Do Universities Check (or Contact) UCAS References?

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As students start approaching the next stage of their education journeys, thoughts may naturally turn to a major feat for many: the wonders of university. It can be unfamiliar and stressful territory for many pupils. Navigating areas such as university applications and wondering about UCAS can be a very daunting experience. Another thing that can stress students out is UCAS references; this is a perfectly normal thought process.

Without further ado, let’s see if universities check UCAS references.

To put it shortly, universities are required to read the UCAS reference to make their judgement on your application. Additionally, they will make sure everything matches with your actual grades. In terms of contacting the referee (the person who writes your UCAS reference) this only typically happens in cases where something in your reference is unclear and needs clarification.

While this may have given you some comprehensive information, it may be useful to continue reading to get more information and a more nuanced understanding of UCAS references.

Do universities check references?

To put it briefly, universities do check references and read them – they are a crucial part of university applications and shouldn’t be treated lightly. In order to compare candidates fairly, universities must review each UCAS written reference from a referee – this includes making sure all the grades match up.

References are extremely important and useful, since they provide a more objective contextual knowledge about a student – especially in the cases where their academic pathway has been nonconforming. This can be extremely helpful for students since it is an attempt at a fairer judgement.

In order to focus their attention on the areas that universities will look at the most, there are three distinct sections that UCAS has highlighted as a frame for UCAS references. This includes a general statement about the school, or college (or even centre or work – if you’re a mature student), any extenuating circumstances, and any other supporting information. But what does this mean?

The general statement might be along the lines of your grades in school and what place it was exactly. A written account of extenuating circumstances can provide an explanation for any impacted achievements or grades. They can be helpful in making sure students who didn’t have the same circumstances in getting fairly judged.

Other supporting evidence might be along the lines of things specific to the applicant that might affect their performance in the course, or other information that the school or college might find helpful.

To read more about these sections, check out this article from the UCAS website!

Do universities contact references?

If everything is crystal clear in your reference, then no! In a lot of cases, universities will contact referees only when something needs to be clarified or cleared up. This might happen if the person who refers you doesn’t expand on one of their points (as an example).

Somethings that you may want to discuss with the referee are things that you have done that you want to be included. Some examples are:

  • EPQs (extended project qualifications)
  • Webinars or online events
  • Master classes
  • Work experience (either virtual or in-person is a viable option!)
  • Volunteering
  • Wider reading (this includes books you have read on the topic, but also extends to podcasts and articles since it’s still wider research)
  • Museum trips
  • Extracurriculars
  • Career goals
  • Predicted grades for pending qualifications

Make sure your referee has a clear idea of what you have done and how you have achieved it in order to not cause any confusion with those reviewing the reference!

To read more about references, click here for an article from UCAS!

What are UCAS references?

To put it briefly, UCAS references are a statement from your college, school, centre or place of work (and so on) that help universities gain a better context for their applicants and their school’s opinion on them.

UCAS references are sent along with your personal statement and application. They are just as important as the other two. As they are an external assessment of your character, they can help determine whether a university will decide to give you a place.

Only one of these references is required for an undergraduate application – though, there are some exceptions that may permit you to request additional references from UCAS.

A UCAS reference is designed to act as a general school consensus on the applicant – and students have no control over this. Of course, you can clear things up with your referee and request that they add certain achievements. Although, at the end of the day, it is all up to your referee to write up.

However, this is not something to be worried about. Rather, it is more of a preventative measure to make sure you didn’t make everything up in your personal statement! As well as this, it can help prove that you are an academically endowed person who deserves a place at your desired uni.

It is often described as the teacher version of your personal statement. It is, after all, a very similar thing – and should even match the personal statement’s length and holds qual weight.  The main difference is that it is more objective than a personal statement due to being done by the teacher rather than the applicant.

To read more about this, check out this article from the Uni Guide.

Can you choose your UCAS referee?

In short, you can absolutely choose your UCAS referee. They are the one, after all, who can sway the judgement of the university for or against you.

If you’re still in school or college, the person who is most typically chosen will either be your tutor or head of year/sixth form – they are the ones with a good grasp on your academic journey. Other options that are generally chosen are teachers who teach the subject that you’d want to study as a course.

However, mature students can choose with greater freedom – either through contacting an old teacher, or even asking your workplace for a reference.

The best measure on how to choose a referee is to make sure they can talk about your academics and write about any supporting information or extenuating circumstance cohesively. You can’t actually include your predicted grades on your application – rather, your referee will include them on the reference.

One thing is for certain – have a conversation with your referee to make sure all your bases are covered (for example, extracurriculars and wider reading) so they don’t miss anything out!

Can you see your UCAS reference?

It really depends on when you ask to see it.

Before it is sent off to UCAS, you are not allowed to see the reference – this is because it can mark it as invalid and because of the data protection act. This can disqualify your application before you even have a chance to be judged.

However, you can absolutely ask to see it after UCAS has received it. Their data protection act allows applicants to view their reference after it’s submitted.

To avoid any unnecessary hassle, just ask to see it after it’s already been received.

Fortunately, UCAS can send you the reference for any reason; and all you have to do is directly email them to ask for it. Additionally, you can get them to send you an entire copy of your application if you want.

To read more about whether you can see your UCAS reference, check out this article from Think Student.

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