Reference letters for UK universities

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Reference letters for UK universities

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Normally, you will need two reference letters when you apply to a UK university. Additionally, If you want to apply for certain scholarship, these reference letters, will demonstrate your eligibility and will strongly support the application, at the same time. Sometimes reference letters are also referred to as letters of recommendation.

Reference letters are as important as any other documents in your application. Normally, a university cannot interview each applicant. The reference letter helps to gain an impression of who you are. That impression can play a crucial role, when it comes to the decision, whether or not to accept the student.

What should a reference letter include?

  • past study or working experience with the students

  • the referee’s assessment of an applicant’s interest and ability to study a subject at university

  • the applicant’s achievements in school and the wider community

  • the referee’s thoughts on the applicant’s academic record and explanation of anything unusual in the record

  • applicant’s other characteristic and quality that make the referee think that the university should accept this student


Who is the right referee?

Generally speaking, your professors, tutors and people who have worked with closely are a very good choice of the referee because they can offer detailed insight into you, your skills and your work. It would be great if the referee can demonstrate a certain level of understanding or professionalism of the subject to which the student is applying.

If you’ve been working in an industry which is closely related to the university programme that you want to apply for, you can also have the reference letter written by your managers or employer (It is advisable to include a note explaining your choice of referee and why you chose them to write your reference letter)

What is the format for a reference letter for UK universities?

Reference letters for UK universities

There is no specific requirement about how long the reference letter should be, but it is advised that a reference letter should not exceed two pages in length.

The letter should be written on the official letterhead of the referee’s home institution. The referee’s contact details (email, phone number and working address) should be clearly noted on the top right corner of the letter.

There is no specific requirement on how a reference letter should be organised though it is very important for admission team from the university to see a logical order in the writing. They may want to know who the referee is before jumping into the reason why the referee thinks you are a genuine, eligible applicant. Therefore, a brief introduction of the referee and his or her relationship with the applicant will be appreciated.

The referee then can comment on your strengths and skills that you have and emphasise the relation between those qualities and the course provided the university. Examples such as discussions, tutorials or coursework can be displayed in the letter in order to demonstrate your abilities.

If the referee is also familiar with your extracurricular work, such as student jobs, having a position in clubs or student union, working in an NGO or organising events, he or she can mention those experience in the reference letter as long as the experience is relevant to the course. By doing so, the letter will be more convincing and highlight the student’s character of having a positive attitude and being responsible.

The letter should conclude with an offer for further contact from the referee and it needs to be signed.

Prepare your referees

After selecting your referees, you may want to inform them of the deadlines for your submission. You should meet with your referees in advance so that you will have time to discuss the letter.

You may have to change your referee at the last stage when you find out that the referee is not committed enough or you decide to apply for a different programme, but don’t worry, this is perfectly normal.

Remember that you can submit your application before the reference letter arrives. You may be asked to submit them at the later stage but do not hold up submitting your application. 

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