Equipping Students for Higher Education Level Math: The Role of Math Preparatory Courses in Admissions

Mathematics is a fundamental subject that plays a significant role in various STEM study programs and other fields like social sciences and business. The importance of math is rising, and numeracy is vital to overcoming today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

For this reason, many colleges and universities require students to have a certain level of mathematical proficiency before admitting them into their programs. To ensure students meet this condition, math preparatory courses have become a common option for prospective students.

As we will show in this blog post, math preparatory courses can be particularly beneficial for international applicants. Finally, we will illustrate how Maastricht University uses math preparatory courses to facilitate students to start their math courses smoothly.

How can admission officers support students and teachers with math preparatory courses?

Math preparatory courses are designed to provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in their higher education programs. These courses cover a range of topics, including algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics, and are typically offered at colleges and universities.

Supporting students who struggle with math

One of the primary benefits of math preparatory courses is that they can help level the playing field for students who may have struggled with math in high school, enabling them to catch up and stay on track.

Photograph of students doing math homework

Facilitating students to navigate the transition from high school to higher education math

Math preparatory courses can effectively bridge the gap between high school and higher education mathematics. Although students have taken math courses previously, the rigor and expectations of higher education math classes can be quite different. Math preparatory courses can assist students in getting used to this new environment.

Empowering students to boost their confidence with math

These courses provide students with an opportunity to improve their skills. Since learners often struggle with math anxiety, these resources also help them build confidence before starting their lessons.

Simplifying math educators’ work 

Teachers often deal with a heavy workload. This makes it harder to provide personalized attention to students, who usually have different needs and math proficiency levels. Math preparatory courses facilitate educators’ teaching by homogenizing students’ knowledge, so they can stop spending time explaining the basics and save time to move forward. 

Photograph of a teacher giving a math lesson

Helping international students close the math skills gap

From an admissions process perspective, math preparatory courses can particularly benefit international students. Here are some reasons why:

Bringing curriculum differences

The math curriculum in the student’s home country may differ significantly from the curriculum in the chosen institution’s country. Math preparatory courses can help to bridge this gap and enable international students to master the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in their future math lessons. 

Getting ready for a math admission exam

Many colleges and universities require admission tests for admission. International students may find it hard to perform well on these tests due to differences in testing formats and content. Math preparatory courses can help international students prepare for these exams and improve their scores.

Math admission tests like OMPT can help you ensure you make the right decisions regarding accepting international students. As we will see later in Maastricht University's use case, offering a math preparatory course plus this test is a winning combination.

Overcoming language barriers

International students may face challenges in understanding math concepts due to language barriers. Math preparatory courses can help international students develop their math skills while also improving their English language proficiency.

Photograph of students attending a presentation

Cultural Differences

International students may come from different educational systems that may emphasize different teaching styles or have other expectations. Math preparatory courses can provide international students with a better understanding of the educational system in the country of the chosen institution and help them adapt to this new context.

Access to Resources

International students may not have access to the same resources, such as textbooks or online resources, as students in the country they want to move to. Math preparatory courses can provide international students with the materials they need to succeed in their future math lessons.

Overall, by recognizing the importance of math preparatory courses for international (and national) students, admission officers can help to create a more equitable and inclusive process.

Maastricht University use case: How to support first-year students to start their math courses smoothly

To illustrate the value of math preparatory courses, we bring a success story from one of our partners, the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE). 

This institution offers an online preparatory math course to ensure students are ready for their bachelor’s programme in September. They offer these resources with Bolster Academy, a virtual STEM teaching assistant, and complement them with the OMPT math admission test.

Photograph of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics


Maastricht University is the most international university in the Netherlands. Therefore, admission officers and educators face the challenge of dealing with various mathematical backgrounds and varying proficiency levels among their students. 

Their SBE programmes follow a problem-based learning approach, which requires students to have a similar level of proficiency in mathematics. A tutor coaches small groups of 12-14 students in their classes. This facilitator supports learners, who have an active role in collaborating, brainstorming, and finding solutions.

Dr Dirk Tempelaar, the coordinator of these math preparatory courses, explains:

“To solve these problems, it’s essential that all students can be active, so instructors need everyone to have similar prior knowledge. It’s too difficult if there are students whose level is higher because then others won’t be able to participate in the discussions.”


Maastricht University School of Business and Economics provides their students with intermediate and advanced summer math courses. These digital materials are available online and can be used anytime, allowing students to complete them at their own pace and location. 

Due to an increasing number of students with math deficiencies, this university started asking students to take this preparatory course apart from an in-house exam with Bolster Academy. Now, students who don’t meet the math requirements can take OMPT. However, even students who are proficient in math but are worried about passing challenging initial courses often enroll in these summer math courses.

Photograph of students in Maastricht


One of the main advantages of this system for Maastricht University is that now they can provide their students with unlimited practice whenever they want. In the coordinators’ words:

“Since our students are from all over the world, they need a flexible course they can take from home anytime. It is a must that they can do it online with the flexibility that Bolster Academy provides.”

Likewise, Bolster Academy offers automated personalized feedback and automatic grading. This means that all these endless practice and learning chances don’t impact the instructors’ workload.

Finally, students who take the summer math course perform significantly better than their non-participating counterparts. Despite the potential influence of factors such as students’ motivation levels, the results of using these courses are highly satisfactory.

Read the full use case

If you need any questions about how to implement math preparatory courses in your institution, please feel free to contact us.

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