Some day, young Kiwi swimming star Annabelle Paterson wants to represent her country at the Olympic Games.

But for now, the 18-year-old's is still trying to get her head around the fact she's just landed a place in one of the world's most famous institutions: Harvard University.

Paterson, a fast-rising talent in 200m backstroke and mid-distance freestyle, has received a grant from the prestigious Ivy League university that will allow her to study there while competing in its eight-strong swimming team.

The Meadowbank teen, who trains with Auckland's United Swimming Club and High Performance Swimming New Zealand, is the only international member of the elite squad.


She's also one of a record number of young Kiwis who have this year gained places in Ivy League universities.

The sport she took up seriously as an eight-year-old had already taken her to Fiji, Samoa, Singapore and Hawaii, where she recently swam for New Zealand at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

"I always enjoyed it when I was younger, and I remember how I was just doing lessons when my coach asked me if I wanted to join a club and compete," she said.

"But I wouldn't have thought it would have taken me to Harvard."

With a long-held ambition to study at a US university, the former Diocesan School for Girls pupil emailed a list of institutes she was interested in - and was shocked to receive a reply from Harvard.

While the university was attracted by her promise in the pool, Paterson said it was her performance in the classroom that ultimately secured her a spot.

"I didn't know if I was going to get in because it wasn't based on my swimming results, but my academic performance."

Hailing from New Zealand - a country with almost exactly the equivalent population of the greater Boston area, where Harvard is based - also proved a good thing.


"Saying you're a Kiwi is kind of an advantage, because everyone over there just loves them."

She's unsure what career path she's going to follow, but hopes to study engineering or architecture in her second year.

"I'm keeping my options and I want to see what they've got to offer, but I'd love to be an architect."

And then there's her other dream: sporting the silver fern at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, or at the Commonwealth Games.

"It's funny, without swimming, I don't think I'd get as much done: even though I don't have much spare time because I train a lot, it keeps me way more productive and motivated."