Writing a maths personal statement

Maths is a subject you either love or hate - and explaining why you love it can be a tricky one.

If you’ve got a love for numbers, maths seems like a natural choice for your university degree. But getting your passion and enthusiasm down on paper can seem like a daunting task.

If you’re starting your personal statement, check out these tips - along with advice from university admission tutors - to help you through.

Understand what a maths admissions tutor actually wants

The key to writing anything well is understanding what the reader wants from it. If you struggle to put yourself in the shoes of the reader, it will seem much harder to tailor your personal statement to meet their needs.

“Mathematics admissions tutors want to know whether you have the motivation, as well as the ability, to succeed,” says Tony Mann, director of Greenwich Maths Centre at University of Greenwich. “Make sure you provide evidence why you are excited by the subject.

“What inspires you? Perhaps it’s a book, or a mathematics masterclass you attended - tell us why you began to love maths!

“If you have helped younger students with maths or done relevant voluntary work, that can also impress.”

Check university websites or prospectuses for an idea of the key elements you’ll be studying over your time there too. Don’t name-check the unis, as all your choices see the same statement, but talking about similar ground between courses is a good idea.

You might also try emailing the admissions team of the maths department at a specific uni for extra tips to get you started.

Talk about your mathematical motivations

An admissions tutor will want to see that you appreciate maths as a whole, rather than just what you’ve learnt during your A-levels. Obviously, they don’t expect you to know everything, but showing you’ve got a wider understanding of the subject certainly puts you at an advantage.

Your statement is the perfect place to talk about extra study you’ve undertaken, or certain areas of maths that interest you, as it shows your learning doesn’t just end at the classroom.

“There are two main things that make a personal statement stand out from my perspective,” says Tristan Pryer, maths admissions tutor at University of Reading.

“The first is enthusiasm for the subject, now I don’t mean the typical ‘I’ve liked maths from a very young age’, more why it is you like it, and how does your interests fit in with the institution? For example, Reading is well known for it’s meteorological applications, did you know mathematics can be applied there?

“The second is to highlight what makes you unique. Why should I spend time reading your application over the other hundreds that I receive? Have you done some extra-curricular things above what everyone else with an A-level has?”

Make sure you have relevant material to support your statement

It’s super important to back up what you’ve written in your statement with examples. Maths can seem a tricky one for this, but if you do claim something you’ve watched, read or experienced has encouraged your interest in the subject, be prepared to prove it!

“The most important thing I look for in a statement is evidence of enthusiasm for the subject, usually seen in extra study undertaken or self-study over and above school work,” says Peter Larcombe, professor of discrete and applied mathematics at University of Derby.

“The most common mistake I see is a submission where the student waffles on about having a love of mathematics without saying why exactly, or what excites/motivates them.

“I also want to see an awareness of what university mathematics is, and how it differs from A-level mathematics, as well as showing an appreciation of the potential applicability of mathematics.”

Do mention any extra-curricular activities alongside your academic pursuits, even if they’re not obviously related to maths. Maths clubs or competitions are great additions, but remember that tutors want to see you as a well-rounded individual, too; you don’t have to live and breathe the degree to study it!

Just be yourself

It’s crucial to be completely genuine in your statement and focus on your individual strengths.

Don’t try to impress by bigging up - or even making up - accountancy work placements or personal projects you’ve worked on. Instead, focus on what you already have under your belt, as well as your willingness to learn and apply your knowledge in the future.

“Avoid grand statements like 'mathematics is the language of the universe',” says Dr James Hind, mathematics admissions tutor at Nottingham Trent University.

”Focus instead on what personally motivates you to study mathematics.

“It is OK to choose to study mathematics because you want it to lead to a high-paid finance or analyst job – not everyone does it just for the love of numbers and being career-focused is a good thing!

“We value a love of problem-solving above all else, but a willingness to try things and learn by getting them wrong is important too.

“The maths you’ll learn at university goes far beyond A-level and you’ll benefit from a positive approach to new and difficult concepts. If you can demonstrate this in your personal statement you’ll have a really strong application.”

Are you applying for a Maths course?

Do you have any extra tips to add? Join in with the comments below.

Related on TSR:
Need some more inspo? Check out these Maths personal statement examples.
Don’t worry about your word count - come and use our personal statement builder!
Got some general personal statement questions? Come see the 2018 FAQ discussion.


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