Can you still receive the money from NZQA Scholarship exams if you study overseas?


What is the point in NZQA Scholarship exams if you are going overseas? Can you keep the money?


First and foremost, NZQA Scholarship exams should typically be perceived as a competitive exam that you take to challenge yourself against many of the smartest kids in New Zealand and to further develop your critical thinking ability. The majority of students NZQA do not take NZQA exams for financial reasons as the only or predominant motivator.

Some reasons to take the exam above and beyond personal academic challenges are:

  1. To enhance your candidacy/resume for US universities, New Zealand university scholarships and job opportunities generally.
  2. School Pride
  3. Money (it’s a valid reason but usually shouldn’t be the ONLY reason)
  4. See how you stack up against the competition
  5. Bragging rights (not a great reason but probably sitting there somewhere)
  6. Discovery of new academic interests (you may not have ever taken a class in Media Studies before!)

Now that we have clarified that - can you keep the money?

The NZQA Scholarship system is designed as an incentive to both reward high achieving students and to some extent, encourage the smartest minds to stay in New Zealand. This is somewhat challenging for the government because many of the students who can win a lot of scholarships (particularly the Premier and Outstanding awards) are sufficiently academic that they could win places at overseas universities with generous financial aid packages like New York University Abu Dhabi, Yale-NUS, Amherst etc. The New Zealand government, as far as governments go, is very supportive of overseas study and isn’t particularly aggressive with enforcing the requirements of NZQA Scholarship to their full intention (full time studying and living in New Zealand presumably).

This gives rise to a few situations of note:

The “Automatic” Gap Year effect

  1. Most students heading overseas to the Northern Hemisphere gain admission for the Fall semester in the US or the UK equivalent which mean school starts around September and October.
  2. Students in the Southern Hemisphere graduate from school in November or December. This means that most students have nearly 8 months before it is time for them to formally begin their overseas education.

A lot of these students on the “Automatic Gap Year” opt to spend one semester at a New Zealand university enrolled in a degree program full-time or at least taking some coursework. Some students do this out of habit, some to get a sense of what university study is like, others to be with their friends, others to pick up new content and insight and some cheeky students who want their NZQA Scholarship money.

Enrolling in New Zealand university full time will make you eligible to receive the first payment of Premier Scholarships ($10K), Outstanding Scholarship ($5K), Scholarship ($2K), Single Subject Scholarships or Top Scholar Awards ($2K).

This is a relatively painless way to obtain the first slice of money without too much room for debate.

Further complexity is added when considering the 2nd and 3rd payment for these awards. NZQA does not specify what full-time study actually entails and leaves the door open for students to do full-time distance learning. A rather savvy New Zealander called Thomas Frost who studied Medicine at Cambridge after extensively considering the rules, made the decision to enroll full-time in a New Zealand university as a distance student from the UK (I think at Massey which has one of the largest distance-learning/correspondence programs). He subsequently received all 3 of his 10k payments while studying away in the UK. If you go down this route, it would typically be advisable to take coursework related to what you are actually studying so you are not pursuing 2 degrees at the same time in different areas which may be quite intense. I would also check if you attempt to pursue this approach whether your overseas university allows you to be essentially dual enrolled in two universities.

In general, if you don’t want to essentially take on a full-time additional courses and you’re heading overseas to a US/UK university starting in the fall and you are a Premier, Outstanding, Scholarship or Top Scholar award recipient, you are not going to be eligible to receive the additional payments. Winning the first award and the first payment is still definitely worth the effort though!

Ultimately, the spirit of the award is to support your domestic studies so exercise good judgment in thinking through your approach to this.


Hi Jamie,

I’m a little bit confused about the answer above, particularly with regards to: “If you win either a Single Subject Scholarship or the basic Scholarship award which comes from 3+ scholarship wins your payment is a one-off payment. Regardless of where you are going to study, you will receive the funds no matter what.

I hope I’m on track to getting the Scholarship award (3+ scholarships), but I’m unsure how I’d actually be able to receive the payment, as I am likely to be going to an Australian university. Looking at NZQA’s website it says “the recipient must be enrolled in tertiary study in New Zealand to get an award.” I’m not sure if there is a trick to get around this if I do end up going to AUS in March. (gap year trick wouldn’t apply).

Please let me know.



Hi NZ Golem,

Thanks for your question - my comments above were focused on students heading to the US/UK for university.

If you are studying in Australia from the first semester i.e from February of next year, you won’t be eligible to receive any money at all because you won’t be able to enroll in a local university in New Zealand. You could theoretically still pursue the Massey distance learning option if you really want to for one semester to get the first payment but you should check if the relevant Australian university would permit you be dual enrolled.
Hope that clarifies!


I was a former Premier Scholar who studied in Australia and I can confirm that this is correct. If you start studying in Aussie from March next year you won’t be eligible for any monetary awards.