In my statement of purpose(for U.S. math graduate school), I said something like: "compared with my classmates, I believe I am more capable of ..."

One of my professors pointed out it should be my referee's job to compare you with others and I should stay modest. So I am a little confused in here. Is it appropriate for applicants to compare themselves with their peer in the statement of purpose?

  • 3
    I guess the answer is culture-dependent. At least in my epsilon-vicinity such comparison would be unusual and a bit pretentious unless it is really well supported with evidence (prizes? awards? scholarships? 1st places?) Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 20:15
  • @DmitrySavostyanov Thank you! I will edit it to make it more specific
    – No One
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


This would be a bad idea and will likely have the opposite effect you want it to have. Especially in mathematics, people are turned off by bullshit.

Let me relate an actual exchange I heard a few years ago between two rather famous mathematicians:

Person 1: "I have an amazing theorem to tell you about!"

Person 2: "Slow down. You tell me the theorem, and I'll tell you if it's amazing."

This illustrates I think an important principal of social interactions in academia (and probably elsewhere too, though I gather that eg in politics and business this is not true). Namely, people are very unimpressed and skeptical when someone comes out and says how great they are. What you have to do is tell them factual things that force them to draw the conclusion for themselves that you are great.

In other words, the old adage about writing holds: show, don't tell.


Yes, it would be arrogant to compare yourself to others, and it's not informative. What exactly are you trying to accomplish?

If you're just trying to say "I'm good at math" then you shouldn't- an admissions committee will look at your transcript and make their own judgments. You're not competing against your classmates for admission to graduate school, you're competing against the best students from every school. Everyone who applies is going to be better than 90% of their classmates. Saying that you're better than your classmates just does not accomplish anything.

If you're trying to say "I want to get a math degree because that's what I'm good at" then don't say that either. It's a lame reason to go to graduate school. Ideally you want to be able to say that you're personally invested in getting a PhD. If you really can't come up with a better reason then at the very minimum you should be able to say something like "I want to pursue research-oriented jobs that require a PhD", or "I really liked my topology class and I want to do topology that nobody has ever done before".

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