Stanford Math Circle

Stanford University Stanford Math Circle




Stanford Math Circle

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a math circle?

Math circles are weekly gatherings of high school (or younger) students working on problems involving complex and advanced mathematical topics, guided by mathematicians and educators. We offer three levels of mathematics circle:

    • The Elementary Math Circle, for students in grades 1-4. Sessions are about 55 minutes long. The same instructors run the circle throughout the year. Some sections are for 1st and 2nd graders, others for 3rd and 4th graders.
    • The Middle School Math Circle, for students in grades 5-8. In the 5-6 circle, sessions are 75 minutes long and the same instructors will run most sessions. for grades 7-8, sessions are 100 minutes long, with a short break in the middle. Mathematicians and math educators lead each session, and most will lead two to four consecutive sessions.
    • The Advanced Math Circle, for students in grades 9-12, Sessions are about two hours long with a short break in the middle. Each week, the session is led by a different mathematician, exposing students to fun, creative, or challenging concepts that go beyond what they're likely to see in their ordinary school classes

These programs are primarily for students who are already excited about mathematics and want to see -- and do -- more than they have the opportunity to do in school. In the elementary circle, the focus is on logical reasoning, "thinking like a mathematician" and problem solving, rather than on mathematical acceleration. In the middle and advanced circles, students are exposed to skills and topics in higher mathematics that are outside the standard curriculum.

We will also do some practice sessions for middle school and high school mathematics contests (such at the AMC contests, BAMO, ARML, etc.), but that is not our primary emphasis.

  • When does the math circle run?

The Stanford Math Circle runs during the Stanford academic year -- 10 weeks in the fall quarter (from late September through early December), 10 weeks in the winter quarter (from January through March) and in the spring quarter (early April through early June). We do not offer a summer program (though there are other academic summer programs run by Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies).

  • How do I join the math circle?
Applications for our math circles open about a month before the start of each quarter -- we announce opening on this website and on our public mailing list. Advanced circle only: You are welcome to show up to any session of the Advanced SMC to see what it's like, introduce yourself, and decide if it's for you. If you decide to join, please complete an application. The middle school and elementary circles are not able to accept unannounced visitors.

  • What should I bring?
Please bring a pencil, pen, and lots of paper to each SMC session. Occasionally, it will also be useful to have a calculator, so feel free to bring a calculator if you have one. There are water fountains in the hallways, so you may also bring a water bottle. Other than water bottles with lids, no food or drinks are allowed in the classrooms.

  • How much does it cost?
The fee for participation in the SMC in 2015-2016 will be $275 per academic quarter. This fee will generate funding for honoraria for session leaders, website maintenance, administrative costs, and use of the Stanford University facilities or other classrooms. Please note that financial aid is available and that we will not exclude students due to financial hardship, so please let us know if the fee would cause financial difficulty for your family.
  • How do I register?
  • Go to the application page to apply to the math circle.(Applications are only accepted before each academic quarter, check our public mailing list or our home page for updated information when applications are being received.)

  • Can I join the advanced math circle now if I've already missed multiple sessions?

You're more than welcome to join us at any time during the year. We love to meet new people interested in math! In general, the sessions and topics are independent of each other. Some sessions will be harder and some will be easier, depending on the instructor and the particular topic. (Please note that the elementary and middle school circles have more severe space limitations and are not able to accomodate visitors. If space becomes available during a quarter, students will be drawn from the waiting list of those who applied for that quarter.)

  • Am I advanced enough for the Stanford Math Circle?

The advanced SMC is open to all motivated students in grades 9-12, regardless of background or level. We try to provide problems and materials that are interesting to and suitable for a range of mathematical abilities. If you're interested in math, you are welcome to come! Exceptional middle school students are also welcome, but should try a session or two before deciding if they wish to register. Middle school students applying for the advanced math circle may be asked to show evidence of readiness (math contest scores, participation in other math programs or classes).


The Middle School and elementary school circles do not require knowledge of math beyond grade-level, though many participants in the circle may have some such knowledge. What is required is enthusiasm for mathematical reasoning and a desire to spend time thinking abstractly.


  • My child is in kindergarten, but advanced mathematically. May he or she participate in the math circle?

We do restrict participation the elementary math circle to students in first grade and above. This is because of social readiness, not mathematical ability! We do recognize that there are many kindergarten students who are capable of exceptional mathematical reasoning.

  • I didn't quite understand everything at the last session. Should I keep coming anyway?

Absolutely! As many practicing research mathematicians will tell you, it often takes several years to become an experienced problem solver. It's completely fine (and expected) if you need to see a particular topic or discuss a particular idea several times before it starts to make sense. Keep in mind that the material discussed in SMC sessions is very advanced and non-traditional.

  • How can parents help with the SMC?

Parents can help with various aspects of the circle, from providing refreshments during the circle breaks, to helping with the overall organization or donating to the circle. We are completely open to new ideas, and welcome any suggestions that you may have!

The elementary math circles also use room parents who assist the instructors during class. The instructors will choose these parents.