Understand what a maths admissions tutor wants
The key to writing anything well is understanding the reader wants from it. Without being able to put yourself in the shoes of the reader, in this case an admissions tutor, you cannot really tailor your personal statement to meet their needs.
Now different universities have different expectations from their applicants, but the University of Cambridge wrote an excellent article on the subject, which can be found here. In short, they expect a personal statement to convey the following information:
- It should explain your reasons for wanting to study your chosen course.
- It should demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment for your chosen course.
- It should express any particular interests you have within your chosen course.
- It should outline how you have pursued your interest in your chosen course in your own time.
- It should demonstrate characteristics that will aid your transition to life at university.
Such expectations are true of most personal statements and act as a good starting point when looking at what admissions tutors want from maths personal statements. That said, it is worth considering what other universities have to say on the matter as their advice may give an alternative perspective or shine a better light on how to put their expectations into practice. Examples can be found here and here. You can even email admission departments of maths departments at different universities for advice if you want to.
Be inspired by what others have written
It can be hard to write a personal statement, but even more so if you have not read any yourself. Reading personal statements gives you a good idea of what you should and should not write, armed with the expectations of admissions tutors. Of course there are many unsaid rules about personal statements that you can only learn from talking to others, but for the most part you can tell a well crafted personal statement from a poorly written one.
A good idea would be to read several personal statements and review them with your knowledge of what admissions tutors want. Focus on what you thought was good and bad. By doing this you will gain an insight into writing personal statements and may be inspired enough to begin writing your own.
A good place to start with this process is The Student Room's maths personal statement archive, which can be found here. A good thing about starting here is that some of them have been reviewed by The Student Room's personal statement helpers, which can aid you in the reviewing process.
Gather material to support your personal statement
It is important to back up what you have written in your personal statement with examples from things you have watched, read, heard or experienced. In order to do this you need to recognise useful material which can be incorporated into your personal statement and make a note of it so you can come back to it when you actually write your personal statement. Having this information at your fingertips makes life much easier when you actually come to putting your personal statement together.
A recommended approach would be gathering evidence which fits into one of three boxes:
- Extra-Curricular Activities
This refers to anything you do outside of your studies which is not related to maths.
This refers to your knowledge of university maths through any source.
This refers to your pursuit of maths in your own time.
By putting your evidence into these three boxes, it will aid you when you come to using them. This is because when structuring your personal statement you will need to fill it with content and using these headings will assist in that process.
Now that we have established the types of material you should collect, we now look at the materials themselves. Here are some examples.
- Clubs and Competitions
Of course, there may be other types of material worth collecting that I have not mentioned, but this covers most of the material that is relevant to someone pursuing a maths degree. Also, you should be proactively collecting such material. This is because a lot of these materials will only arise if you seek them out.
Enhance the breadth and depth of your understanding of maths
Remember that a maths admissions tutor is usually an academic in the maths department of the university you are applying to. With this in mind they will be quite interested in how much you know about mathematics on the whole, as opposed to what is simply in your A-Level syllabus. They do not expect you to have a full understanding of maths, as this would make going to university redundant, but they expect you to have an appreciation for mathematics.
This means that your knowledge of mathematics should hold up to a certain level of scrutiny. Every time you learn about a new piece of mathematics try to think of the following things.
- What is this piece of mathematics?
- How does it work?
- What applications does it have?
Being able to answer those three questions very well will make it clear that you are capable of picking up new ideas and concepts and are willing to invest time in learning about them, which in a sense is what going to university is all about.
Here is some ideas to get you started. This is by no means a complete list.
- Propositional Logic
- Types of Proof
- Ordinary Differential Equations
- Diophantine Equations
- Properties of Prime Numbers
- Non-Euclidean Geometry
- Numerical Approximation
Some of these are related to things you have done in your A-Levels whilst others are completely new. Moreover, some of these topics are more challenging to grasp than others. That said this collection of topics provides a basis on which to further your mathematical knowledge.
A good idea is to go to use university prospectuses to understand what the maths syllabus is like for each university and then go to university web pages and try to understand the online lecture notes. You may even find lecturer email addresses in the process should you have any questions, many of whom would be happy to answer questions that indulge your mathematical curiosities.
If this sounds like a good idea to you then try the University of Manchester School of Maths' departmental homepage, which can be found here. The idea above can be done effectively using this website.