Choosing Subjects and Streams after Class 10: Science (Medical/Engineering), Commerce, Humanities/Arts, Vocational

posted Aug 22, 2019, 2:32 AM by Prashant Bhattacharji   [ updated Aug 22, 2019, 6:40 AM ]
(An aggregation of points from multiple people)

Deciding on a stream after Class 10, can be one of the most challenging decisions in the life of a 15 year old student in India. 
There is a lot of pressure on many students to opt for the Science stream. There is no-size-fits-all rule for selecting streams. 
What is the best subject combination for you, could be terrible for another student. You need to account for several factors, weighted appropriately.

If you already know that you want to pursue undergrad programs in technology, computing, engineering or medicine or natural sciences
There is nothing much to ponder over: you will obviously choose physics and chemistry - with mathematics or biology or both. 
Choosing the fifth subject can be a challenge at times. Try to pick something which is reasonably light, enjoyable and useful in the long run.
CS and informatics practices are understandably popular subjects at the class 11 and 12 level. There is always a lot of value in studying a new 
language as well (foreign or Indian). Avoid picking subjects like economics which involve a lot of pointless workload: the economics syllabus 
of Indian boards, is focused on economic history instead of the basic principles of economics. It is not of much use in the long run.
You should, however, pay attention to your grade 12 mathematics and statistics, if you're interested in a long term career in economics.
Also keep in mind, that its quite easy to switch from science to other fields after class 12. It is much harder (often impossible) to switch from
arts to a science and technology oriented field. However, there are plenty of career options, even on the technomanagerial front, for those 
who pursue commerce with mathematics or computer science. 

If you neither like science and mathematics, nor can manage it 
You have been in school for more than ten years, and by now you have a fair idea about where you interest and aptitude lies: and where it doesn't lie. 
It makes no sense opting for the science stream in this case. Pick something you like and can excel in. 

If you don't like science and mathematics, but can manage it 
This can be a tricky one. Having science in class 11 and 12 does give you a bit of a base required to understand the social sciences much better,
at the college level. For example: economics requires a significant amount of statistics and linear algebra. A good foundation in biology and/or chemistry
can help understand neuroscience and neurochemistry which is so very foundational to the study of human psychology. 
If you scored well in science and math in class 10, you could pursue the science stream with a non-technical fifth subject (or sixth subject) such as
psychology or economics. 

If you scored poorly in science and mathematics, but want to take in in class 11 and 12
This can be a tricky one. The class 10 science score doesn't reveal or indicate very much but a score less than 75 in math should be a bit of a yellow light. 
Physics is very dependent on mathematics and calculus in grades 11 and 12. The jump in physics and mathematics is extremely steep, after class 10.
A lot of students opt for science out of pressure and then regret the choice when they find the workload unmanageable. They end up performing poorly
in class 12 and this restricts a lot of their choices. 

Opting for the humanities with mathematics can open doors to careers related to law, via the well regarded CLAT examination.
Journalism is also a good option after humanities. But be aware that humanities in high school will restrict various options at the time
of college admissions.

Unless you are really unable to handle it, avoid dropping mathematics, regardless of the stream you choose.
Many of the country's top colleges require mathematics as a compulsory subject, at the grade 12 level, even for fields such as commerce and economics. 
This should come as no surprise: commerce requires a fair bit of commercial math and the social sciences (economics, psychology, political science) are
increasingly switching to quantitative and data-intense methods to generate truly evidence-backed research; instead of qualitative research which is often
more prone to human biases. If you drop mathematics in class 11 and class 12, a large number of doors will be slammed in your face at the time of college
admissions post-class-12. And, chances are, that even if you do get admitted to programs like economics - the lack of sufficient math background might 
be a serious impediment in your mastery of your chosen college major. Try to opt for mathematics, at least as an additional sixth subject, in case you
feel that you might not manage a great score in it in your class 12 examinations. The NDA examination also requires mathematics. 
Opting for mathematics at the grade 11-12 level also makes it much easier to understand the physics portion of the medical entrance examination. 
Many of those who perform well in the NEET, opted for both mathematics and biology at the class 12 level. 

Of course: if you have really hated mathematics and struggle with it, do not force yourself to opt for it. 
There are plenty of BA programs in languages and history and fine arts, which do not require mathematics at the class 12 level. 
The only thing is that you should be aware of the doors which will close because of dropping mathematics. 

Try to opt for Computer Science or Informatics if your school offers it. 
Try to opt for one of these subjects regardless of your stream. The software industry is seeing a massive boom and data analysts are in demand. 
Often, many of these jobs do not require an intense STEM background. Basic skills in programming, data structures and algorithms, can take you a long way. 
Even a BA Economics with programming skills can be a good fit for business-analyst and data-analyst roles. The programming exposure in school
is very basic in nature, but it is sufficient to make you comfortable writing some elementary code. It'll also give you a fair sense of whether you'd like to
do this for a living at some point. Some basic programming skills can be extremely useful if you choose to pursue economics or psychology or linguistics - 
econometrics, psychometrics and computational lingustics are fields which involve a mix of computing, statistics and social sciences/symbolic systems. 
In addition, CS has been a very scoring elective in the last couple of decades. A lot of software work is in the space of business related information systems. 
So, computer science can be a great elective for commerce students as well. 

Try to opt for six subjects if you are in the commerce or humanities stream
If you are in the commerce or humanities stream, you probably don't have to worry too much about entrance examinations or lab work. 
If you're in a reasonably good school which offers a variety of electives, use this time to opt for six subjects instead of five. It'll broaden your horizons
and give your education a certain breadth which college may or may not be able to provide. Apart from mathematics and CS (highly recommended)
and English Core (compulsory) and 2 standard humanities/commerce electives; you may also use this phase to explore a vocational subject 
or a foreign language such as French or Mandarin which could make you an invaluable asset in the international expansion plans of various businesses.
Six subjects can also be a blessing at the time of college admissions. Many colleges such as Delhi University, use the score from four subjects (the best four,
including 1-2 which need to be mandatorily included). If you end up with a low score in one or two papers, chances are that your "best four" can be computed
without using these 1-2 scores which ended up bringing down your overall score. 

Commerce with a humanities elective maybe better than the humanities stream
The syllabus for commerce subjects is well structured and rigorous in both CBSE and ISC. 
The same cannot be said for humanities: the syllabus is badly diluted for most subjects and many reputed universities such as 
Oxford or Cambridge, don't accept school leaving certificates from the humanities or arts streams of Indian boards. 
In addition, because of subjectivity, the inter-examiner variability is often high in the humanities or arts subjects; and there is a high degree of 
unpredictability in what scores you'll be awarded. Of course: if the arts and humanities are what truly interest you, that is what you should go ahead with.
There is no point coercing yourself into taking a stream you're not interested in.

Vocational subjects and fine arts
Certain subjects such as computers, informatics practices and biotechnology have a fairly well developed course structure and syllabus. 
It is meaningful to study this. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the hundreds of vocational and fine arts electives which CBSE offers. 
Painting, art, music and engineering-oriented courses are great subjects to learn: but the syllabus is substandard and the assessment is erratic
as there are often insufficient teachers with the training to evaluate scripts of such subjects in the board examinations. 

There is no one-size-fits-all rule which can be applied while selecting subjects. 
You need to factor in your interests, your aptitude and the career paths opened up (or closed) via the subjects you choose in grade 11 and 12. 
Avoid making a decision based on peer pressure or parental pressure because the consequences of this selection of subjects, will often last and reverberate lifelong. 

Choosing a school
If you want to prepare for entrance examinations, it is best to take admission in a school which isn't too particular about attendance. 
Some schools make you sit through half a dozen pre-board examinations: they serve you no purpose, avoid them. 
You could also pick a school which runs an integrated program with FIITJEE Pinnacle and the likes. 
Otherwise: pick a school which has a reputation for good results in the board examination. There are various benefits in being able to claim
that you're an alum of a well known school. "Dummy" schools and dummy admissions should be avoided, as far as possible. 
With CBSE cracking down on the non-attending/dummy business, it is also going to be very risky to enroll in dummy schools.
There is no real need for students to switch from ICSE to CBSE: the syllabus is more or less the same and the former has a more reliable examination system. 
And is perhaps more generous than CBSE in grade 12. However, some ICSE schools are very strict about attendance. Avoid them like the plague.