Rotorua's Atamira Walker has been living free in one of New Zealand's most expensive cities.
The Bachelor of Health Sciences student received a Māori Academic Excellence Scholarship from the University of Auckland to help with her first year of study, and is encouraging this year's school leavers to consider applying before the August 22 cut-off date.
"This scholarship meant a great deal to myself and my family. It proved that I really do have an academic capability, and it meant that I could comfortably study and represent my Māori culture at university," Atamira – who affiliates with Te Arawa, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa, Ngapuhi Nui Tonu and Ngāi Tūhoe, said.
"I believe that everyone has to overcome some form of adversity to study, but for me I felt that there were some stereotypes to prove wrong. I grew up on the farm, on my marae and on the beach. I never thought I would be studying in the "big smoke" so moving to Auckland was a big culture shock for me."
Guaranteed and paid-for accommodation in a university hall of residence is a major component of the scholarship, which also includes, for first year students, three meals per day.
Atamira also finds support as a member of Ngā Tauira Māori, the University of Auckland's Māori Association.
The University of Auckland offers several hundred scholarships every year to new students embarking on undergraduate study.
There are up to 25 Māori Academic Excellence Scholarships available.
The selection process looks at a broad range of factors in addition to academic results, in particular active participation in community, cultural and other activities.
Atamira, who attended St. Joseph's Māori Girls' College, said school leavers should never doubt themselves.
"You never know where you could end up. I applied to loads of scholarships with no knowledge of which scholarship I would receive and that has been the best decision I have ever made. Showcase and let everyone know who you are."
"Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari ko te toa takitini - no matter the title, we are all leaders," she said.
For details on the Māori Academic Excellence scholarship, and other school leaver scholarships, visit www.auckland.ac.nz.