Should I pursue the "Asian 5" to maximise my future success?


There seems to be a general social expectation, for high-achieving (asian or not asian) students to take the sciences (“Asian 5” subjects: English, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology) at high school and then pursue medicine or engineering in university?

I see lots of my friends who don’t actually enjoy these subjects (or arn’t very talented at them) who pursue these dreams purely to satisfy their parent’s expectations.

Is this bad? Are there opportunities outside these career pathways where I can still be successful?


From a personal view I think it’s extremely important to be studying subjects that you enjoy as well as subjects that can lead you towards a career that you will enjoy.

With regards to the “Asian 5” I firstly think these subjects are really popular because they’re considered “harder” (which I don’t really agree with) and also they lead to medicine and engineering quite naturally. If you are interested in medicine or engineering then it certainly makes sense to take these subjects because it will lead into your university study quite naturally.

I personally did Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Economics, Music and Drama in my last year of secondary school and I still have plenty of opportunities and career pathways that are possible. For example, entering into the business world, either as part of a corporate firm or in a more entrepreneurial way, are both possible options. Furthermore I could study humanities at university to develop transferable skills such as communication, critical thinking and logical reasoning.

If anything, I think you’re more likely to be successful in any future endeavours if you are doing something that you enjoy. Also, you’re likely to do better in the subjects that you study if you enjoy them, and your grades will often be more important than exactly what you studied, especially for competitive university entrance etc.

There are certainly many opportunities outside of medicine and engineering, and it’s important to look for things that interest you personally. Of course, you can always study subjects you dislike, but you have to ask yourself whether the work you will be doing after you finish studying will be enjoyable or not.

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It really depends on what your definition of success is and where do you derive that definition from. If being successful means getting a nice stable job with a relatively high salary, then yes studying medicine and engineering will most likely get you there. However, there are plenty of other career opportunities that are just as stable/high paying/impactful to the world.

Here is a list of career opportunities/jobs I think are underrated in New Zealand but thriving in the rest of the world:

  1. Entrepreneur
  2. Product designer
  3. Scientific researcher
  4. Management consultant
  5. Sales and trading analyst
  6. Supply chain analyst
  7. Solutions specialist
  8. Business development analyst

These jobs above are all pretty stable (with the exception of entrepreneur of course), and also very well paid (6 figures if you are good).

Furthermore - the pathway to medicine does not entail a necessity to take the Asian 5. You should be taking subjects you love and are competent in. There is also not a limit to the number of subjects you should be taking. Many “successful” students take more than 5 subjects.

Lastly, there are numerous ways to get into med school (direct entry, health science/biomed, graduate). Just focus on doing what you love for now and everything will click into place.


I did the Asian 5 to start with.

At IGCSE I took Mathematics, English Literature and Language, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French and then ended up doing A Levels in English Lit, Math/Further Math, Bio, Chem and Physics.

There’s a lot to be said for maximizing your intellectual stimulation so you grow as fast as possible mentally. I took the Asian 5 as a foundation to make sure I was taking the hardest classes that would be the most challenging, while maximizing my optIons.

The Asian 5 keeps basically all university options on the table. Once you start dropping sciences or math or English it cuts its potential university options quite quickly.

If you are uncertain about your future, Asian 5 is a very safe and stable bet provided you can handle the challenge. I recommend high achievers to take Asian 5 or Asian 4 (2/3 of the sciences) and then add some extra courses either though languges, economics, art or other fields.

I love economics, for example, but found the classroom environment too small and insufficiently rigorous to warrant spending so many hours during the week in the classroom hence opted to take another Asian 5 science and self-study the economics.