The Blyth Building, seen from the Fellows Garden
Fellows Garden & Blyth Building

Your UCAS application must include a reference written by somebody who can comment in detail on your academic ability and potential, and predict grades for any exams that you have not yet taken.

Who should write the UCAS reference?

The ideal referee is somebody who knows you and your academic profile well. They don't have to be a specialist in the area that you wish to study at university, but they do need some insight into the course you are applying for so that they can comment on relevant skills and achievements, and they will need to liaise with your subject teachers to include subject-specific detail and predicted grades.

Normally your referee will be a subject teacher, your sixth form tutor or a UCAS Adviser. Your reference cannot be written by somebody who is related to you.

Only one reference can be given via UCAS. If you have more than one person who you would like to write a reference, it is best that you ask your UCAS referee to liaise with the second person (as they would for a subject teacher) and include their points in the UCAS reference.


What name and contact details should my referee give? 

Your referee should give their own name and contact details. This sounds obvious, but we find that referees are often tempted to give the name and contact details of somebody more senior at the school, such as the headteacher or of a more senior staff member. This this can cause problems and delays if we have a question so we prefer it if the named referee and contact details are those of the person who really wrote your reference.

We recommend that referees do not give a generic admin office email address, as although it is rare for us to contact referees, we do sometimes and delayed receipt could cause problems.


What information should be included?

The reference should comment in detail on your academic ability and capacity, achievements and commitment relevant to the subject you are applying for. Your referee will need to explain where you stand in your current cohort, and comment on the likelihood that you will flourish in a highly academic environment, and they will need to  back up their comments with specific examples where possible (e.g. performance in class tests, homework, contributions in lessons and super-curricular exploration and achievements).

Particularly helpful details:

  • Where you rank in your school cohort
    top student out of a class of 20 / in the top four out of 23
  • Any other relevant rankings
    Example: one of our top 10 university applicants this year
  • Examples of your willingness to explore and discuss ideas outside of the school syllabus (if you are applying for a course that you already study) or how you have explored the subject (if you are applying for a subject that you don't already study)

If you have had a major achievement in a relevant subject outside of your school work, it is important that your referee is aware and includes it in the reference. We do not need to know about achievements in unrelated hobbies and activities such as sport, music and drama as we only assess you on academic criteria, but a strong performance or engagement in some aspect of your subject, or a high quality piece of work that you have completed on your own initiative, should certainly be set out.

Referees should be honest and accurate in their appraisal, but if they believe in you, then they do need to “sell you” to the assessor. This is especially important if you are applying before you have completed school (since the referee’s predictions will be used by universities as a gauge of how well you are likely to do in your exams).

Referees may also need to explain any area of relative underperformance in your application. If they can bring in relevant counter examples that show ability at a higher level on other occasions, or explain factors that may have lead to your underperformance, this context is helpful.


Predicted grades

Your referee must predict your grades for any exams that you have not yet taken. You may be aware that we have typical offers (e.g. A*AA / A*A*A for different courses at A level). If we select you for a conditional offer, the offer conditions may be tailored to the applicant. Note that offer conditions are most likely to reflect the demands of the course you are applying for, as well as any areas of concern identified at interview, rather than predicted grades as such.


Contextual Information and Extenuating Circumstances

Don't worry if you come from a school context associated with weaker academic outcomes, or low levels of progression to university. Although it's helpful if your referee mentions this fact in your reference, we also use contextual information, which we take into account when assessing applications. 

If your performance in education has been affected by other factors (such as dyslexia, ill health, familial or personal disruption), then it may be appropriate to ask a teacher or doctor to submit an Extenuating Circumstances Form on your behalf.

Further resources


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