When deciding on your UCAS application, the university will want to see a supportive reference for you. But who can and who CAN’T write your UCAS reference?

1.  What Is A UCAS Reference

A UCAS reference is a letter that your school writes to recommend you to your university choices.

If you’re sending your UCAS application through your school, one of your teachers will add the reference to your application before it’s submitted to UCAS.

The UCAS reference is confidential.  This means you can’t see it (unless you make a special request to UCAS) and only the universities that you’ve applied to will receive it.

All universities that you have applied to will get the same reference for you.

2.  Why Universities Ask for a Reference

A reference helps the admissions staff make a decision on your application in three ways:

1.  They get more information about your academic abilities and achievements.  This time from a teacher or a senior staff from your school.

2.  They hear from someone else about you. Not just what you’re like as a student, but also as a person.

3.  They will have a recommendation for you from someone who knows you well.

3.  How Universities Use The UCAS Reference

Universities use you school reference together with other information to make a decision on your application.

Some universities will make you an offer as long as your reference doesn’t say anything negative about you.  Other universities won’t make you an offer unless your reference is positive and gives a strong recommendation for you for the course you’re applying to.

Universities and indeed courses have their own rules for how important the reference is to their decision.   To many, it is very important.

For courses that are very selective or that receive a lot more applications, the admissions staff might give points to the applicants based on how good their school reference is. The points are then used (together with other information) to decide which applicants to choose.

4.  What Goes in a UCAS Reference

A lot of what your referee writes in your reference is be about your studies, your academic achievements and your grades.

Usually this will include:

  • How well you’re doing at school.
  • The subjects you’re strong in, and possibly also areas that you need more help with.
  • Your grades – Either actual grades or predicted grades, if you’re still taking exams.
  • Your achievements and how they compare to other students in your class.
  • Any ‘special considerations’ such as difficult circumstances or illness that may have affected some of your exam results.

The reference should say why the subject that you’re applying for is right for you.  For example, your referee will say whether you’re strong in this area.  He or she might also mention your future career plans.  If you have some ideas, make sure to tell your referee about them.

Your referee would usually also give his or her opinion about you.  For example, whether you have the right attitude to your studies, how you deal with challenges, how enthusiastic and positive you are, and how you get along with your teachers and other students.

Ideally, your reference will include a clear recommendation that the university offers you a place for the course that you’re applying for.

5. Who Can Give You A UCAS Reference

You would usually ask one of your teachers from school to write you a reference.  If you have already left school, you should ask a previous teacher.

Your referee needs to be able to talk about what you have achieved, what you’re capable of achieving and your interests in and outside school.

If you’ve had any problems during your studies or in any of your exams, your referee needs to be able explain what has happened.

6.  Asking for a Work Reference

If you  left school a while ago and can’t get a school reference, you can provide a work reference instead.

In this case, your referee should highlight how your skills and experience make you a suitable candidate for the course you’re applying to.

Your work reference needs to be about your academic abilities and your suitability for the course, as well as your professional achievements.

To help your referee write your reference, you should send him or her information about the courses you’re applying to.    If your referee has not written a UCAS reference before, remind them not to mention any of the universities or courses by name.

7.  Who Can’t Give You a UCAS Reference

You shouldn’t ask a person that doesn’t know you well to act as your referee.

Remember, your referee needs to be able to give the universities information about you and a recommendation for you to  help them make a decision.

If your referee doesn’t know you well as a student, person or employee, this might show in your reference.  Your application could look weaker as a result.

Also, sorry to state something that’s very obvious, but your parents, family members or friends can’t write your UCAS reference for you.


A good reference can make all the difference to your UCAS application. Universities will always read your reference before making a final decision on your application, although how much weight they give to it can vary.

Your reference is especially important if the course you’ve chosen is particularly selective, or if it gets a lot more applications than there are places available.

Choose your referee wisely and make sure it’s someone who knows you well and is able to write the best possible reference for you.

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