Tips on writing a UCAS Reference

Whether you are new to writing UCAS references or write hundreds every year, this guide will help you perfect the art of writing a university reference for your students.

What is a UCAS reference?

UCAS references are an important part of the UCAS journey and provide an academic assessment of an applicant’s suitability for a course. They allow an unbiased but positive account of a student and their abilities, in addition to their own personal statement. Like a personal statement, UCAS references also have to be less than either 4000 characters or 47 lines.

Who should write the reference?

It is important to remember that it is an academic reference, so it should not be written by family, friends or partners as this could result in the application being cancelled. References should be written by somebody who knows the applicant academically, such as a current teacher, tutor, principal or head teacher.

If the applicant left education years ago, an employer, volunteering supervisor or trainer can write the reference.

As a referee, you will need to provide your contact details such as email address, phone number, school/college name and full address, as well as your relationship to the student.

What are we looking for?

We spoke to Antonia Fox, Senior Admissions Administrator, who gave us an insight into what exactly you should include in the reference.


  • It is important that you include a summary of the student’s academic performance and give accurate predicted grades. These help inform the university of what the student is expected to achieve
  • If the student is taking non-standard qualifications, resitting qualifications or having exam papers re-marked, include this in the reference. The Admissions team will find this helpful when assessing their application
  • If you feel the predicted grades for the student do not portray their potential, now is your opportunity to provide further information or evidence about their academic ability

Skills, achievements and experience

Alongside academic qualifications, you can include information on the student’s skills, achievements and experience. This will help evidence the student’s potential to succeed in Higher Education and how they might contribute to university life.

  • It doesn’t have to be all academic, make sure you include information about their achievements and skills, in and outside of school
  • If the student has completed any work experience or voluntary experience relevant to their course or career aspirations, include a summary of their contributions from the provider of the experience if suitable

Top Tips:

  • If you don’t know the student very well, you can always interview them to gather supporting evidence
  • Write your reference in a word file and then copy and paste your reference into the online application, the page will time out after 35 minutes of inactivity
  • Support all of the statements with evidence, but try not to repeat what the student has already put in their personal statement
  • Research the course/subject the student is applying for so you can explain why the student would be suitable
  • You can include a statement about the school/college to provide context, but make sure to relate this to the student’s experience
  • Remember that references need to be formal but avoid using a template for all of your references, make sure it is personalised for each student

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