If you have been asked to write a reference for an applicant, please read through the advice below before starting. The advice is intended for all referees, including tutors, employers, careers advisers and other suitable persons. Please follow the guidance that is relevant to the applicant requesting the reference.
UCAS references are designed to provide universities and colleges with an informed and academic assessment of an applicant's suitability for further study. It is the only part of the application that the applicants do not write themselves. Universities and colleges are looking for the following key facts about a student:
Read the whole application so that you can understand the applicant's intended career direction, chosen courses and preferred places of study. When writing your reference, you do not need to repeat any of the information that the student has given, unless you want to comment on it. Please note that you should not include a direct reference to any particular university or college, because at this stage we do not allow them to see the identity of the other institutions to which an applicant has applied and they will all read your reference.
If you are writing a reference for an international applicant, please write in English. If the applicant's first language is not English, please comment on their ability to write and speak in English, and indicate if any of their studies were taught in English.
If you teach the applicant now or taught them prior to their taking a break from education, please give details and describe how they compare with others in their class.
If the applicant is on an access course, foundation course or other one-year course, you may not have known them long enough to write a full reference. In this case, please say so and explain that you are providing a temporary reference (including as much detail as you can) and will provide a complete reference next spring. All supplementary references should be sent directly to all the chosen institutions and should quote the applicant's Personal ID.
If you are supplying the reference from a school or college it can be useful to include brief details about the school/college, such as:
If the student's own situation is different to the typical school policy, it is helpful to give details of this. If you choose to enter details about the school/college, please ensure that they are succinct, as the reference should focus mainly on the applicant rather than the centre.
If the applicant is re-certificating their mathematics or further mathematics AS or A level, you may wish to add a comment in the reference explaining that the applicant is only re-certificating and not re-sitting the exam. Students who are taking AS or A level mathematics or further mathematics are advised by their awarding organisation to re-certificate these qualifications at the end so that the best combination of grades is awarded. For example, the AS mathematics will be listed as both a completed and pending qualification.
The most important part of your reference is your assessment of the applicant's suitability for the higher education courses they have chosen. We recommend that you consider including the following points.
Students are asked to state any disabilities or special needs in a separate part of the application. Students are not obliged to disclose such information on their application; however, early disclosure gives the universities and colleges more time to prepare and arrange the support that a student may need. Some referees may wish to mention the student's learning difference or disability in an academic context, such as how they currently cope at school or college.
Many courses provide details of the selection criteria and attributes they are looking for in their prospectuses, websites, or Entry Profiles. This may be a helpful starting point, particularly if you are constructing a reference for a course that you have little prior experience in recommending an applicant for.
When writing a reference for any applicant, including those outside the UK, please remember that, under the Data Protection Act, the applicant can ask for a copy of the reference and any other personal information that we have about them.
If the application, including the reference, has any information missing, or has any false or misleading information, we and the universities and colleges have the right to cancel the application and withdraw any offers without reimbursing the application fee.
You only need to enter information in this section if the applicant is currently studying or is awaiting results. Each pending qualification that the applicant has entered on their application will be listed in the reference section. Please select / enter the predicted grade for each qualification listed. If you cannot provide predicted grades, this section can be left blank.
It is helpful if referees are honest and clear about particular subjects students are having difficulty with. If a low predicted grade is accompanied by a glowing reference it can be difficult to see the relationship between the two. Therefore it is useful if referees are able to say in the reference why a student is achieving this grade, whether a higher grade is within their grasp and whether they have the potential and/or motivation to reach this higher grade. This can help universities and colleges take into account a student's potential as well as their previous performance.
If a student's predicted grade is not a reflection of their true abilities, it is useful to state why the student has been disadvantaged and what their intellectual potential ought to allow them to get. This is also true in cases where a student is likely to improve in the time between the application being made and the exams taken.
The reference should be written using a standard word-processing package and should not exceed 4,000 characters (this includes spaces) or 47 lines (this includes blank lines), whichever is the shorter. Unfortunately, you cannot use bold, italics or underlining in the reference. If these types of formatting are used, they will be removed from the text when your reference is pasted onto the application and saved.
Applicants and referees can enter some European characters that are not in the English alphabet (extended character sets) in certain fields of Apply and Staff Apply. Information shown to applicants in Apply refers to the extended characters as 'European characters'. Not all institutions can view these characters correctly, so a version of the application with substituted English characters is also made available to them. Characters that do not have a suitable ASCII English character version will be substituted with '#'.
If you are entering the reference into the application system, we recommend that you save your contact details before adding your reference. Please make sure that you save your reference at regular intervals because the application system will time-out after 35 minutes of inactivity and any unsaved material will be lost.
Please save a copy of your reference for your records.
If you have a question about the reference which is not answered above, please read through our FAQs.