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Getting a UCAS reference

A reference is part of your UCAS application required for applying to university.

A reference letter is one part of the UCAS application required for applying to university. Your reference is an example of your integrity, capability and character, working similarly to a recommendation letter.

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Why do I need a reference?

The reference helps assess your suitability for university study in general, as well as for the specific degree you’ve applied for. It should support the information in your personal statement and will be used by Admissions staff to help distinguish you from other applicants.

Who should I choose to be my reference?

Your reference 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.

  • If you’re still at school or have recently left college, your tutor, teacher or principal could be a good reference.

  • If you left education years ago, ask an employer, supervisor or trainer.

  • Don’t ask family, friends, partners or ex partners though - this could result in your application being cancelled.

Only one reference is needed for a UCAS undergraduate application.

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How do I get my reference?

This process depends on how you’re applying.

If you’re applying through a school, college or other educational institution, your referee e.g. your teacher or head of year will complete your reference for you and send it to UCAS.

Students don’t usually see their reference, so you don’t have to do anything at this point. Your school or college will let you know how and when to pay your application fee, then they’ll send your application.

If you’re applying as an individual, you can still ask a school, college or other institution e.g. your former school for a reference. Just go to the ‘Options’ section on the reference page of your UCAS application and click ‘Ask a registered school, college or centre to write a reference’. Make sure you contact them first, then enter their details here.

If it’s an employer or supervisor who’s going to write your reference, simply enter their email address and phone number on the reference page of your application, and click ‘Ask referee to complete reference’. Keep in touch with your referee and as soon as they’ve completed your reference you can pay your application fee and send your application.

If asking your former school or previous employer doesn’t apply to you, you can also ask someone to be your referee if you did charity, volunteer or freelance work with them. Using the same application process as if your referee was a previous employer, just enter their contact details into the reference page of your application and click ‘Ask referee to complete reference’. Again, keep in touch with your referee and as soon as they’ve completed your reference you can pay your application fee and send your application.

What should be included in the reference?

It should be a full, written reference that is included in your online UCAS application. Essentially, they’re providing judgement on your suitability for your chosen course.

It might include your career goals and work experience, so make sure to talk to your referee about these first, as well as how well you’ve done in specific modules on course components. They might mention skills you’ve developed from activities outside of education, so make sure they know all the great things you do; from mentoring younger students to building your own computer.

If your referee is one of your teachers, they can add your predicted grades for any pending qualifications you’re currently studying. With your permission, the reference could also include circumstances that have affected your academic work or performance, such as a personal problem, illness or any individual needs you may have. This may include any adverse impact the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has had on your studies or assessments due to illness, personal circumstances or challenges with learning from home.

It will also help your referee write your reference if you let them know what course you are applying for and let them see your personal statement in advance.

If you'd like to find out more about UCAS and the application process, we have some great guidance on our Journal:

Further information can be found online on the UCAS website.