Georgina Palmer (Sep 18 2021)
A couple of things that actually do matter in high-school, and a couple that don’t (coming from an expert)
Teachers, staff, parents and other people around your school who think they ‘know it all’ have a funny way of making it seem like every single little thing you do during your time in high-school, particularly in the NCEA years, actually counts towards your university application and beyond. Although there’s some truth to what they’re saying, a lot of it is honestly them just… well, I don’t know, trying to scare you a bit? Point is, not all of what they say really matters in high-school actually does matter, and it’s about time someone who’s recently gone through the NCEA system shares their WiSdOm and KnOwLeDgE about what advice to take on board, and what to ignore. So, here we go.
First thing that doesn’t actually matter: what subjects you take
I’ve gone through the arduous process of applying to various New Zealand universities not once, but twice (I decided at the end of 2020 that I actually wanted a year off, for various reasons that you can read about in this article). So I know better than most people in the country that what universities are looking for is actually just a certain number of points – you get 2 points for every Achieved credit you earn, 3 for Merit, and 4 for Excellence. The number of points you need varies between universities and sometimes also between courses, but even for the most high-stakes courses (*cough cough* health sciences at Otago) it’s more important on the whole to be passing the year and getting the prerequisite number of points that you need, rather than acing the three sciences and flunking everything else. However, high-school teachers at the famous SuBjEcT SeLeCtIoN EvEnInGs keep saying things like “what subjects you choose for this year could change the course of your career forever.” Absolute codswallop. Simply choose subjects that a) you’re good at and/or b) you enjoy doing, and those will almost guarantee you a secure number of points come university application time. And if, low and behold, you enter a university course that does miraculously require a certain NCEA standard to have been done, just pick up a paper on it while actually at university. It saves you having to suffer through a whole year of disgusting subjects like, hmm, I dunno, statistics.
Second thing that doesn’t actually matter: your friend/s
(Note: I put a slash in there because during Year 13 I had literally one friend at my school, so I didn’t want to assume all people have multiple school friends. Hahaha!). Perhaps the anti-social nerd part of me has always kind of wondered about this, but it does still baffle me how much teachers and classmates alike seem to go on and on about how important establishing a lifelong friend group in high-school is, when really it isn’t. My parents both went to university, and for both of them and particularly in my mum’s case it was the friends she met while at university who have lasted her through her lifetime, rather than the ones she met at high-school. Heck, I left high-school only last year and I look at my 2020 leavers’ hoodie and only remember about five of the names on there. Another point: in my opinion, it’s really quite unhealthy to choose to go to a university simply because your friend/s are going there, as that’s not only placing a LOT of trust in a bunch of teenagers that you’ve maybe known for a year or two, but it also potentially means that the university that’s right for YOU and YOUR career ambitions isn’t actually the one you’ll be attending due to the pressures/desire to go along with your gang. (Not really related, but this is why I’m keen on long-distance relationships … going to a certain tertiary institution just because bae is going is not a good idea fam. By all means keep bae, but from a distance should suffice, right? And if that doesn’t work, he/she wasn’t good enough for your epic swagger anyway). I hate to say this, but the internet is a very useful tool for staying in touch with friends/partners, especially for us Gen Z dudes who are often glued to our devices. And holidays still exist too, so that’s a golden opportunity to get back to your hometown and catch up with your high-school friends. If you still actually consider them friends by then, that is. Lol.
First thing that actually matters: how quickly you apply for stuff
I got caught out last year when I, an Excellence-endorsed student, somehow didn’t get into my first choice of halls of residences when I applied. Yes, I’d applied before the deadline… the day before the deadline. Which is about a month too late, especially for the more competitive halls. So please don’t do something like what I did and leave all your applications until the last minute, especially if you know that you have the level of grades that could get you ahead of other students meaning you’ll get preference for scholarships, better halls etc. Get in there early! So long as you’re on track to pass the year at the end of this year, universities will give hall/scholarship/enrolment offers to basically anybody, regardless of whether you’re scraping through or have already endorsed every single subject you take (in which case, damn, go you!). In fact, stop reading this article right now and write down a list of all the university-related things you need to apply for and when by, and then subtract about a month from each of the deadlines you’ve written down. Call it The George Deadline. And stick to it!
Second thing that actually matters: passing the year… seriously, that’s a no brainer
I think that this is pretty obvious. But it’s something that I definitely need to emphasise. Depending on your year level, you either need 60 or 80 credits to pass the year. If nothing else, it’s a very sensible idea to pass every year of NCEA in order to get University Entrance because having that UE tick opens up our after-high-school options immensely! Let’s face it, hardly any of us know what we want to do for a living right now. So why not keep open pretty much every door that we can? If your subjects aren’t getting you the grades you need to get UE, remember what I said in that first paragraph? Your subjects don’t matter! So, if need be, choose something else. Maybe something easier, something with more credits available, something you’re really passionate about but have never taken for some reason (this was literally my attitude going in to Level 3 Classical Studies, and I ended up loving it!). With UE to your name, the world’s your oyster.
So there’s a few golden tips for you from the Official LearnCoach-Certified NCEA Expert (aka: George) on how to navigate the weird propaganda that all NCEA teachers seem to throw at their students these days. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t stressed at subject selection evenings so much, or thought that the disassembly of both of my Year 9 and Year 12 friend groups was going to be the death of me. And although I quite easily passed all three NCEA years, I wish I’d applied to stuff earlier so the grades I’d worked hard for actually counted towards something on my applications. Alas, at least by writing this article I can save you LearnCoachers from making the same mistakes as I did. Best of luck for all your university application shenanigans!