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 ask that referees do not give a generic admin office email address, as we are unable to send emails and questions  about an indiviudal application to a generic office email address.

What information should be included?

The UCAS reference is now divided into three sections:

  • Section 1: School context
  • Section 2: Applicant-specific mitigating factors and extenuating circumstances*
  • Section 3: Any other information**
IMPORTANT: Please ensure that your referee reads the Cambridge University advice for referees for details of what to include in each of these sections.

Particularly important to be aware of:

*In addition to completing Section 2, you will need your referee (or a GP etc.) to complete an Extenuating Circumstances Form if your education or home life has been seriously disrupted or disadvantaged through health, disability, difficulties with schooling (other than Covid-19), or challenging personal or family circumstances. If you have a disability, Specific Learning Difficulty or long-term illness, we encourage you to disclose this in your UCAS application, and the process after that is set out on our disability, Specific Learning Difficulty and long-term illness page here.

**It is particularly important to ensure that your referee understands that in Section 3 they need to comment in detail on your academic ability and capacity, achievements and commitment relevant to the courses you are applying for. We recommend a minimum of 2000 characters are used for this section. 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). There are examples of the content for section 3 in the link above.

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).


Achievements outside your school work

If you have had a major achievement in a relevant subject outside of your school work, it is important to ensure 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.

Be aware that in Section 2, 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 so again, do ensure that they have any relevant information from outside your school work.


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

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.

Further resources


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