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. We can't consider an application without this.

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, though they do need some insight into the course you are applying for and our emphasis on academic criteria so that they can comment on relevant skills and achievements. or internationational students, the referee will normally be a teacher or University Counsellor who is able to give a sense of your intellectual ability and capacity, explain where you stand in your current cohort, and comment on the likelihood that you will flourish in a highly academic environment.

In order to comment in detail about your academic ability, achievements and progress, your referee will need to collect information and comments from your various subject teachers. They will also need the information necessary to predict grades in each subject for any exams that you have not yet taken.

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 and include their points in the UCAS reference. Out of fairness to all candidates, we cannot accept additional references sent to the College via email etc.

Your reference cannot be written by somebody who is related to you.

NB if you will be aged 21 or over at the start of your course, please also refer to our mature students page.

Must the reference be in English?

Yes. We are not able to consider references if they are not in English.

If this is particularly difficult, a draft of your reference could be proof-read and/or translated by someone who is a fluent English speaker. The final version in English must be provided in the UCAS application.


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.


What information should be included in the reference?

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. For international students this includes both

  • An overall grade or average (if one is normally awarded for your qualification)
  • Scores or grades in individual subjects

We realise that many teachers worldwide will not be used to predicting exam grades, how we nonetheless ask that these should be provided - if you have exams that you have not yet taken at the point of application, we cannot consider your application without grade predictions.

You may be aware that we have typical offers (see our entrance requirements). If we select you for a conditional offer, the offer conditions may be tailored to the applicant and may vary by subject. 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

Third Court border

If you come from a school context associated with weaker academic outcomes, or low levels of progression to university, you should ensure that you or your referee mentions this fact in your reference.

Further resources


Back to the international students applying page.