How you get a reference for your application depends on if you’re applying individually, or through a school, college, or a centre registered with UCAS.
How to choose a referee
If possible, they should be someone who knows you academically and can talk about your work ethic, interaction with other students and your suitability for higher education or a future career.
- In a current or recent school or college, ask your tutor, teacher, principal or head teacher.
- If you left education years ago, ask an employer, volunteering supervisor or trainer.
- Don’t ask family, friends, partners or ex-partners though – if you do your application may be cancelled.
Applying through a school, college or centre?
- Before arranging the reference the school, college or centre will let you know when and how to pay your application fee.
- Then they’ll have a reference written for you by a teacher or tutor who knows you – you won’t have access to this, so you won’t need to do anything for it.
- Next they’ll send your application to us for you – keep in touch with them about how it’s going so that you’ll know when they’ve sent it to us.
Applying as an individual?
- In ‘Options’ on the reference page you could ‘ask a registered school, college or centre to write a reference’ – contact them first, and if they’re happy to provide a reference, add their details and buzzword here.
- Alternatively, if a tutor, trainer or employer is happy to provide a reference, add their email and phone number to the reference page of your application, then click ‘Ask referee to complete reference.’ We’ll email them a link and password to the reference page, and we’ll ask them to confirm their identity before writing it – so it’s important your referee provides a direct email address (not a generic auto-response address), and that they understand the reference must be done online and not emailed or on paper.
- Please give your referee plenty of time to complete your reference, and if they need any advice there are instructions in the reference request email, there’s help text on the reference page and there’s guidance on how to write references below.
- Keep in touch with your referee to make sure the reference is completed in time, and then you’ll be able to pay your application fee and send your application to us.
Applying for Teacher Education in Scotland?
If you're applying for Teacher Education in Scotland, please note that you will only need one reference.
How the reference should be written
If your referee needs guidance on how to write you a reference, send them this link for in-depth advice.
Here’s an overview for you, so that you’ll know what to discuss with them.
- It must be a full reference, written by your referee online in the reference section of your application, in English (or Welsh if you’re applying for courses in Wales).
- It might include your career goals and work experience – so talk these through with them first – as well as how well you’ve done in specific modules or course components.
- If your referee is one of your teachers, they can add your predicted grades for any pending qualifications you’re studying now.
- With your permission, it could include circumstances that have/could affect your academic work, such as a personal problem, illness or any individual needs you have.
Don’t want to include a reference?
There is actually an option to not include a reference, but only if you contact all your chosen universities and colleges and they agree that you don’t need one. Just confirm this on the reference page of your application.
Applying from prison?
If you're applying from prison you need a statement from the prison authorities too – saying you're suitable and available for the start date.
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The reference is an essential part of your UCAS application, where someone writes an account of your suitability for study on your behalf.
Who should write your reference?
Your referee should know you well enough to write about you and to comment on your suitability for higher education.
If you are currently studying, or have recently left school or college, you should ask your head teacher, principal or an appropriate teacher or tutor to provide a reference.
Your reference should not be completed by:
- Anyone from your family
- Other relatives
The reference should be written in English. If you are applying via your school they will be able to add your reference automatically. If you are applying as an individual then you will have to input the reference on their behalf - in other words you will paste in a document they have written. Guidance is available from UCAS on what to include and how to complete the reference. There is space for 4,000 characters (this includes spaces) or 47 lines of text (this includes blank lines).
If your reference will not fit into the box, you must obtain a shorter version from your referee - do not edit it yourself.
What is the reference for?
The reference is intended to help the University assess your suitability for university study generally and the specific degree that you have applied for. It should support the information provided in the personal statement. Admissions Officers will use the reference to help distinguish between applicants.
We will not consider applications received without a valid reference.
What should the reference include?
References, like personal statements, will vary significantly depending on the degree programme you are applying to and your educational background. It may include some or all of the following.
- Existing achievement
- Motivation & commitment towards the degree areas you are applying to or suitability for that profession
- Relevant skills achievement, whether certificated or not
- Academic Potential (other than predicted grades)
- Powers of analysis and independent thought
- Relevant curriculum enrichment and other activities
- Relevant work experience
- Any factors that may have affected or might affect their performance
It is also helpful if referees are able to provide information on how an applicant compares or ranks with their contemporaries. It will help your referee write your reference if you let them know what you are applying to study and let them see your personal statement in advance.
If you are applying before completing your school examinations (or English Language qualifications) then the reference should provide more information about what grades or scores they expect you to achieve in your final exams.
Guidance for referees is available from the UCAS website.
UCAS guidance on reference writing
The University's Medical School has also produced guidance for people writing references for medical applicants. It can be found via the page linked below.
Writing a reference for medical applicants