Only a select few students around the country can claim to be a top scholar.

For the 2015 NCEA cohort, there were just nine.

Those students were deemed premier scholarship award winners, and achieved at least three New Zealand scholarship subjects at outstanding level, with an overall total of at least five scholarships, in addition to one or more top 10 placing.

The Herald talks to the top scholars a year on from their results.

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Amaan Merchant, Whanganui High School:

At 18, Amaan is studying a joint Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Science at the University of Auckland.

He's enjoying the change of pace from Whanganui to Auckland, and the fact there's "more opportunities to get involved with things".

"It's really enjoyable, it's quite different to high school," he said.

"It's a bit more specialised and you're following things you enjoy quite a bit more."

He's already involved in a few of the clubs associated with the business school, and works part-time as a NCEA tutor. He's a class representative at the university.

"It's good to stay involved, if you're just studying the papers you're doing at uni there's not that much to it, so it's good to get that sort of stuff outside the class as well."

Former Wanganui High School pupil Amaan Merchant is studying commerce and science at the University of Auckland. Photo / supplied
Former Wanganui High School pupil Amaan Merchant is studying commerce and science at the University of Auckland. Photo / supplied

Amaan was dux at Whanganui High, was a top scholar in statistics, and achieved outstanding scholarships in chemistry, economics, physics and statistics.

He's interested in a finance, business strategy or consultancy role when he graduates in three years time.

Hugo Brown, St Paul's Collegiate School, Hamilton:

Top scholar Hugo Brown is studying engineering and commerce at the University of Auckland. Photo / supplied
Top scholar Hugo Brown is studying engineering and commerce at the University of Auckland. Photo / supplied

Big infrastructure, like building bridges, is in Hugo's sights.

The 19-year-old is about to start his second year at the University of Auckland studying engineering and commerce in a conjoint degree.

He wants to be a civil engineer, and says he's looking forward to the year ahead where he can specialise his subjects more.

While an overseas experience may be on the cards in a few years, Hugo says he definitely sees himself living and working in New Zealand in the future.

He's been active during his first year in Auckland - joining the university's squash club, and working part-time as a NCEA tutor.

"As a first-year uni student we don't have a lot of skills so it's nice to be able to do something. It's good.

But otherwise "having a bit of a more relaxed year than previous school ones".

"It's nice to meet new people and stuff like that."

Hugo was dux at St Paul's, and achieved outstanding scholarships in calculus, chemistry, earth and space science, physics and statistics. He was also a national schools squash champion.

James Hatshorn, Wellington College:

James was dux at Wellington College, and achieved outstanding scholarships in English, geography, physical education and statistics. He was also a top subject scholar in physical education.

A keen cricketer, he was a member of the First XI, senior cricketer of the year and represented Wellington at under-17 and under-19 level.

James is studying law, politics, history and English at the University of Otago.

Martin Luk, King's College:

Martin Luk is now studying at the University of Cambridge, ranked in the top two universities in the UK. Photo / supplied
Martin Luk is now studying at the University of Cambridge, ranked in the top two universities in the UK. Photo / supplied

Currently at Trinity College, Cambridge, Martin is reading for a BA Hons in economics.

He decided to travel in Europe and Asia, caught up with hobbies like piano and photography, and completed an ACTL Communication Skills diploma and some courses on EdX and iTunes U, in the months before his UK semester started in October.

Martin described his course as "challenging and stimulating", but ultimately rewarding.

The college atmosphere was "very supportive and conducive to learning", he said.

He's joined Cambridge's famous Marshall Society for economics, as well as other finance-related societies.

Martin's applying to some of the UK's top banks and consulting firms who offer Easter holiday internships, as well as for summer internships.

Martin was dux and deputy prefect at King's, winner of the Reserve Bank's Monetary Policy Challenge, and achieved outstanding scholarships in calculus, English, physics and statistics.

His advice for NCEA students is to "work hard throughout high school".

"A key factor is to start early, and always be proactive in taking up extra subjects, extra competitions, and extra courses to extend yourself."

Oxana Repina, Rutherford College:

Top scholar Oxana Repina, who has a love for the outdoors, is studying Advanced Science majoring in environmental studies, at the University of Sydney. Photo / supplied
Top scholar Oxana Repina, who has a love for the outdoors, is studying Advanced Science majoring in environmental studies, at the University of Sydney. Photo / supplied

Entering her second year at the University of Sydney where she's studying a Bachelor of Advanced Science majoring in environmental studies, Oxana plans to focus on freshwater hydrology, climate, and coastal management, including a research project.

"I'm really enjoying my degree," Oxana says.

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She hopes to work in research science before moving into environmental policy or a consulting role "as I feel that can potentially be a more effective way to make a bigger difference".

A keen outdoors fan, she's been making the most of Sydney's famous surf beaches, hiking and canyoning in the Blue Mountains, and joining the university's caving and bushwalking clubs.

"It's quite a good way of avoiding procrastination actually - filling all weekends with camping trips meant I had to get assignments and study done efficiently during the week."

Oxana was a top subject scholar in agricultural and horticultural science, and earth and space science, and achieved outstanding scholarships in agricultural and horticultural science, biology, chemistry, earth and space science, geography and statistics. She picked up the Prime Minister's Award for Academic Excellence.

She also won a place on the Young Blake Expedition to the Sub-Antarctic, and won the New Zealand Geographic Young Photographer of the Year award.

Her advice to NCEA students is to "follow your passion and do what you love".

"It's so much easier to do well at things if you enjoy doing them, and being successful means so much more if what you're doing means a lot to you."

Soumil Singh, Hamilton Boys' High School:

Former Hamilton Boys' High School pupil Soumil Singh is now studying at Harvard University. Photo / supplied
Former Hamilton Boys' High School pupil Soumil Singh is now studying at Harvard University. Photo / supplied

After receiving

- including five of the eight Ivy League colleges - Soumil finally decided on Harvard University "because I thought it was a place that attracted and fostered all rounders, with excellent academic opportunities and a really vibrant community".

Still in his freshman year, Soumil is interested in studying applied mathematics in what he described as "a truly global institution".

His first semester has been "enjoyable and challenging", he said, describing it as "pretty intense".

He's joined Harvard's Glee Club, and will this year be a staff member for some Model UN conferences at the college, as well as the Harvard Model Congress conference. He was also involved in the introductory computer science hackathon.

Soumil has yet to fix on a career, but says he'll likely take a mixture of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and humanities subjects "so hopefully what comes after comes naturally and I have a range of options".

Soumil Singh with Sharndre Kushor and Jamie Beaton of Crimson Consulting at Harvard University. Photo / supplied
Soumil Singh with Sharndre Kushor and Jamie Beaton of Crimson Consulting at Harvard University. Photo / supplied

Both a dux and head prefect at Hamilton Boys', Soumil achieved outstanding scholarships in classical studies, English, geography, history, media studies, and physics.

His advice for NCEA students looking towards the Ivy League is to "explore your
interests well, and then your experiences or achievements should follow".

Thomas Hayes, Auckland Grammar School:

Part of the school's Proceres Grammatici - an elite group of the most promising scholars - Thomas was an honours student in 2014 and 2015.

He represented New Zealand at the World Orienteering Championships and was the 2015 Oceania under-18 orienteering champion, and ASB Young Sportsman of the Year for orienteering.

Thomas was a top subject scholar in Latin, and achieved outstanding scholarships in chemistry, geography, Latin and statistics.

He's studying a Bachelor of Science in biomedical science at the University of Auckland, and hopes to undertake post-graduate studies at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

Zhengzhe 'George' Han, Westlake Boys' High School:

Former Westlake Boys' High School pupil George Han is studying at Harvard University. Photo / Nick Reed
Former Westlake Boys' High School pupil George Han is studying at Harvard University. Photo / Nick Reed

A deputy head boy and academic captain in 2015, George was known for his achievements in mathematics. He represented New Zealand in the International Mathematical Olympiad four times, winning silver and bronze medals, and was top in the world for Thinking Skills in the 2014 Cambridge International Examinations.

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George achieved outstanding scholarships in calculus, English, physics and statistics.

He was accepted into Harvard University, where he hopes to study pure mathematics.

Zhong Qian Huang, Macleans College:

Zhong Huang turned down a Karsh Scholarship to Duke University to go to Caltech. Photo / supplied
Zhong Huang turned down a Karsh Scholarship to Duke University to go to Caltech. Photo / supplied

A freshman at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Zhong is studying mathematics, physics and chemistry courses mandatory for first-year students, as well as taking chemistry laboratory and semiconductor lab courses "for the hands-on experience", and a few computer science classes, including coding.

The workload was "certainly difficult", he said, adding that Caltech students take 15 courses per year, instead of the usual eight.

"The professors teach quickly, however I am finding most of the content quite interesting, and it's engaging to work with other students on the questions as collaboration is heavily encouraged.

"California's relaxed atmosphere and perfect weather also take the edge off things and make the lifestyle enjoyable."

He described the campus culture as "cohesive", and with a "great sense of belonging".

Zhong is a member of the college's badminton club and investment club, and is planning on undertaking a science or engineering-related research project during the summer holidays.

He's looking at a possible career in engineering or computer science.

Zhong was dux, an academic captain, and a school prefect while at Macleans. He achieved outstanding scholarships in chemistry, economics, physics and statistics, and represented New Zealand at the International Biology Olympiad in Denmark, winning a silver medal.

He also turned down a $360,000 Karsh Scholarship to Duke.

His advice to NCEA students with their sights set on the Ivy League is to "start early" and be well informed about the application process.

"Time in high school is limited so it's important to know what to focus on."