University students' subject combinations appears to affect their performance.

A new analysis by the University of Sydney has found that if low-performing students choose a diverse mix of subjects, their performance further deteriorates.

However, well-performing students – those with an average mark of 70 and above – appear unaffected and are able to choose wide-ranging subjects without any deterioration of their grades.

“We found that student performance varied more among students studying a diverse range of subjects,” said lead author Sooraj Sekhar.

“Students who were already treading water tended to become submerged with deteriorating grades when they chose atypical subject combinations, such as legal studies, civil engineering and biology.

“I started looking into this topic because of my own experience at university.

“I personally like taking a variety of units from different schools and departments because it is interesting to see the differences in perspectives and subject matters.”

The findings suggest that although accessing a unique combination of courses from distant disciplines can be enriching, there may be some students who might be better advised not to spread their bandwidth too widely, and stick to the more mainstream choices of the majority of their peers.

The study is accessible here.