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Advice from alumni: Grace Ma

Advice from alumni: Grace Ma

Grace Huiwen Ma went from Urumqi in China all the way to EF Academy in Torbay, where she completed the A-Level program. She graduated from EF Academy Torbay in 2015 with remarkable results of A*AAAB, and afterwards she started studying Mathematics with Economic at the top-ranked University College London in the UK. When asked what EF Academy gave her, she answers: “Without a doubt, an international way of thinking that I believe will benefit me for the rest of my life.” Read one to learn more about our alumna: 

How did you hear about EF Academy and why did you decide to attend?

The first time I heard about EF Academy was when I was studying English at EF’s language center in my home town of Urumqi in Xinjiang, China. The admissions consultant came to give a small lecture about EF Academy and what services they provided to support students who are interested in studying abroad. I immediately thought that this is where I wanted to go. I was very attracted to the prospect of gaining an international mindset and I knew that A-Level studies would be very intensive preparation for admission into the top UK universities. Moreover, I also liked the fact that I was able to choose the courses that I from between a wide range of subjects that were not offered in China. Comparing the two education systems, the British A-Level system focuses on three to four subjects and explores them deeply, whereas the Chinese system forces you to study everything.  I personally liked having the freedom to choose and focus on a few subjects that I knew that I would use going forward. This also made me think about my future career earlier and enabled me to feel that I had a goal during my A-Level studies.

Looking back at my EF Academy experience, I met a lot of nice and interesting friends. I still keep in touch with some of them, especially the ones that are studying at the same university. I am also very grateful to the many friendly teachers who supported me a lot when I arrived alone to a new country. Sometimes they would just give me a warm hug and that helped immensely.

What university did you go to afterwards? What do you study and why?

I am studying Mathematics with Economics at University College London (UCL).  I choose mathematics because I have always been good at it whilst economics is the subject that I want to work with in the future. As for UCL, that was an easy choice for me because it is a G5 university (editor’s note: grouping of five of UK’s top university: Imperial College London, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, London School of Economics and UCL). Moreover, I think that UCL has the perfect location for studies since it is located in the central of London and the teaching quality is very high. In summary, it provides me with the perfect study environment.

Compared to Torbay, there is even more independent study time since we have more general lectures. I am happy that I started to cultivate my independence when it comes to studying during high school already because for me it is already easier. However, I can still sometimes feel that it is hard to do everything by myself, but of course it’s also exciting.

What advice do you have for the students who are graduating?

Choose what you want to study and not what your teachers and parents think that you should study

Send your university application as early as you can

Improve your grades

Make sure that you write the best personal statement that you possibly can: I would recommend showcasing what makes you unique. Everyone are different and the universities want to see what sets you apart, regardless of whether it is being good at sports or loving music. I remember that I started my own personal statement with how a teacher in China said that I could be a “bridge between China and the Western World.” Then I continued writing about the two different cultures, why I get more from the UK education system and also how the views of mathematics, economics and statistics differs in the two countries. In general, I think it also helps to emphasize your interest about the chosen subject.

What is your dream for the future?

I want to become a professional woman working in financial services or in media. The optimal solution would be to work between media and finance, for example I would love to work as a news reporter covering the financial industry. My interest for finance mainly comes from the fact that finance is the area in our modern world where most mathematics is applied. I think it is the responsibility of anyone that is good in mathematics and economics to make sure that resources are allocated more efficiently in our society.

What’s your favorite memory from EF Academy?

I still remember the first day that I came to EF Academy; everything was fresh and new for me and I was curious about everying. It was my second time in England but it was the first time away from my parents. However, the warm faces of the school staff, teachers and other students made me feel that we would be a big family. Sometimes I really missed my home of course, but at least I felt welcome from the start. I think that is the main difference between a local British boarding school and our international school; at the latter everyone is new to everything and we quickly bonded.

What do you miss the most?

I definitely miss some of my friends that I can’t meet as often because we are in different countries and some of my teachers in Torbay.

What is one thing that you learned from EF Academy that you found valuable for university? For work life? For your personal life?

For me, it is without a doubt my now international way of thinking. In academia, what people strive for is critical thinking. However, I think that international thinking is equally important. If you can understand the different backgrounds, values and languages that people have, you will definitely be better equipped in today’s globalized world. I felt that I really learnt this in the international environment at EF Academy.  I think this will be useful for the rest of my life and can be applied in both work and personal situations. For example, when watching the recent Olympic Games I was able to understand why some people would cry over a silver medal whilst others would be over the moon about the same place on the podium.

What final tips would you give to current students?
First of all, make sure to enjoy the two years at EF Academy. I really miss my time in Torbay with my nice friends and teachers now and I can’t go back, so cherish the time there.

Find yourself: Use the opportunity to find what sets you apart from others because only by doing this you will find what you would like to do in the future. Concretely, I would recommend continuing to try new things. For example, without having done the Math Challenge I wouldn’t have known that I like being in a team and without being a part of club or society, you will not know that you enjoy leadership.

Who are the most successful alumni that you know of?

Chidera Egbujor – Part of my Math Challenge team and now studying at Cambridge. He gave  me a lot of useful tips and advice when I applied for Cambridge


Short questions:

Name: Grace Huiwen Ma

Age: 19

Nationality:  Chinese

How many languages do you speak? English, Chinese and started to learn Arabic.

EF Academy campus: EF Academy Torbay

Graduation years: 2015

Program: A-Level (Math, Further Math, Economics, Physics)

Residence or host family: Host family, very sweet family who provided me with a nice room and a great atmosphere.

Favorite subject: Economics, because it was new to me since I never did it in China. It is still useful for me because I am doing Mathematics with Economics

Favorite teacher:

Hanna Skuckova and Hazel Linacre – my amazing mathematics teachers

Tricia Asquith – my physics teacher

Mark Glew – my economics teacher

Mandy Meek – She helped me a lot when I was applying for University for Cambridge and UCL. She did a lot of mock interviews and those preparations helped me to grow a lot.

Favorite club/society: The Math Challenge team; we were a club with 10 people ran by Hazel and Hanna and we participated in national math challenges representing EF Academy Torbay. I remember that we went to Exeter to compete in an national math competition and ended up winning the second place. It was a great experience and a real exercise in team work, as we first solved 10 questions together as fast as possible and then we had to solve one question each but one would be dependent on the previous answer.

Shouts outs to:

My amzing teachers e.g. Hazel, Hanna, Trisha, Olli, Mark, Mandy

All my friends from that time