Students talk in a class

UCAS reference

Information for teachers and schools

The reference forms an important part of a student's UCAS application, alongside their achieved grades, predicted grades and personal statement. At LSE, we are looking for students who not only fulfil our academic requirements but also demonstrate the relevant skills, personal motivation and a genuine interest in the subject they are applying for.


Writing the reference - general guidance

It is important to work with the applicant to ensure the personal statement and reference are not repetitions of each other and meet their own objectives.

  • The personal statement should address the student’s academic interest in the subject area they wish to study.
  • As a referee, you are aiming for the reference to provide universities with an informed and realistic academic assessment of a student’s suitability for their chosen programme of study. The reference provides additional information about the student beyond the predicted grades e.g. further information about a student’s academic skills and qualities and any disadvantage or particular circumstances the student may be facing.

Before you start writing the reference – some guidance

  • Read the whole UCAS application so that you have a comprehensive understanding of the applicant’s 5 chosen programmes, academic interests, preferred institutions and any longer-term goals or aspirations. Only one reference is written for all 5 choices.
  • The UCAS reference now consists of 3 sections: A general statement about the school, information about extenuating circumstances, and other specific supportive information about the applicant.
  • The first section is an opportunity to provide some general contextual information about the school or college, such as performance, intake demographics, or progression rates to Higher Education. It could also include details of your portfolio of qualification provision (including any restrictions), any significant changes that may have had an effect on the applicant (e.g. staff changes), and any policies or processes related to predicted grades (e.g. internal assessments). 
  • If the student’s achieved or predicted grades have been impacted by their personal circumstances, you should provide details in the second section of the reference. Details of extenuating circumstances can also be provided in our Extenuating Circumstances Form.
  • The third section should be used to focus on a student's academic performance and potential in subjects relevant to the programme they are applying for. This could include feedback from subject teachers, and/or comparisons within current or previous school cohorts.
  • When writing a reference for any applicant please remember that – under the Data Protection Act 2018 – the applicant can ask for a copy of the reference and any other personal information we have about them.
  • If you are writing a reference for a degree you are unfamiliar with, you can find information about LSE’s undergraduate programmes, entry requirements, and the skills and attributes we are looking for in a student on our programme pages.
  • References can include information written by multiple teachers but should be compiled or edited together by one person.
  • It is important that you produce the reference from a professional school email address. If this is not possible, please clarify this.
  • The reference should not exceed 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines (including blank lines), whichever is the shorter.

Section 1 - Information about the school/college

It is useful to consider a student’s application in the context of the school/college they have studied at. Therefore, the reference should include:

  • Brief information about the school type, school performance and anything else about the school/college that would be helpful for the university to know, such as teaching or resourcing issues. 
  • One way to save space, if you have a lot of information to add about the school, can be to include a link (bitly, tinyurl). It is however useful to provide the key summative points in the main text.
  • Information about the availability of subjects at your school/college. At LSE, this can be particularly important with regards to the availability of Further Mathematics A-level.  
  • It is also helpful to know about any school/college policies, such as sitting exams early, resits or the number of subjects a student is permitted to study. 

Section 2 - Extenuating Circumstances

When considering any application, universities need to understand the full picture. The reference is particularly important as it is an opportunity to explain the student’s achievements and potential within their personal, social and educational context. The reference should include any contextual information which might warrant special consideration including:

  • If there are circumstances or difficulties at your school or college which may have impacted on a student’s performance or limited the A-level options they could take.
  • If they are a recipient of Free School Meals.
  • If they are currently in, or have been in, local authority care.
  • Any factors that might affect their performance, for example caring responsibilities, serious, acute or chronic illness, or significant adverse personal circumstances (with student consent).
  • Any gaps in study - if the student has had any gaps in their study, or has repeated a year of schooling, a brief explanation in your reference is appreciated.
  • If there are any personal or domestic circumstances which may affect or have previously affected the student’s performance, please tell us in your reference or if these arise after the UCAS form has been submitted, please complete our Extenuating Circumstances form or Contact us via our Service Desk.

Section 3 - Information about the applicant

Universities use the UCAS reference to find out about the academic ability and interests of the student applying, their understanding of their chosen discipline and suitability for university level study. Therefore, the reference should include:

  • The student’s post-16 academic performance and their potential for success in higher education.
  • We are particularly interested in the student’s performance within the context of the school. Objective information provided about how the student ranks or compares to other current/previous students is therefore useful.
  • Why they are suited to their chosen subject (or subjects for joint programmes), plus their attitude, motivation and commitment.
  • Skills and qualities that are relevant to their chosen subject area, such as the ability to work independently, analytical thinking and communication skills. Provide specific examples of how the applicant has demonstrated these skills where possible.
  • Achievements, work experience, and extracurricular activities that relate to their chosen subject. If they have commitments within or outside of the school/college, such as a part-time job, a School Council position or extra-curricular activities that require a significant time commitment, please mention these.
  • Family background in Higher Education. Are they the first in their family to go to university?
  • Focus on the subjects most relevant to the student’s chosen discipline, particularly if the applicant is studying a curriculum where multiple subjects are studied, such as the IB.
  • If the student is studying an Access course, Foundation course or other one-year course, you might not have known them long enough to write a full reference. In this case, please explain that you are providing a temporary reference until you can provide more detailed information in January/early February.

Predicted grades

Accurate predictions are vital. Please give realistic predictions for all subjects and qualifications that the student is taking.

  • Where feasible, the quickest and clearest way to include predicted grades is to utilise the drop-down options part of the UCAS form. The grades themselves only need to appear in the reference text when individual subject predictions are not possible to input on UCAS, otherwise the reference should provide the context of how these predictions were determined.
  • Please be honest and clear about any subjects the student is having difficulty with – otherwise a combination of a low grade with a positive reference could be confusing.
  • If predicted grades are not a reflection of their true abilities, it is useful to state why the student has been disadvantaged and how their intellectual potential and motivation might allow them to reach higher grades.
  • For the IB Diploma, please give the predicted total score (out of 45) and the individual Higher Level subject scores.
  • If you are providing a predicted grade for a subject that the student is taking as a private candidate, please outline how the predicted grade has been determined. Have you seen evidence of previous practice papers, informal assessments or spoken to the centre?
  • Where a student is taking a language subject that is their mother tongue, or they have had specific prior exposure to it, please indicate this. 

International students

  • Please write the reference in English.
  • The reference should be written by the school or college, preferably by a member of staff that knows the student. References written by agents or other representatives are not acceptable.
  • If a student’s first language is not English, please comment on their English language ability and how well you believe they would cope with studying at degree level in the English language. Please also include a prediction for the relevant English language test, if one is being taken.
  • Students who have not yet achieved LSE's minimum English language requirements at the time of making their application will not be disadvantaged.  If evidence of English Language proficiency is required, LSE will make an offer conditional on the student attaining the required level prior to registering at the School. Please check our current English language requirements.
  • Please note that some qualifications (e.g. IELTS or TOEFL) only have a limited period of validity.
  • Please be aware that although UCAS allow students from outside of the EU to apply up to the end of June, given the competition for places at LSE ALL applicants are strongly advised to submit their UCAS application by the January deadline. It is rare that we will have places remaining on our programmes after the January deadline.

Additional documentation

LSE aims to make admissions decisions based solely on the information presented on the UCAS application for the vast majority of candidates. It is not our standard policy to request additional academic references unless the reference provided is not current (ie, has been written by someone who used to teach the student rather than someone who currently teaches them). If the student is no longer in education, the academic reference should be from one of their most recent teachers/lecturers. Likewise we do not need to receive examples of academic work, testimonials or other supporting documents.

If there is any change to the student's circumstances or to your reference after it has been submitted, please contact the Undergraduate Admissions team here.