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Stream Selection Explained - Science vs Commerce vs Humanities

Updated: May 26, 2021

Academic life till classes 9th and 10th is often smooth and easy for students as well as parents. We don’t even realize when our tiny tots of primary school become the young guns of classes 9th and 10th. Students are still fantasizing about their super-heroes and their vision of a career path is mostly restricted to childhood dreams such as

“I’ll grow up to be an astronaut …a pilot…a fashion designer… a scientist!”

Very few actually give their career choice a serious thought. As students enter class 10th, a question, all of a sudden, starts coming up in a big way. Suddenly, this topic becomes a point of discussion between parents, friends, relatives, teachers. Stress and pressure on the student and parents only increase as everyone can’t stop talking about how important a decision it is going to be, ie, your choice of stream after class 10th.

Alright, so let’s not panic here. The choice of stream can seem like a daunting task, but it is actually not that difficult if you are aware of your options and engage in a bit of diligent research and introspection.

The best thing to do is to take it a step at a time. So, why not start with the basics? Let us slice and dice the 3 streams that are on offer in the CBSE Board.

The 3 Streams in Class 11th?

CBSE offers 3 stream options that determine the subjects you will study in your classes 11th and 12th and the career options you would ultimately have in the future.

The 3 streams in class 11 CBSE are:



Arts/ Humanities

Let’s look at each of them in detail.

Science: The Study of the Physical and Natural World

This is one stream that most of you would have a fair bit of idea about. Not just because everyone is already studying science till class 10th, but also because this is a stream people can’t seem to stop talking about. It’s common for people to say, “Go for the science stream so that you can become an Engineer or a Doctor” to even “You are good at academics, you would be thinking of opting science, I’m sure?”

While these notions hardly hold a candle to reality, chances are you would have some type of understanding about what the science stream entails.

The Science stream, as I mentioned above, relates to the study of the physical and natural world through the study of pure sciences and their applications in the real world. From understanding how the laws of gravitation govern planetary motion to learning about the structure of the atom, you will uncover the many mysteries of the world around us.

Thus, innate curiosity and keenness to explore, coupled with logical thinking ability are essential to be successful in this stream.

Subjects – Science Stream

The science stream has two sub-branches, divided based on the third subject you study:

Medical – Physics + Chemistry + Biology + English + Optional Subject

Non - Medical – Physics + Chemistry + Maths + English + Optional Subject

Physics, Chemistry and English are common to both the branches and the primary difference lies in whether you opt for Mathematics (PCM) or Biology (PCB). However, students sometimes go with a combination of the two (PCMB), choosing to study Mathematics in place of the optional subject. A PCMB combination has its own pros and cons, and it is a decision you should take only after careful consideration.

While the first 4 subjects are tied to the stream you choose and are compulsory for all students to study, CBSE gives you a choice for your 5th subject or optional subjects.

The board offers many choices, but the most commonly-opted optional subjects with science are:

Medical – Psychology, Biotechnology, Mathematics, Economics, Home Science, Fine Arts, Physical Education

Non - Medical – Computer Science, Economics, Physical Education, Engineering Drawing, Fine Arts, Psychology

Career Options - Science Stream

Although the medical branch has been so named because it opens a pathway to a career in Medicine after class 12th, don’t be misled by the name thinking that is all there is to it. There are many alternate careers and paths available with the stream if you decide to go that way.

From options in the biological and life sciences, such as Zoology, Botany, Microbiology, Biochemistry, to options in allied fields like Nutrition, Pharmacology, Psychology, Biotechnology, etc., there are a lot of options for you to explore. Apart from these, those interested in medicine, yet not willing to go the standard MBBS route can even explore alternate branches of medicine (like Dentistry, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, etc.) or allied medicine fields (like Physiotherapy, Clinical Research, Audiology, etc.)

Similarly, popular opinion dictates that Engineering is the only option (or the only suitable option) for PCM students. Well, that is definitely not the case. Non-medical students can build their careers in a wide range of exciting fields such as Architecture, Aviation, Statistics, Defense, Design, Ethical Hacking, Merchant Navy, Computer Applications, Physics, Chemistry, and the list goes on.

Commerce: The Study of Trade and Business

The next in line, Commerce is not without its own associated myths. The most popular ones being, “Commerce is good for average students who cannot get into science” or “Commerce is only suitable for students from business families.”

These are again a far cry from the truth. Commerce is a field that relates to the study of business, trade and finance. Commerce students study how goods and services are exchanged, how businesses operate, how financial transactions occur, how the economy of the country works, and more. The indispensability of commerce and its related careers to our day-to-day living makes it a lucrative field to explore, and one with a wide choice of career options too.

While you may or may not choose to study Mathematics as part of Commerce, numbers form the base for this stream. A stronghold over calculations and fundamentals of maths, and the ability to deal with large amounts of data are critical elements of success in the commerce stream.

Subjects – Commerce Stream

Commerce is a stream that students generally have the least idea about since its three main subjects are new to most students.

The following are the subjects you are required to study: Accountancy, Business Studies, Economics, English, Mathematics (or optional subject).

Accountancy covers concepts related to the managing of the income and finances of a business or an individual. You study topics like transactions, expenditure, cash books, memos, trial balance, trading, profit, etc. and learn how to make a balance sheet.

On the other hand, as part of Business Studies, you study the types of businesses and organizations, differences between private and public sector companies, models of business, business finance, international trade, etc. In Economics, you study about Indian economic development, statistical tools, demand and supply, government budget and economy, etc.

For the fifth subject, the board gives a choice between Mathematics and other elective subjects. Thus, if you are not very comfortable with maths, you can choose not to study it.

The optional subjects available with the Commerce stream are:

Informatics Practices, Physical Education, Computer Science, Multimedia and Web Technology, Entrepreneurship, Legal Studies, Psychology and Fine Arts

Career Options - Commerce Stream?

The commerce stream is a popular choice amongst students looking to build their career in the fields of accounting, banking, finance and related areas. With the right knack for numbers and data, you can build a highly lucrative and financially rewarding career in these fields.

The major and popular career options for commerce students after 12th include Chartered Accountancy (CA), Company Secretary (CS), CFA, Actuarial Science, Management, Economics, Bank PO, Investment Banking, Stockbroking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Law, Hotel Management, and many more.

Humanities: The Study of Human Society and the World

Humanities as a domain have been widely misunderstood and disregarded in the past, but as we complete the second decade of the 21st century, things are changing fast. Not considered as a stream for academically weak students anymore, more and more students are looking to opt humanities for the wide range of subject and career options it provides.

Humanities is a very broad domain that covers areas related to human society, relationships, culture and systems. These fields help you gain a deeper understanding of how the world and society around us work and how human society, laws and norms have evolved over time. From the study of how people interact in group settings to the study of the legal rights of citizens, everything comes under the purview of humanities.

Students who are aware and curious to learn about world affairs, social issues, historical events and society are the ideal fit to explore humanities as their stream in class 11th and 12th.

Subjects - Arts/ Humanities

As opposed to science and commerce which offer a small window of choice (mainly in choosing the optional subject), humanities offer students plenty of choice in their subjects.

You can choose from a range of main subjects including History, Political Science, Economics, Geography, Sociology, English and Psychology.

Some schools allow students to take up these subjects in any combination they like, while others provide more fixed choices, such as choosing between Geography and History, Political Science and Economics, etc.

Optional Subjects with Humanities include: Maths, Hindi, Home Science, Legal Studies, Fine Arts, Physical Education, Media Studies.

Humanities with Mathematics is another combination that is becoming popular with students these days. Keeping maths as your 5th or 6th subject opens up career options for you in Economics, Business and Finance.

Career Options – Arts/ Humanities

The most prevalent myth about the humanities stream is that it has limited career options available after the 12th. And why not, what can one even do with subjects like History and Geography anyway? Well, this statement just emphasizes how less aware most people are about humanities.

Many highly lucrative and sought-after career options lie ahead of humanities students once they clear their class 12th. Design, Law, Psychology, Economics, Management, History, Archaeology, International Relations, Hotel Management, Event Management, Mass Communication, Journalism, Civil Services, Social Work, Sociology, Photography, Fashion Communication, Content Writing, Translator are a few of the possible fields available due to the wide applicability of humanities.

Not just that, there are more and more new fields also coming up in the humanities domain, with a few fields that did not even exist a few decades back. These include fields such as Gerontology, Public Policy, Habitat Policy and Practice, Gender Studies, Rural Studies and Development, Museology, and Art Restoration, etc.


Well, so now you have a fair idea about the three streams on offer. What next? How do you choose the most ideal one for you!

Start first by learning as much more as you can about each stream. Try to learn from the experiences of your friends in senior classes. Or even better, download the books (all NCERT books are available online for free download – click here) of class 11th and see which interests you the most. A few schools may also allow you to take a few classes for each subject before you finalize your choice.

There’s going to be a world of difference between what you have studied up till class 10th and what you’ll be studying in the next two years. Thus, it is important that you know exactly what lies ahead (important for subjects you have never studied, especially commerce subjects).

Finally, if even after exploration there are doubts and you are not sure which stream and subject combinations are best for you, feel free to take the help of career counsellors to guide you. A Career Counselor, with the help of psychometric tests, can provide you guidance in a scientific manner.

If you enjoyed reading or disagree with anything please comment below.

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Unknown member
Apr 22, 2020

Well written.

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