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Smart kids to focused adults
Amy Steinepreis. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Attaining a so-called "perfect score" at the age of 17 is a hard act to follow, but high-achieving former students say pursuing their passions is more important than being defined by their brilliant academic results.

As this year's school leavers anxiously await the release of their WA Certificate of Education exam results on Monday, _The Weekend West _spoke to former students who achieved the highest possible Australian Tertiary Admission Rank of 99.95 to find out what they are doing now.

In WA, only about 15 students out of more than 13,000 are eligible to join that elite group each year.

Former St Mary's Anglican Girls' School student Amy Steinepreis, 22, who achieved that feat in 2008, said she had been more focused on doing her best than reaching the top rank.

The strong work ethic she developed in high school has been just as evident at university, earning her several scholarships and allowing her to study in Italy.

Ms Steinepreis started a combined arts and law degree at the University of WA but dropped law when she realised it would prevent her from majoring in three Arts subjects.

After graduating with joint first-class honours in English and Italian and cognate honours in French, she is about to start a one-year master of international journalism.

She also started workshops coaching high school students in French, Italian and literature in return for donations to the Ride to Conquer Cancer, raising more than $20,000 for medical research.

When Joel Bass, 24, left Rossmoyne Senior High School with a perfect ATAR in 2006, he refused to limit himself to choosing a course open only to those with the highest marks. He decided to combine his love of music, physics and maths and graduated from UWA this year with a double major in percussion performance and mechanical engineering.

"It seemed logical to follow my passion (for music) and I resented the notion that some people expected me to do courses like medicine," he said.

Though his Year 12 results may have given him an edge when applying for tertiary scholarships, Mr Bass said everyone went back to square one when starting university.

"I am extremely proud of that result but I have learnt not to define my self-worth solely through the numbers that academic institutions assign to me," he said.

Lucien Nguyen, 20, won an award in almost every course he studied as well as scoring 99.95 when he left St Mark's Anglican Community School three years ago.

After applying to study medicine he switched preferences at the last minute to a double degree in engineering and commerce at UWA because he felt he could make a better contribution to society that way.