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, considered ‘mature applicants’ (over the age of 21), or simply want to be independent from the centre-linked process below.

  • Applicants start the 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.
  • The referee will get an email notification from UCAS with a link. 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.

Centre-linked applicants 

These applicants are usually still in full-time education.

  • 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.

Independent applicants wanting to link to a centre

Sometimes students start their application without having obtained the buzzword from their centre. However, this can be rectified and they can be linked to their centre after they’ve started the application.

  • Applicants can sign in to their UCAS application and from their status bar click on the three dots (…), click ‘link to a school/centre’ and add the unique buzzword set by their centre.
  • Applicants confirm the centre name and consent to sharing their data with them.
  • These applicants will appear in the ‘waiting to link to centre’ filter button in the centre’s adviser portal (only available to UCAS registered centres). The centre either accept or decline their request to link (referred to in the adviser portal as ‘full application’)
  • Once the ‘full application’ is accepted, the centre is then responsible for submitting the application to UCAS.

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.