Maths at Oxford
UCAS Personal Statement
I had an affinity for numbers and patterns at an early age, and that affinity, along with my school courses, has given me a solid foundation in mathematics. My interest further developed through exploring books and attending a summer program for five years. I now understand mathematics as a study of the abstract structures underpinning all sciences. The generality and versatility at its heart are what fascinate me most. Those books, particularly Gamow’s One, Two, Three,…Infinity and Courant’s What is Mathematics?, introduced me to the ways mathematicians think and the challenges they face. Inspired, I wanted to experience them for myself.
My first encounter with “real mathematics” was in the Young Scholars Program (YSP). Run by the University of Chicago Math department and taught by its faculty, it covered topics, including number theory, cryptography, and abstract algebra, far beyond any school math. I loved YSP each time I attended, particularly the most recent one. Each lecture left more problems to think about, and each day I eagerly shared my findings with the professors. I continued to ponder some of the deeper questions through the next school year, like proving that the algebraic numbers are closed under addition and multiplication. It was an extremely rewarding experience. This school year I’m studying multivariable calculus at Loyola University Chicago with Professor Robert Jensen—I’m finding it as fascinating and inspiring as YSP.
I want to carry the joy I feel now in learning math for the rest of my life. I aspire to be at the frontier of the field, solving interesting problems and making important discoveries.
Paired with my interest in math, I have a strong interest in physics. Last summer, I was in a work experience program with Dr. Brad Tucker at Australian National University. I gathered and analyzed data and used established models to find distances, velocities, and masses of galaxies. At the end, I gave a successful presentation on my findings to Dr. Tucker and his doctoral students. In school, I extended an experimental project—establishing an equation for the force between two magnets in terms of their distance apart—by modeling it theoretically. I wrestled with that problem for a week before figuring out a good model that was theoretically sound and also fit the data. I’ve also been active in bringing my excitement and engagement in physics to my school as president of physics team, introducing the ideas I find coolest in physics to my peers. Among my many other interests, music is the most central. I have studied classical piano for 11 years. I hold the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music with Distinction. I have also participated in numerous summer music festivals, including Piano Texas, the Amalfi Piano Festival, Cleveland Institute of Music’s Summer Sonata, and a Summer Intensive at New York University. All of these featured master classes, lessons, and performances.
In addition to my more serious pursuits, I have a wide variety of hobbies. I have travelled widely and enjoy interacting with different cultures. Along with that, I love reading about the history and geography of the places with those cultures. I’m also interested in languages. I grew up speaking English and Chinese, and studied Latin in school. Latin has also gotten me into classic texts, like the Aeneid, which I had a great time being able to translate on my own. I think Oxford represents a confluence of all these—I would study immersed in the culture and history of Britain, with access to great resources in languages and classics. On top of all that, I think the tutorial system fits me particularly well, as I like to learn with more independence.
I very much look forward to studying my favorite subject, mathematics, at Oxford. I can foresee great success in realizing my potential through Oxford’s learning environment. This is a big step in my life, and I hope it leads me to the best of places.
Behind the Statement
How did you make start on your personal statement or begin planning?
I thought about why I really connected to my subject in particular and the most important experiences I had that fostered this connection. I proceeded to then think of all my interests and how I connect all of them to fit a more general view of learning and pursuing knowledge, and from that select the most formative experiences that led to those.
How did you decide what experiences to include in your personal statement? What did you cut out?
I thought about which ones highlight best the main points of each topic I brought up. For instance, I chose to write about my own initiatives as much as I could, while perhaps less emphasizing certain awards or prizes.
How did you get these experiences in the first place?
I'm American, so this may not be so relevant to British students, but the spirit is the same - summer programs in various places, finding good books to read, and most importantly taking my passions with me wherever I went!
How did you structure your personal statement?
I jumped right in talking about my maths background and thoughts on what it means as a discipline for me, supported by numerous. Then I discussed my other interests in a similar though briefer manner as they were less important. Finally I touched on hobbies/why Oxford to tie all of it together.
How did you decide on an introduction for your personal statement?
I just thought getting right to the point was the best way to go.
How did you decide on a conclusion for your personal statement?
I needed something to tie my interests and discussion on them together, and that was discussing Oxford and its appeals to my strengths.
What do you think are the strengths of your personal statement?
I think it's very much in my personal style and concisely addresses most things relevant to my application.
Is there anything you wish you knew beforehand/advice?
I guess how different it was from the American personal statement - something for everyone thinking of applying to both American universities and Oxbridge should know!