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

UCAS registered centres can be schools, colleges, centres or agents based in the UK, EU or international. You need to apply to become a UCAS registered centre.

Independent applicants 

  • These applicants are usually either in employment, no longer attending school, home educated, considered ‘mature applicants’ (over the age of 21), or simply want to be independent from the centre-linked process below.
  • Applicants start their UCAS application and confirm they do not want to be linked to a UCAS registered centre. UCAS refers to them as ‘independent’ applicants.
  • To obtain a reference, applicants enter their independent referee’s email address in the ‘reference’ section of their application.
  • Applicants who apply independently, must ask for a reference from someone who knows them in an academic or professional capacity. It must not be a family member, friend, partner, or ex-partner, and they must not write it themselves.
  • We ask applicants to make sure they have the agreement of their chosen referee before entering their details into their application.  
  • The referee will get an email notification from UCAS with a link and password. The referee can then enter the reference and the applicant’s predicted grades (if applicable).
  • The referee can only see the qualifications that require predicted grades. They cannot view the applicant’s full application.
  • Once the referee has completed the reference, UCAS notifies the applicant, although they cannot see the reference.
  • Students are responsible for submitting their application to UCAS by the appropriate deadline.
  • If you have been asked to provide a reference for an independent applicant read our advice on what to include.


Centre-linked applicants 

These applicants are usually still in full-time education at school or college.

  • Applicants start their UCAS application and confirm they want to be linked to a centre. They enter a ‘buzzword’ at the beginning of the application process (buzzwords are unique and set by the UCAS registered centre).
  • Applicants confirm the centre name and consent to sharing their data with them.
  • UCAS links the applicant to the centre. These applicants automatically appear in the centre’s  adviser portal (only available to UCAS registered centres).
  • The centre has roles and responsibilities, including reviewing the application, returning the application to the applicant for updates and amendments, adding a reference and predicted grades, and approving both the reference and application.
  • The centre is responsible for submitting the application to UCAS by the appropriate deadline.

Reference-only applicants 

These applicants are usually no longer attending school or college, potentially in work or on a gap year.

  • Applicants can start the UCAS application and do not link to the centre – they are technically classed as ‘independent’ applicants. 
  • Applicants sign in to the UCAS application and add the buzzword to the reference section. They then have a ‘reference only’ link with the centre.
  • These ‘reference-only’ applicants will appear in the adviser portal under the ‘waiting to link to centre’ filter. The centre can either accept or decline the request. 
  • If accepted, the centre will be able to see the application, but can only add the reference and predicted grades (if applicable).
  • Once the reference has been approved by the centre, they have completed their part of the process.
  • UCAS notifies the applicant this has been completed (they cannot see the reference).
  • Students are responsible for submitting the application to UCAS by the appropriate deadline.

Once a centre has accepted a request from a reference-only request, an applicant cannot unlink themselves – you’ll need to contact UCAS. Please remember to check the type of link request before accepting it.  

If you’re a teacher, counsellor or tutor at school or college, please also refer to the reference guidance for UCAS registered centres