A UCAS reference letter example is a great way to learn what reference letters are, who writes them and what kind of information they include. A reference letter is the only part of the application process that is not submitted directly by the student, and acts as a complement to an applicant’s personal statement. If you or your referees need an extra guide in writing a reference letter, read some CaRMS reference letter examples for help. In this blog, we’ll look at what a UCAS reference letter is, what requirements there are to write one, what information is included in them, and who writes them. We’ve also included 3 UCAS reference letter samples to give you an idea of what they look like.
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What a UCAS reference letter is and its requirements
A reference letter is a required part of any UCAS application for universities in the UK. It’s also an extremely important part of your UCAS application, since undergraduate programs in the UK use an applicant’s reference letter as a key deciding factor in admissions decisions. A UCAS reference letter is an account your teachers, tutors or employers write on your behalf, describing your suitability for university study.
Undergraduate applicants are required to submit one reference letter through UCAS. Postgraduate applicants are not required to submit a reference letter with UCAS, but it may be required if the chosen school asks for one. It is highly recommended to include a reference letter anyways, since it can significantly improve your application, especially if you are applying to highly competitive programs such as med schools in the UK. If you are applying to med school in the UK through UCAS, it can be a good idea to read UK medicine personal statement examples, too, as your reference letter and personal statement will be key and complementary parts of your application.
A UCAS reference letter is not the same as a letter of recommendation written to schools in the US. A reference letter is usually the reference from an applicant’s high school or secondary school to the universities in the UK they’re applying to.
A reference letter is a complement to an applicant’s personal statement or statement, but does not repeat the information. The reference letter is also the part of the UCAS application you won’t have any control over, and you likely won’t even be able to read it. You won’t be able to write your own reference letter, and you’ll be required to submit one as part of your UCAS app.
Still unsure how the UK med school application process works? You'll want to check out this video:
Who writes a reference letter?
If you’re wondering how to find referees to ask for your reference letter, it’s recommended to choose the person most closely related to the subject you plan to study in university. For students applying to study sciences for their undergraduate degree, it’s best to ask their science subject teachers or research advisors. If you’re looking at getting a degree in history, ask your history teacher for a reference.
Usually, UCAS reference letters are written by subject teachers, department head, head of sixth form, tutors or school counsellors. For domestic students applying in the UK, reference letters will be familiar to most educators, since any student applying to post-secondary schools will be required to submit one and require at least one teacher reference.
For international students, mature students or any applicants applying through UCAS who have a gap between graduating high school and applying to university, they can ask teachers, principals, tutors, employers or supervisors to be their references, as long as they have at least one.
In the UK, most often subject teachers are asked to write the reference letter. Afterwards, the letter is passed to the head of the department or head of sixth form, and even the school’s guidance counsellor to add their comments before it is submitted to UCAS. Students are notified within 48 hours once the reference letter is submitted for the purpose of completing their application. Students do not usually get to read their reference letter unless the school releases it to them.
How to write a reference letter
Reference letters are submitted online by your referee or school, directly to UCAS. There is a character limit of 4,000, which equal about 500 words. The format does not need to follow the rules for a formal letter, but it does need to stay within the character limit. Reference letters can also include input or comments from multiple teachers or academic referees.
UCAS reference letters don’t need to adhere to a strict format, but they should include key information that will help admissions boards evaluate whether a student is a suitable choice for admission. Reference letters shouldn’t repeat information found in a student’s personal statement, but act as a complementary document to boost the student’s application. They also need to be written in English for all applicants, or Welsh if the chosen school is located in Wales and has this requirement.
Teachers or referees may, however, ask to read a student’s personal statement to have an idea of what information the student included in their statement, their motivations for studying at university and their interests outside of school. Reading an applicant’s personal statement may help inform the referee or referees as they write a reference letter. Your referee may also ask you to go over your career aspirations and goals with them, so they can reference these in your letter.
Some of the important components a reference letter will include are the same elements a student might be evaluated on throughout their secondary school experience. Admissions boards will take a holistic look at an applicant’s academic performance, including grades, attendance record, extracurriculars and work experience. It’s important for you to know what information is habitually included in a reference letter so you can work to build a strong academic profile overall.
Reference letters will usually include comments on a student’s:
You can also look up your chosen school or program on the UCAS website, as you can sometimes find listed the qualities that schools are looking for in their applicants. This way, your referees can include any information about you related to these qualities to be sure your letter is focused and contains the details your chosen school is looking for.
The UCAS application will have required information the reference letter needs to contain, as well as some optional information that can be added if the character count permits. The required information referees should include in a UCAS reference letter include:
- Applicant’s skills and qualities
- Suitability of applicant’s chosen career path or program choice
- Any achievements, work experience and extracurricular activities related to the program of choice
- Preparedness for chosen subject or program
- Commitment to curricular or extracurricular activities
- Student’s academic achievements in context with their peers, where relevant
- Predicted grades for pending qualifications or courses a student is studying at present
Your reference letter may also include some optional information about your studies, if you permit your referee to include it. This information might be any contextual information on circumstances that affected your studies, such as illness, personal problems or challenges in learning at home or online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Optional information might also include input from other teachers or educators or background information on the school you attended.
Some of the optional information that can be included in a UCAS reference letter might include:
Before checking out samples, would you like to go over those required elements one more time? Take a look at this infographic:
UCAS reference letter samples
Not all teachers will have written a reference letter before or be familiar with the UCAS application process and reference letter requirements. Some students may not know what a typical reference letter looks like and what kind of components are evaluated during their school years. Below we’ve included 3 examples of UCAS reference letters to give you an idea of what content is included.
UCAS reference letter sample #1
[Student’s name] will be an excellent to [School’s] pre-medicine program. We believe they will excel in their chosen program and continue to flourish as they work towards becoming a practicing physician in their post-graduate years.
[Student’s] academic record is excellent, as they have committed themselves to study, consistently scoring high on class assignments and projects, turning quality work in and on time. [Student] has always been a conscientious, punctual and organized student. They participate actively in class discussions, often asking questions of teachers and peers, and encouraging varied and thoughtful discussion in groups of peers. Based on [Student’s] academic record and hard work in this semester, we all expect them to graduate with highest honors at the end of this school year, despite the circumstances of classes moving online during the pandemic. [Student] has always been exceedingly bright and engaged, and consistently displays a willingness to learn and understand new concepts and ideas.
[Student] has also been an active member of school clubs and the school debate team, where they continue to be a role model of diplomacy, respect and thoughtfulness. They approach each mock debate we organize as an opportunity to learn and expand their worldview, making the effort to see each side’s arguments and find common ground. [Student] treats their peers and teachers with respect and approaches each situation with careful forward thought. They demonstrate as much care in interacting with their fellow students as they do in their studies, often extending a hand of compassion to a student who is struggling.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic prevented our students from gathering for club meetings, mock debates and other social activities, [Student] worked with their fellow club members to ensure activities could continue virtually. They organized virtual check-ins with other students, and limited in-person events when restrictions allowed, to make certain students could still feel connected and involved in the club despite the circumstances.
As [Student’s] teachers, we believe they have chosen an excellent career path in pre-med, as they will undoubtedly become a caring and attentive future physician. It has been clear from the time [Student] first attended [School] that they were committed to a career in medicine. [Student’s] dedication to their studies has never wavered, and their commitment to their extracurricular responsibilities and interests has been well balanced.
UCAS reference letter sample #2
As an applicant for [School’s] undergraduate program in media and communication, [Student] will shine very bright. She is an excellent candidate for this program and has a promising future in the media and communication field.
As [Student’s] social studies subject teacher and guidance counsellor, we believe she has chosen a profession worthy of her skills and interests. We have both known her for the past 4 years, and have had the pleasure of watching her develop her academic skills and grow into a mature and thoughtful young adult. Throughout her years with us, she has proven to be a committed and intelligent student.
[Student] has excellent work ethic, demonstrated especially during her group projects and assignments, where she shows exemplary leadership qualities in motivating her peers and turning in top-notch work. In class, she is respectful, punctual and organized, showing a willingness to participate in class discussions and ask questions.
Most notably in her academic performance is [Student’s] writing skills. In essay writing she demonstrates critical thinking and an analytical mind, especially on social topics and current events. She is often citing current event examples in class discussions for reference and comparison, drawing insightful parallels between class topics and present events.
As [Student’s] guidance counsellor, I have also suggested she submit some of her writing for consideration in creative writing contests. This was a smart move, since [Student] excelled and was able to expand her skills and understanding as a creative writer, coming in second place in the contest.
In her extracurriculars, she has shown an avid interest in the media as she interns with a local radio station that covers local and regional news stories. As an intern she is getting an inside look into the industry and learning what it required for a modern journalist in terms of professionalism, ethics, creativity and critical thinking. [Student’s] supervisors have all commented on her strong work ethic and commitment to a job well done, even as a high school student.
We believe [Student] will be a fine addition to the media and communication program, having shown passion and skill for the subject. She has also demonstrated a strong work ethic and endless willingness to learn, which will serve her well in a post-secondary setting.
Want to learn more about how to secure strong med school reference letters? This video is for you:
UCAS reference letter sample #3
[Student] will be a prime candidate for a degree in business management. He consistently displays strong leadership skills, a team-oriented mindset, good communication skills and a passion for business management.
As a student, he has maintained a good attendance record and actively participates in class. He is a respectful and pleasant student to have in class, and shows a willingness to work hard and a curious mind for new subject matters. As he finished his final year at [School], his teachers expect him to maintain his high grades.
[Student] has also received two awards for student academic excellence from [School] for his academic performance the past two years, and an award for sportsmanship and sportsmanlike conduct. [Student] is heavily involved in the [School] senior boys’ lacrosse team as a team captain and volunteer coach for younger grades. He dedicates a significant portion of his after-school time and weekends to coaching mentoring younger players on the sport, and serves as a role model for good behavior and strong leadership. [Student’s] lacrosse team has consistently excelled and continues to make [School] proud with their athletic performance and respectful conduct. As team captain, [Student] models good behavior and corrects any bad behavior he sees. He encourages his teammates and works to see that all players are included and have fair play.
[Student] is also a member of the school’s computer science club, and can frequently be seen after school helping other club members to solve problems or teaching younger club members his knowledge. As a role model, he displays excellent communication skills, patience and generosity of time.
During the summers, [Student] was also committed to finding part-time work and exploring possible career opportunities. He is mindful of his future planning and open to possibilities in business management. [Student] secured a summer position as a page at our local library, and has been learning the ins and outs of working for a non-profit organization and municipal bodies. He has also expressed an interest in municipal management by attending our local council meetings and being mentored by some of our city councillors on the business of running a city. As always, [Student] is eager to learn what it takes to be a leader and manager in almost any sector.
As [Student’s] guidance counsellor, I believe he will be an excellent fit at [University], which values leadership, commitment and a passion for business. He is a superior role model, mentor and teammate, and will no doubt be a proud graduate of [School]. I believe his strengths and talents will serve him very well in business management, in whatever sector or industry he chooses in his post-graduate.
1. What is a UCAS reference letter?
A UCAS reference letter is a letter submitted by someone else as part of your application. It is a document outlining why you would be a good fit for a university program.
2. Who writes a UCAS reference letter?
UCAS reference letters are usually written by subject teachers, principals or department heads at your school, but you can also ask an employer, tutor or supervisor to write it.
3. Is the UCAS reference letter required?
Yes. The UCAS system requires you to have one reference letter to submit your application.
4. Can I write my own UCAS reference letter?
No. Reference letters must be submitted by your secondary school, employer, supervisor, tutor or other educator. Do not ask a family member or friend to write your reference letter.
5. How long are UCAS reference letters?
The UCAS system has a limit of 4,000 characters for reference letters, which works out to about 500 words.
6. Can you see your UCAS reference letter?
No. Usually, the reference letter is submitted without the student seeing it and is the only part of the application not completed by the student.
7. Can I ask my employer to write a reference letter?
Yes. If you left education years ago, are a mature student or have other circumstances, you can ask an employer to submit a reference letter for you through UCAS.
8. I am an international student. Do I need a UCAS reference letter?
Yes. The reference letter is required and will need to be written in English for submission through UCAS.
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