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Writing a mathematics personal statement: expert advice from universities

Ace your maths personal statement with these tailored tips from university admissions teams

If you’re struggling to get started on your maths personal statement, don't panic – we’ve spoken to a handful of UK university admissions experts to get their tips on how to make yours stand out from the crowd. 
Are you looking for inspiration?
Over on The Student Room, we have more than 50 examples of real mathematics personal statements.

Don’t list out your A-levels

Make the most of your limited word count by only using your personal statement to write about stuff that can’t be found elsewhere on your Ucas application. 

“I want to see something that shows me the person behind the application," says James Hind, mathematics admissions tutor at Nottingham Trent University. "Repeating things I can find elsewhere on your Ucas form isn’t a good use of the space.”

Focus on yourself 

Your personal statement should focus on your motivations for wanting to study a subject, and why you in particular would make a good student.

“Focus on yourself, rather than singing the praises of your subject," says James. "I’ll have a good third of personal statements include some variation on ‘mathematics is the language of the universe…’. I already know that maths is great, that’s why I lecture in it.

“What I don’t yet know is why YOU are great and the personal statement is your chance to tell me! I think the most valuable things you can tell me are the things that would help me to pick you out of your class at school. What distinguishes you from the other people from the same place, who had the same teachers?”

Don’t use quotes unless you’re expanding on them

There’s no point in in just quoting other people: that doesn’t tell the admissions tutors anything about you. 

"Avoid quoting the writings of mathematicians or popularisers of mathematics unless you explain their relevance or significance to you," says Dr Gwion Evans, mathematics admissions tutor at Aberystwyth University.

“It is a personal statement about you after all, so own it and tell me something about yourself and your passion for mathematics to convince me that you want to dedicate the next three or four years studying the subject to the best of your abilities." 

Mention any maths-related activities you’ve been involved with outside the classroom

“I want to see evidence that demonstrates a genuine interest in mathematics and enthusiasm for learning more about the subject,” says Gwion.

"You might do this by identifying the parts of your mathematics course you have enjoyed so far. Mentioning any mathematical activities (other than your course) that you have undertaken will help you stand out from the crowd, for example: extracurricular self-study, participation at mathematics workshops, master classes or lectures; entering mathematics competitions; and use of mathematics in work experience or daily life."
 
Bas Lemmens, reader in mathematics at the University of Kent, suggests that "attendance of extracurricular maths-related activities, participation in maths olympiads and competitions, and programming skills” could all be useful activities to mention. 

Include your unexpected extracurriculars

Even if an activity doesn’t have much to do with maths at first glance, it can still give admissions tutors a clearer idea of you as a well-rounded person – which in turn could make you a better student. 

"The best things to include are the things that you are most proud of because they tell me something about you as a person," says James at Nottingham Trent University. "It is also great to highlight anything unexpected for the course you are applying to.

“Lots of people applying to a maths degree are interested in chess, but not so many are into acting or art. Those things add to what I can see of you as a person. They show me someone more well-rounded.  

“For most people doing a maths degree, maths is a big part of their life but very few would say it is their whole life. Having ‘orthogonal hobbies’ gives you an additional way of understanding the world and approaching problems. It makes you more resilient to the stress of doing a degree and it makes you a better mathematician in the long run." 

Don’t make excuses for disappointing grades

Even if you feel like your grades or predicted grades don’t reflect your full potential, your personal statement isn’t the place to talk about that. Keep it positive, and keep it honest. 

“Students should definitely avoid making excuses!" says James. "I have seen some personal statements where people insist on telling me how close in UMS points they were to the grade boundary above. Others have said that their GCSE results were not a good guide of their ability because they were ill at the time and so on.

“If your results are not a good reflection of your skills you should absolutely talk to the admissions tutor about that, separately, but a personal statement isn’t the right place for it. We have no way to fact-check anything you put in your personal statement so we can’t rely on it as a mitigating factor.

“For the same reason, never lie. If the entry decision is so close that it comes down to a comment in a personal statement then the admissions tutor would probably want to interview you and double-check any claims that matter to your application." 

If you’re not taking the traditional A-level route to university…

Your personal statement is the perfect place for you to go into a bit more detail about why. 

“Personal statements are really important for students heading to more vocational courses (like maths with secondary education) or who don’t fit the standard of an 18/19 year old with A-levels," says James.

“If you are a mature student or have non-standard qualifications then use your personal statement as a chance to tell me your story – why didn’t you take a more traditional route? What is it about the career that your degree aims at which excites you?” 

Talk about the future

If you already have an idea of where you want your maths degree to take you, then it’s worth mentioning this in your personal statement. 

“If you can refer to your career aspirations, which may of course change, it reassures me that you have thought about your next steps after graduation,” says Gwion at Aberystwyth University.

“In some instances, based on the personal statement, I have advised applicants to consider another of Aberystwyth's mathematical courses that range from our general mathematics course through to specialisms such as mathematical modelling - or courses tailored for specific careers such as financial mathematics, data science or mathematics and education.”

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