Changes to undergraduate references for 2024 entry

Streamlining references for 2024 undergraduate entry.

We’ve worked with over 180 universities and colleges, 700 teachers and representative bodies, and nearly 15,000 students to build on the findings from the Reimagining UK Admissions report 2021

Following an extensive review of the UCAS Undergraduate reference process with our adviser and provider advisory groups, including The Admissions Development Group, and broader validation with our key customer groups, reference requirements will be changing for 2024 entry.  

  • Universities and colleges have told us that it’s becoming challenging to meaningfully compare applicants’ academic references as the content varies from referee to referee.  
  • Advisers report increasing pressure to invest more and more time in compiling the references with an expectation that this will increase applicants’ chances of success.  

Kate Davidson, Lead Admissions Officer, University of Aberdeen

References are there to reinforce what’s on that application form. What we want are the exceptional circumstances that may surround an applicant. The new structure hopefully won’t take an adviser so long, it’ll be much shorter, much more succinct and we won’t miss anything.

References will have three distinct sections

To help advisers focus their references on the areas universities and colleges want to know more about, we’re replacing the free text approach with three structured sections.  

These sections will start from the 2024 entry cycle, which opens in May for all undergraduate applications:  

Key benefits

  • Advisers have built-in clarity and confidence they are providing information that is useful.
  • Advisers have more time and resources to allocate to students on the discovery phase of their application journey.
  • Universities and colleges can easily find information to make selection decisions and target support.

As with personal statements and entry requirements, some universities or colleges may be looking for specific information for specific courses; applicants and advisers are always advised to consider general guidance alongside any local information provided by universities and colleges. 

Reference guidance overview

We've created a helpful one page PDF guide to the reference changes below. Please download and share with colleagues.

Reference guidance overview (141.34 KB)

Rob Evans, Head of Admissions, University of Sussex

The reference is most valuable where it is providing us with additional, contextual information about the student (especially where their educational journey has been, in any way, non-standard). There is considerable variation in what is included in the current reference so the hope is the reformed statement will be fairer to all applicants.

Admissions Development Group

Adviser Lives

We're hosting Adviser Live sessions on references for 2024 and additional reform workshops online, so all teachers and advisers can feed into our reform plans for the future.

Register here

Reference guidance

Example reference statements

These examples have been developed to show the type of information that you could include in each of the sections. This not an exhaustive list and we will add to these materials as appropriate.

View example reference statements 2024 (279.85 KB)

Supporting student references

Watch the first insights from universities and colleges about writing 2024 references for your students. More coming soon...

Additional information and guidance

  • You can use up to 4,000 characters (including spaces, headings and line breaks) or 47 lines of text whichever comes first. 
  • All references must be written in English. 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 for any applicant, including those outside the UK, please remember that – under the Data Protection Act 2018 – the applicant can ask for a copy of the reference and any other personal information we have about them
  • We recommend you inform universities and colleges of any changes to the applicant’s profile or circumstances that occur after the application is submitted to UCAS
  • We recommend you write in a word processor first and then copy and paste into the online application (but watch out for the character and line count – the word processor might get different values because it doesn’t count tabs or paragraphs). There is a reference template in the portal for you to use for section 1 Establishment details. 

  • When you add into the online application, click ‘save’ regularly because it will time out after 35 minutes of inactivity. 
  • You can use some European characters in the reference. 
  • We recommend you save a copy of each reference you write for your records. 
  • Avoid repeating any of the information they’ve given in their application, unless you want to comment on it, and avoid mentioning any university or college. 
  • There must be a completed reference on the application before it is sent to us.  

2024 reference guidance presentation

View and download our 2024 reference guidance for advisers presentation (11.86 MB).

Online course: UCAS references – what you need to know. The course can be accessed through the UCAS Professional Development Platform.

Predicted grades

As part of the reference, you will be asked to provide predicted grades for those qualifications entered as ‘pending’ – see further specific guidance.  

If you are a referee and work in the school the applicant is applying from, the application will be available in the adviser portal – see how to input the reference in the adviser portal.

Reference processes and terminology

Understand the reference processes and terminology for independent, centre-linked, and reference-only applicants.

Updated FAQs - general

Updated FAQs on section 1

Updated FAQs on section 2

Updated FAQs on section 3

Sarah Allen, Acting Head of Recruitment and Admissions, Arts University Plymouth

Changing the reference structure to focus on a few core areas will help make the process more efficient for schools and colleges, ensuring you know exactly what we need you to include in your answer, so you can be safe in the knowledge you have included the most useful key additional information to document your student's educational journey. This also helps ensure the process is fair for applicants, as a consistent reference structure is followed for all.