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, it’s easy – there’s usually a careers adviser or teacher on site who writes references as part of their day job. However, if you left education some time ago, it may not be as straight forward. This is where an employer or professional colleague can help.
A professional reference can help uni admissions staff gain a holistic impression of the applicant who’s applying, including their personal attributes and their ambitions. This helps the university understand the applicant's capability to succeed, which is a crucial part of the decision-making process.
Who can and can’t write a reference?
A professional colleague can provide your reference, 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
An application may be cancelled if the reference is supplied by one of the following:
- Family member
- Close friend
Some unis won’t accept a reference from a non-professional email account (e.g. Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) so make sure you check this carefully.
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 page in Apply. 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.