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Getting a teacher to write your Ucas reference? Here’s how to help them boost your application

Universities will be looking for a good reference on your Ucas application – and there are a few things you can do to assist your referee

Teachers meet all the requirements to be a referee for your university application – they know your academic work, predicted grades and personal circumstances. 

So if a teacher has agreed to be your referee, you should have a chat with them about how your Ucas reference will be written.

We’ve put together some guidance on what universities want to see from your reference as well as some things you can do to help your teacher write the recommendation you’re after.

What do universities want to see in a reference?

Extenuating circumstances and supporting information 

The reference will be split into three sections – information about the college, extenuating circumstances and supporting information. 

You don’t need to worry about the general statement about your college, but the following two sections are for explaining things that may have impacted your education as well as information about you that shows you’d be a good student.

So be honest with your teacher about anything that’s affected your studies – and also let them know about your hobbies, work experience and anything else that shows your passion for the subject. 

They want to know about you, not just your grades

The reference should reflect your personality as well as your academic ability – universities want to know if you’re likely to turn up, hand work in and contribute to seminars.

Teachers usually won’t write a bad reference, but universities can read between the lines if some positive things aren’t mentioned. A solid reference will reflect your reliability, positivity and dedication to your education.

Some references have special requirements

Oxford and Cambridge have a different application process and are often dealt with by specialist tutors at colleges – and the same applies to medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses.

If you are applying for any of these, your deadline is much earlier than everyone else’s – so give your teacher enough notice.

It has to be accurate

Reliable grade predictions are important for getting an offer, so the predicted grades your school submits will likely be a true reflection of your ability. 

While your overall reference can have a big impact on your application, what your teacher writes is out of your hands – but you should trust them to highlight your best qualities. 

So, how can you help your referee?

Have a chat about your application as soon as possible – try not to leave it as a last-minute surprise before the January deadline. Here are six things you can do to support your teacher as they write your reference.

1) Make sure your teacher knows what course you’re applying for, so they can focus on why you’d be a suitable student for that specific subject.

2) If your teacher hasn’t written a reference before, make sure they take a look at the guidance Ucas have published on what to write; there have been changes to undergraduate references for 2024 entry. 

3) Talk to your teacher about any personal circumstances you want a university to know about, including the phrasing you’d prefer them to use. 

4) If you have any exam scores you want to be put in the spotlight, ask your teacher to mention them in your reference – it’s worth shouting about if you got top marks in a module.

5) An impressive reference will highlight extra-curricular achievements or relevant hobbies that show you’re serious about the subject, so let your teacher know what you’ve been up to outside of class.

6) Say thank you. Writing a reference can be time-consuming, especially if they’re writing more than one. A good referee will go the extra mile to help you get the place you want – so let them know you appreciate the effort they’re putting in. 

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