Your school reference is an important part of your UCAS application.  Here are 7 UCAS reference mistakes applicants make – and how you can avoid them.

1.  You Don’t Give Your Referee Enough Time

Writing a good reference takes some time.

When writing your reference, your referee needs to look at the information you’ve put in your UCAS application, such as your previous exam results, your personal statement and your course choices.

Your referee then needs to write a professional letter to support your application in the best way possible.

A typical mistake that applicants make is that they send their reference request to their referee at the last minute, forgetting that their referee might be busy with other things.

To help your referee help you, allow enough time when you ask for a reference – at least two or three weeks before you need to submit your application.

Remember, you won’t be able to send your reference request to your referee until you have completed all other sections of your UCAS application.

2.  You Don’t Plan Ahead

If you’re sending your UCAS application through your school, your school will probably give you a deadline by which to complete your application.  This way, they can have someone write the reference and approve your application in good time.

If you’re applying independently, you have to get organised.

Contact your referee in advance.  Tell them when your UCAS application deadline is and agree with them when to send them your reference request.

It’s a good idea to do this at least one month before you need to submit your UCAS application. If for some reason your referee can’t write your reference, you have time to ask someone else to do it.

3.  You Don’t Have a Reference

If you don’t have a reference, your UCAS application will be incomplete.  You won’t be able to submit it.

This will delay your application and if you can’t find a referee quickly enough, you could miss your application deadline.

You can only send your UCAS application without a reference if all your university choices agree to receive it without one.

If you have difficulties getting your reference and the application deadline is coming up soon, you could call your university choices to ask if they agree for you to send your UCAS application first and your reference later. They may not agree, but it’s worth trying if you have no other option.

4.  You Don’t Understand Your Predicted Grades

If you’re still in school and have exams to take, your reference will say what grades you’re predicted to achieve.

If you don’t find out from your teacher what grades they predict for you, you might end up saying something in your personal statement, and your UCAS reference could say something else.

If you’re not happy with your predicted grades, speak with your teacher.  But don’t try to convince him or her to predict you results that aren’t realistic for you to achieve.

If your predicted grades are much higher than what you got in past exams and there is nothing in your reference to explain it, the admissions staff will think it strange.

Also, if you get a high offer because of high predicted grades and you don’t achieve those grades, you will have wasted one of your UCAS choices.

5. You Don’t Follow Up With Your Referee

A few days before your UCAS deadline, make sure to check if your referee has written your UCAS reference.

You can do this yourself in the UCAS online system.  When you’re logged into ‘Apply’, your welcome message should tell you if your reference has been started or completed.

After sending your reference request, don’t simply sit back and assume your referee will write your reference and send your application.  Mistakes can happen.

It does happen every now and then that a referee doesn’t see the request for a reference or simply forgets to write it.  If an applicant doesn’t check, they could end up missing their UCAS application deadline as a result.

Make sure this doesn’t happen to you.  If the ‘References’ section in UCAS is not showing as ‘completed’, you should contact your referee to remind him or her when the deadline for submitting your UCAS application is.

6.  You Miss Your Referee’s Request for Changes

A typical UCAS application delay is: The referee looks at your UCAS application,  but you need to make some changes before he or she can write your reference.

Make sure you keep a close eye on your application so you don’t miss any request for changes from your referee.  If the referee asks you to make any changes, make them as soon as possible and send the application back to your referee.

You do this by selecting ‘Pay/Send’ (you don’t have to pay if you already paid last time, or if your school is paying for you).  Your referee will then check your application again and will write your reference.

7.  You Don’t Check If Your Application Has Been Sent

Before your application deadline, make sure you check that your application has been sent to UCAS.

When your application has been sent to UCAS, your UCAS Welcome screen will say:  ‘Your Application has been sent to UCAS and will be processed shortly.’

Look for a message on your UCAS Welcome screen that confirms your application has been sent. If you can’t find it, your application hasn’t been sent.

If your application has not been sent and you’re applying through your school, contact your school to check when they will send it. It may be that they want you to make some changes.

Or it could be that the person who was supposed to send thought it was submitted ok, but it wasn’t actually sent.

If you’re applying on your own, make sure to check that all your application sections have been completed, including the ‘Pay/Send’ section.


Although you have to rely on someone else to write your reference for you, remember to keep responsibility for your own UCAS application.

Always keep track of which stage your application is at and whether your referee has written your reference.

It’s very important that you give your referee enough time to write your reference, and that you respond quickly to any changes they might request that you make.

Before the application deadline, look for a message in UCAS Track confirming that your application has been sent to UCAS.

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