International applicants
Extraordinary Edinburgh

The UCAS Reference

The reference is an essential part of your UCAS application, where someone writes an account of your suitability for study on your behalf.

Who should write your reference?

Your referee should know you well enough to write about you and to comment on your suitability for higher education.

If you are currently studying, or have recently left school or college, you should ask your head teacher, principal or an appropriate teacher or tutor to provide a reference.

Your reference should not be completed by:

  • Anyone from your family
  • Other relatives
  • Friends

The reference should be written in English. If you are applying via your school they will be able to add your reference automatically. If you are applying as an individual then you will have to input the reference on their behalf - in other words you will paste in a document they have written. Guidance is available from UCAS on what to include and how to complete the reference. There is space for 4,000 characters (this includes spaces) or 47 lines of text (this includes blank lines).

If your reference will not fit into the box, you must obtain a shorter version from your referee - do not edit it yourself.

What is the reference for?

The reference is intended to help the University assess your suitability for university study generally and the specific degree that you have applied for. It should support the information provided in the personal statement. Admissions Officers will use the reference to help distinguish between applicants.

We will not consider applications received without a valid reference.

What should the reference include?

References, like personal statements, will vary significantly depending on the degree programme you are applying to and your educational background. It may include some or all of the following.

Evidence of:

  • Existing achievement
  • Motivation & commitment towards the degree areas you are applying to or suitability for that profession
  • Relevant skills achievement, whether certificated or not
  • Academic Potential (other than predicted grades)
  • Powers of analysis and independent thought
  • Relevant curriculum enrichment and other activities
  • Relevant work experience
  • Any factors that may have affected or might affect their performance

It is also helpful if referees are able to provide information on how an applicant compares or ranks with their contemporaries. It will help your referee write your reference if you let them know what you are applying to study and let them see your personal statement in advance.

Predicted Grades

If you are applying before completing your school examinations (or English Language qualifications) then the reference should provide more information about what grades or scores they expect you to achieve in your final exams.

Further guidance

Guidance for referees is available from the UCAS website.

UCAS guidance on reference writing

The University's Medical School has also produced guidance for people writing references for medical applicants. It can be found via the page linked below.

Writing a reference for medical applicants

More advice on applying through UCAS

Related Links

UCAS website