How you get a reference for your application depends on if you’re applying individually, or through a school, college, or a centre registered with UCAS.
How to choose a referee
If possible, they 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.
- In a current or recent school or college, ask your tutor, teacher, principal or head teacher.
- If you left education years ago, ask an employer, volunteering supervisor or trainer.
- Don’t ask family, friends, partners or ex-partners though – if you do your application may be cancelled.
Applying through a school, college or centre?
- Before arranging the reference the school, college or centre will let you know when and how to pay your application fee.
- Then they’ll have a reference written for you by a teacher or tutor who knows you – you won’t have access to this, so you won’t need to do anything for it.
- Next they’ll send your application to us for you – keep in touch with them about how it’s going so that you’ll know when they’ve sent it to us.
Applying as an individual?
- In ‘Options’ on the reference page you could ‘ask a registered school, college or centre to write a reference’ – contact them first, and if they’re happy to provide a reference, add their details and buzzword here.
- Alternatively, if a tutor, trainer or employer is happy to provide a reference, add their email and phone number to the reference page of your application, then click ‘Ask referee to complete reference.’ We’ll email them a link and password to the reference page, and we’ll ask them to confirm their identity before writing it – so it’s important your referee provides a direct email address (not a generic auto-response address), and that they understand the reference must be done online and not emailed or on paper.
- Please give your referee plenty of time to complete your reference, and if they need any advice there are instructions in the reference request email, there’s help text on the reference page and there’s guidance on how to write references below.
- Keep in touch with your referee to make sure the reference is completed in time, and then you’ll be able to pay your application fee and send your application to us.
Applying for Teacher Education in Scotland?
If you're applying for Teacher Education in Scotland, please note that you will only need one reference.
How the reference should be written
If your referee needs guidance on how to write you a reference, send them this link for in-depth advice.
Here’s an overview for you, so that you’ll know what to discuss with them.
- It must be a full reference, written by your referee online in the reference section of your application, in English (or Welsh if you’re applying for courses in Wales).
- It might include your career goals and work experience – so talk these through with them first – as well as how well you’ve done in specific modules or course components.
- If your referee is one of your teachers, they can add your predicted grades for any pending qualifications you’re studying now.
- With your permission, it could include circumstances that have/could affect your academic work, such as a personal problem, illness or any individual needs you have.
Don’t want to include a reference?
There is actually an option to not include a reference, but only if you contact all your chosen universities and colleges and they agree that you don’t need one. Just confirm this on the reference page of your application.
Applying from prison?
If you're applying from prison you need a statement from the prison authorities too – saying you're suitable and available for the start date.
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How to provide a reference for an applicant to higher education.
If you have been asked to provide a reference for an applicant to higher education, we have information in this area to help you.
You can use up to 4,000 characters or 47 lines of text (including spaces and blank lines) – whichever comes first. You will need to write in English, unless the applicant is applying to Welsh universities or colleges and the rest of their application is completed in Welsh – in which case the reference may, of course, be written in Welsh.
When writing a reference, you should remember that – under the terms of the Data Protection Act – applicants can ask for copies of their references and any other personal information that we have about them.
We ask applicants to make sure they have the agreement of their chosen referees before they enter their details. We also ask them not to choose family members, friends, partners or ex-partners as referees. If this describes your relationship with the applicant, please don't agree to be a referee. The applicant is not permitted to write their own reference. If subsequently we find any of the above to be the case, the application may be cancelled.
The process for providing a reference differs depending on the type of study, so click the relevant area below for specific, tailored advice.
- In the changing qualification landscape, an applicant’s reference will play an increasingly important role in providing unis and colleges with information on the applicant's qualifications. To help you when writing references, SPA’s National Expert Think Tank (NETT) on curriculum and qualification reforms has created Guidance for school and college references - what HEPs would like to know
As the reference has a limited set of characters, we recommend you create a web page giving details of your school or college’s qualification offer and the rationale behind it. The URL to this page can then be entered in the reference.
Find out more about qualification reform
Are you a referee for an undergraduate applicant applying through UCAS?
UCAS Undergraduate references
Are you a referee for a performing arts applicant applying through UCAS Conservatoires?
UCAS Conservatoires references
Teacher training references
Are you a referee for a postgraduate teacher training applicant applying through UCAS Teacher Training?
UCAS Teacher Training references
Are you a referee for a postgraduate applicant applying through UKPASS?
UCAS Postgraduate (UKPASS) references
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