Writing a UCAS reference
Your biggest responsibility will likely be references. Every student applying through UCAS needs one (and only one) reference, and they’re a really decisive part of the application. No pressure, but references can make or break applications, so be sure that you and your colleagues dedicate some time and thought to them!
There are a couple of practical requirements to keep in mind. First, it has to be written in English. Second, it has the same limits on length as the personal statement: 4,000 characters or 47 lines, including blank spaces and lines.
There’s in-depth guidance about writing a UCAS reference available, but broadly, you could include:
- The student’s aptitude for and commitment to the subject.
- Their contribution to in-class activities.
- The quality of their independent work.
- Relevant extracurricular activities.
- Career goals and work experience.
- Circumstances that have affected the student’s output (e.g. personal problems, illnesses, COVID-19).
While only one reference can be submitted, it can collate input from several teachers to give insight into different aspects of the student’s contribution to life at the school, including in societies or teams. It’s also useful if students are applying for combined or dual degrees, like History & English Literature or Maths & Business.
But remember, the document needs to flow as one single piece of writing. You might have to do a bit of editing to make sure teachers’ accounts come together seamlessly.
Finally, remember the UCAS reference is academic in focus. While extracurriculars can be mentioned, particularly if they’re relevant (e.g. writing for the school newspaper when applying for Journalism!), they shouldn’t be the main focus.
The priorities should really be the points mentioned above, rather than the more holistic, personal accounts you might write for a Letter of Recommendation to US universities, for example.