How to provide a reference for an applicant to higher education.
Writing references
Practical advice on writing informative references, and four referees tell us how to successfully manage the process.
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If you have been asked to provide a reference for an applicant to higher education, we have information in this area to help you.

You can use up to 4,000 characters or 47 lines of text (including spaces and blank lines) – whichever comes first. 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, you should remember that – under the terms of the Data Protection Act – applicants can ask for copies of their references and any other personal information that we have about them.

We ask applicants to make sure they have the agreement of their chosen referees before they enter their details. We also ask them not to choose family members, friends, partners or ex-partners as referees. If this describes your relationship with the applicant, please don't agree to be a referee. The applicant is not permitted to write their own reference. If subsequently we find any of the above to be the case, the application may be cancelled.

The process for providing a reference differs depending on the type of study, so click the relevant area below for specific, tailored advice.

Qualification reform

  • In the changing qualification landscape, an applicant’s reference will play an increasingly important role in providing unis and colleges with information on the applicant's qualifications. To help you when writing references, SPA’s National Expert Think Tank (NETT) on curriculum and qualification reforms has created PDF icon Guidance for school and college references - what HEPs would like to know
  • As the reference has a limited set of characters, we recommend you create a web page giving details of your school or college’s qualification offer and the rationale behind it. The URL to this page can then be entered in the reference. 

Undergraduate references

Are you a referee for an undergraduate applicant applying through UCAS?

Conservatoires references

Are you a referee for a performing arts applicant applying through UCAS Conservatoires?

Teacher training references

Are you a referee for a postgraduate teacher training applicant applying through UCAS Teacher Training?

Postgraduate references

Are you a referee for a postgraduate applicant applying through UKPASS?