When you ask someone to write a reference for you, you’re asking them to ‘recommend’ you.  There are a few things that you can do to help your referees do their best for you.  Here are my tips.

1.  Remember What Mummy Said: Ask Nicely!

It’s not really great when, as a referee, you get an email out of the blue asking you for a recommendation for a person.  It’s happened to me before and you’re kind of torn between wanting to help out and wanting to say “I’ve not heard from you in years!” or “Ok, but it would’ve been nice if you’d asked me first?”.

So, get in touch with your referees and ask them if they would be happy to write a reference for you – BEFORE you give out their details. If you’ve not had contact for some time, perhaps it’s a good idea to remind them of you before you have to ask for a favour.  Just a thought…

2. I Kid You Not, But Your Referees Have a Life, too

Try not to put your referees in a position where they have to write a reference for you last minute.  They might not be able to to do it.  Or, they might write it in a rush and this won’t help your application.

Tell your referees when you’re planning to send your Masters application.  As the university will contact them for a reference as soon as you submit your application, it’s a good idea for them prepare your references in advance.

3. Give Your Referees Some Details About Your Masters Application

Ask yourself, do your referees have enough information about the subject, course and university they’re supposed to recommend you for?

Help your referees by sending them a few points on each of your courses if you’re applying to more than one (which you should). This way, they can write their references and change them slightly every time they get a new request for you.

4.  It’s Your Personal Statement but You Could Still Share It

If you’ve already written your personal statement, it can be helpful to send it to your referees. Remind them of your academic and other achievements – as well as any details that could be useful when they write the reference letter.

If you don’t yet have a personal statement or don’t want to share it with your referees, send them a few points instead.

5.  Is Your Referee Still Using that Email Address?

Make sure to have these details about your referees ready, as you’ll need at least some of them when filling in the Masters application form:

  • Full name
  • Title (Prof, Dr, Mr, Mrs and so on)
  • University/Company (where they work)
  • Department (where they work)
  • Job Title
  • Official email address (this can’t be Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! or other free email accounts)
  • Telephone number
  • How they know you (teacher, professor, line-manager and so on)

6.  What If You Have Printed Reference Letters

Most of the time, universities want your referees’ contact details so they can ask your references for recommendations on your behalf.  Some universities don’t accept ‘open’ references, meaning, if you already have reference letters, they won’t take them.

Always check as some universities will indeed allow you to scan and upload your references with your online Masters application.  But they usually want the reference to have been issued on headed letter paper.

Other universities might accept printed references only if they’re sent in an envelope that has been sealed by your referee.

7.   If You Apply Without a Reference

If you’re waiting to confirm your referees’ details and the application deadline is coming up, it’s a better to send your application without references and to explain the situation to the university.

Most universities should be fine with that, although some may not.  Or, they might give you a deadline by which to confirm your referees’ details.

8.  If You Need to Change Your Referee

Many universities will allow you to change your referees or their contact details after you’ve submitted your Masters application.

If you need to do this, check with the university how to update the details –  online or by sending an email?  Also, do it as soon as possible as otherwise the university will contact the referees you’ve already put in your application.

9.  Offer ‘Subject to References’

If you apply without references and the admissions staff are impressed with your application, they could make you an offer ‘subject to references’.  It depends on the university though.

If you get an offer ‘subject to references’, well done.  Now, get in touch with your referees so they know that the university will be contacting them to confirm your offer.

Final Thoughts

Good references can make a difference to whether or not the university will offer you a place.  If your qualifications are slightly below the Masters requirements but you have a great personal statement and very supportive references, the university might still see your application positively.

On the other hand, if your references aren’t very supportive, the admissions staff won’t simply ignore this.  It may change their decision, or they might interview you before making a final decision.

I’m sure most referees want to write supportive references – otherwise they would tell you to ask someone else.  But you can help your referees by giving them enough time and information.  In other words, do your best for them – and they will do their best for you.

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