher.

Read school booklet on subject choice and career links.

Choose subject you like …..not the subject that your friends would like you to do.

Make sure you have the subjects necessary for course requirements in college and university.

Play it cool…….

Subject requirement for college 


Third Language

Most students will study a continental language. This is a good choice as a third language is a requirement for matriculation for the vast majority of courses in the NUI colleges. If you want to keep all your options open stick with the language studies.

Science Subjects

Choosing a subject in the field of science is also a popular choice. A lot of courses require a science subject especially those in the area of medicine, engineering and science. Biology is a firm favourite but this doesn’t mean it’s the easiest. Biology is a long course that requires a lot of rote learning. Mathematically minded students might do better in Chemistry or Physics. Be aware that some medical courses require two science subjects e.g. courses in Dentistry and Medicine. And chemistry is a requirement for Pharmacy (TCD, RCSI, UCC), Veterinary Science (UCD), Dentistry (UCC) Medicine(UCC), Medical and Health Sciences (UCC), Human Nutrition and Dietetics(DIT).

Practical Subjects

Choosing a practical or creative subject can be a good option for students. The practical subjects have project work that accounts for a substantial percentage of the overall grade. This can ease the burden on students. Having a practical focus can add variety to your Leaving Cert subject combination and if you have a passion for the subject the practical element can be an outlet for stress, this can be especially true for art students, musicians or wood-turners.

DCG 40%

Music 50%

Art 50%

History 20%

Geography 20%

French 45%

German 45%

Irish 40%

Course Work and Projects

Many subjects now contain a course work or project element and unfortunately the deadlines for these projects fall very closely together. The deadline for the DCG coursework is in late February. March sees the deadline for projects in Home Economics, Engineering, Art, Technology and LCVP.  Agricultural Science coursework deadline is early April and the end of April sees the coursework deadline for the big hitters History and Geography, as well as Religious Studies, Music,  Home Economics (textile elective) and the Construction Studies project.  It is wise to consider the coursework involved in the subject combination you are thinking about before making your final decision.

Interests and Aptitude/Ability Assessments

It is a good idea to choose subjects that you are good at and that you have an interest in. Most schools will administer aptitude tests such as the DAT or CAT and offer feedback on your performance. You may show signs of having natural aptitude in one or two areas. Some areas you might show strengths in include: verbal or numerical reasoning, spatial awareness, mechanical reasoning. Strengths in these areas will point you in direction of career areas that could compliment your ability.

Interest assessments can be very enlightening for students. Through answering a series of preference questions interest assessments can reveal a lot about your work preferences. The Career Interests Profiler on CareersPortal takes about 15 minutes to complete. This instrument provides you with a free printable report containing a summary of your career interests, along with some occupations that match your interest profile. Being armed with this information helps students to pick subjects that might feed into these careers.

Complimentary Subjects

Everyone wants to reduce the workload so think about what subjects might overlap. Home Economics and Biology overlap in human anatomy sections, Home Economics also overlaps with Business Studies. There is a strong correlation between Physics and Applied Maths, and Agricultural Science (some students take on extra subjects outside of school)  has some overlap with Geography and Biology. The Link Modules in the LCVP programme are deeply rooted in the Business Studies course. So if a student chooses complimentary subjects they might be able to cut down on some of the study.


Many colleges require students to hold pass grades in languages for matriculation. These include all NUI colleges, Trinity College Dublin and University of Limerick (UL). These institutions require entrants to hold a pass in English, Irish and a third European language, or English and another language. Dublin City University requires entrants to hold a pass in maths and English or Irish. Students may qualify for an exemption from these requirements if they have a learning difficulty or if they were born outside of the state.


A pass in ordinary level maths is essential for entry to the majority of courses. The number of students now choosing foundation level maths is increasing every year and there is a growing number of colleges and courses that offer places to students who secure a minimum of a grade A or B in maths at this level. Use the ‘Accepts Foundation Level Maths’ filter in our CAO CourseFinder here to search relevant courses.

A few final tips

Do your research –Talk to teachers about the subjects you are considering. Many subjects are very different from their Junior Cert equivalent so make sure the course is what you imagined it to be. Talk to students who are currently in 5th and 6th year about the subjects they are taking to get an idea of the topics covered and the workload involved. Browse through the Leaving Cert textbooks to gain a greater insight into the courses.

And lastly. . .

Be independent; well meaning parents may try to make the decision for their sons and daughters but ultimately this is your Leaving Cert and you should take responsibility for the decision. Try not to be overly influenced by your friends, choose the subjects you want to do and not the subjects all your friends are doing.

Author: Francis O' Toole

Francis O' Toole is a Educational Psychotherapist & Guidance Counsellor. I set up this blog page to help students gain as much information as possible to be able to make right choices and decisions regarding their career options. I believe that we will be very successful in our careers if we follow what we enjoy.

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