The first thing Anna Towers did when she found out she had received a $20,000 scholarship was run out and tell her mum.

It meant the 18-year-old Whangārei student could pursue an economics degree at the University of Auckland without worry about finances - her first year of accommodation in the university halls has been covered, and she will get $3000 each year for the next two years.

"It was a massive weight off my shoulders and my mum's shoulders because it means a lot less financial stress. It covered my whole first year of accommodation which includes food so I don't have to worry about that. I can relax and focus on my studies," she said.

The $20,000 scholarship is one of only 16 Top Tier Academic Potential Scholarship awarded for 2019.

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The scholarship is awarded to students who have achieved academically, but are experiencing hardships or who may have been disadvantaged due to their personal circumstances.

Towers was "really excited" when she read an email saying she had received the scholarship.

"I ran out and told my mum. I felt quite honoured, for a lack of a better word. I was just extremely happy."

Towers said volunteering at Whangārei's Trade Aid store for three years was one of the reasons she decided to study a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics.

"I feel like every time I'd be there I'd learn a bit more about how the fair trade system that they use works, and how it affects people's lives in developing countries.

"The whole Trade Aid idea is to help people get themselves out of poverty and provide them with opportunities through work, and that's something that really made sense to me," she said.

Towers, who started volunteering at Trade Aid when she was 15, said it made her realise the effect economics, and trade in particular, had on people's lives.

"It made me really interested to look into that more. So I guess it did inspire me..

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"It made me think about the economics pathway more. I started economics in Year 12, I hadn't done it before then, and I just really loved it," she said.

Towers said this week was her second at university and she was enjoying it so far.

"It's going well. I'm not overloaded with work yet so, yeah, I'm enjoying it. It's pretty exciting living in Auckland having lived in Whangārei my whole life."