August 28, 2023
How to Write a Personal Statement for MathsUCAS
Your personal statement provides an opportunity to convey your passion for your chosen subject. Its importance is sometimes exaggerated for applications to top Russell Group universities, but it is nevertheless an important aspect of an application and may form the basis of some discussion at interview.
Personal statement writing is an iterative process. You should start early enough to allow plenty of time for preparatory reading, drafting, feedback, and revisions. The summer holiday is the ideal time to start reading and exploring super-curricular material you might like to include (see our reading list for some recommendations). There is no prescribed structure for the 2023 admissions round (the format will be changing in 2024) but we recommend the structure outlined below. UCAS screens for plagiarism in personal statements, so it’s very important that you don’t 'borrow' any content from sample personal statements or articles found online (including this one!).
Personal Statement Structure
Our recommended structure may provide a good starting point for putting together some ideas and drafting the first version of your personal statement. However, the structure of your final version will very much depend upon the ideas you choose to focus on and the way in which you tie them together. There will likely be several ways to convincingly structure your writing, and the key is to redraft several times until you find the version that works best.
Avoid clichés and use specific examples where possible:
- “I’m intrigued by the mysterious links between seemingly unrelated topics, such as the appearance of π in the solution to the Basel problem, or probabilistic proofs for number theorems.”
Try to make it as personalised as possible (this goes for the whole personal statement!):
- “As a bilingual student who has studied maths in English, Spanish and Japanese, I’m drawn to the fact that mathematical proofs depend only on a set of axioms and not on culture, place, or time.”
Discussion of Super-Curricular Reading
Don’t merely regurgitate a book summary but give your own thoughts and demonstrate engagement with the content:
- “I was fascinated by the implications of the Abel-Ruffini theorem, which defies the common assumption that every problem in mathematics has a solution.”
Give examples of how you pursued the topics in the book(s) further, and what you learned:
- “captured by the simple proofs of divisibility rules using modular arithmetic, I decided to try and prove analogous rules in other number bases such as base8. I came away with a much deeper understanding of why there are simple rules for some numbers but not others.”
Don’t bluff and write about anything you haven’t understood, or worse, read! You might be asked about your personal statement at interview.
You can engage with a variety of materials: lectures, videos, podcasts, and journals are also excellent resources. You might like to link this section to an EPQ or IB extended essay.
Discussion of A Level/IB Subjects
You should aim to explain the links between your A level subjects and how you have explored them further. You can also mention academic pursuits such as maths challenges and other competitions.
Try to explore natural links rather than links that may sound overly forced:
- “After my physics teacher mentioned the Friedmann equation, I was surprised to see that it was a simple differential equation which I could solve using knowledge from A level mathematics. It was fascinating to explore solutions for different matter combinations and see how mathematics reveals that small changes can completely alter the long-term fate of the Universe.”
Discussion of Extracurriculars
This section is less important for the most competitive universities, but some discussion of extracurricular activities and achievements allows you to demonstrate positive character traits and the fact that you have been able to juggle your academic studies with other pursuits.
If you are able to link your extracurriculars to your chosen subject of study, you could make links between them in this section to demonstrate your interest in the subject. However, try to avoid manufacturing links that sound very contrived, for example, linking the game of pool and angles! This is a successful example:
- “Outside of school, I have trained in ballet for 15 years, completing grades 1-8 with distinction. Ballet has allowed me to develop strong organisational skills and resilience. This year, I developed a physics experiment to study spinning tops, torque, and angular momentum in order to better understand pirouettes, as I am drawn to the power of mathematics to describe the physical word accurately.”
This is where you should summarise why you are suited to the courses you are applying for:
- “As a passionate student in maths, attracted by abstract concepts and problem solving, I believe that I am fit to study mathematics at university level. I have actively pursued opportunities to lean more about maths outside the classroom, which have only reinforced by determination to continue to grow as a mathematician at university."