For teachers daunted by the idea of writing one or several university references, here are some useful tips:
Stick to a structure
Sticking to a planned structure ensures every reference you write will include the relevant details within the 4000 character limit. It also streamlines the writing process. You could consider using a standardised form for each applicant and sharing it among colleagues to ensure the process is both thorough and quick.
UCAS suggests the following structure for references:
- Introduction (15%) – give an overview of the student’s personality and academic performance.
- Subject-specific comments (50%) – mention specific examples relating to the subject, such as enjoyment, achievement and examples of independent learning. Mention any indicators of academic ability in comparison to the year group.
- Extra-curricular skills (25%) – mention the student’s hobbies and how they have contributed to the school. In doing so you can comment on the interpersonal skills this demonstrates.
- Supportive comments and school/college details – emphasise important personal characteristics that indicate suitability to further study, endorse the student’s application and include brief details about the school/college in the final sentence.
Collaborate with colleagues
It is sensible to have the reference checked by a quality controller, such as the head of sixth form or careers advisor. It is also worth collaborating with form tutors and subject teachers to ensure a full and accurate evaluation of performance and personality.
Don’t waste characters
Don’t include information that the student has given in their application unless you’re making a comment on it. Do not waste your characters listing GCSE results as they appear elsewhere in the application. Also avoid mentioning a particular university as this will obviously not be looked upon favourably by any other universities receiving the application.
UCAS provide more information on how to write undergraduate references on their website.
Our course Supporting HE Applicants also provides detailed information about writing references, including how to write difficult references and American references. The course also provides information on other aspects of the application process, including guidance on supporting children in care, information on Oxbridge applications, advice on raising aspirations in Year 11 and a timetable of key dates.
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