Why you need a reference, who to choose as a referee, and how to add it to your application.

Why do people need a reference to apply to university? 

Universities and colleges receive thousands of applications from prospective students they’ve never met.  

They need to assess whether someone is suitable for the course, and able to cope with the demands of higher education before making them an offer of a place.  

If you’re still at school or college, there’s usually a careers adviser or teacher who you can speak to about providing a reference. If you left education some time ago, your employer or professional colleague can provide a reference. 

A professional reference can help add context to your application, so university and college admissions staff gain an impression of who’s applying. This helps them understand your capability to succeed, which is a crucial part of the process.

Who can and can’t write a reference? 

Your reference should be provided by someone who knows you professionally and can comment on relevant skills, experiences, and attributes. For example: 

  • an employer who knows you well (e.g. a line manager)
  • current or previous work colleague 
  • college or school tutor 
  • careers adviser 
  • training assessor  
  • volunteer leaders 
  • education counsellors

An application may be cancelled if the reference is supplied by one of the following: 

  • yourself 
  • family member 
  • partner 
  • ex-partner 
  • close friend 

Some universities and colleges won’t accept a reference from a non-professional email account (e.g. Yahoo, Hotmail) so make sure you check this carefully before asking someone to provide your reference.  

How to complete your reference 

The process varies depending on whether you’re applying through a school, college, or other UCAS-registered centre, or whether you’re applying as an individual.  

If you’re applying through a school, college, or other centre, they will arrange for your reference to be provided to UCAS once you have paid your application fee. 

If you’re applying as an individual, you will need to ask a teacher, adviser, or professional who knows you if they’d be happy to provide you with a reference. You will then need to add their details to the reference section in your application. We’ll then email them with a link and password so they can add their reference online. Once the reference is complete, you pay the application fee and send your application to us.  

Have you been asked to provide a reference? 

Read our advice on what to include in a reference.