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Guide for referees on academic references for undergraduate applications

Find out how we use references in our admissions process for undergraduate degrees and what we would like you to include when providing a reference.

How we use academic references

We use academic references to contextualise and reinforce the other parts of a UCAS application. References do not form part of our core consideration (unlike predicted grades, achieved qualifications and personal statements), but they are nevertheless a useful tool when we make decisions.

We are looking for academic references – if you are an employer or know the applicant in another role, you should encourage them to contact us about their options. We may consider employer references in certain limited circumstances. All provided references are read and considered in full as part of our selection process.

We particularly appreciate information on any extenuating or mitigating circumstances so they can be appropriately considered.

Academic references often include descriptions that we find less helpful:

  • Lengthy subject-specific descriptions of an applicant’s performance

  • Commentary on the applicant’s nature and disposition for study

  • Comments comparing an applicant relative to their cohort or past students

  • Details of general extra-curricular activities or positions of authority within a school (such as Head Boy or Girl) - applicants will usually include these in personal statements

We do not use these points from references in our offer-making.

Why we find subject-specific content less useful

We know these are genuine judgements offered in support of applicants.

As each referee will approach these topics differently, it is very difficult to compare different applicants based on these statements.

Referees will often comment on different aspects of their applicants, meaning comments cannot be directly compared. Our degrees may have a particular interest in one specific aspect of a subject, but only some referees will comment directly on that for their applicants. It would be unfair for us to give priority to applicants based on whether their referee happened to choose that particular aspect of their studies to focus on.

We trust that your predicted grades are your fair assessment of a student’s academic potential in each subject, and do not need additional subject-specific content.

Our priority is always to ensure the way we consider applicants is as fair and consistent as possible, and we would never wish to inadvertently penalise an applicant because of their referee’s approach.

The 2024 UCAS reference format

UCAS are changing the format of references for 2024 entry. The new format has three distinct sections.

We support this reform and hope it will enable you to focus contributions, while reducing the considerable time and pressure on teachers and advisors when providing references.

We want to be clear on what we find most useful in the new reference at Bath. We know other universities may have different expectations from an academic reference. You should consider any guidance available from each of your applicant’s choices before deciding what to include.

We will always approach references with fairness as a priority.

We will not advantage or disadvantage applicants whose references include more information than we ask for. Some universities may ask for subject-specific content, but we will never penalise an applicant where this is not provided.

What we want you to include in Section One

Section One: Enter a general description about your school, college or centre

The most useful information to include is an explanation of the typical study paths your students take, such as type and number of qualifications studied.

If you are providing a reference for an applicant who is applying independent of a school or college, section one will instead ask you to briefly explain your relationship to your applicant.

What we want you to include in Section Two

Section Two: Enter any information about extenuating circumstances that may affect this applicant’s education and achievement.

As a guide, we recommend you include any of the following where relevant in this section:

  • Statement on overall academic performance – we recommend a brief statement of an applicant’s current performance, and any changes over time. This can be particularly helpful if their current performance has changed since their previous qualifications (such as GCSEs) and can help us interpret differences between predicted grades and previously achieved qualifications.

  • Any individual circumstances - we consider mitigating (or extenuating) circumstances very seriously and always want to know where an applicant’s past or future performance may be impacted by their circumstances.

  • Subject limitations – please let us know if your applicant has been limited in their choice of subjects they can study. This is helpful when considering applicants who may not have preferred subjects for their course (we cannot consider applicants missing essential subjects).

Please do include any relevant individual factors.

A short description outlining the circumstances is sufficient. We will always seek more information if we need to.

We appreciate some applicants may be uncomfortable with personal circumstances being shared in a reference. All circumstances are considered confidentially and are only used to the applicant’s benefit in decision-making. Alternatively, you or your applicant can provide this information through our dedicated mitigating circumstances form.

Find out more about examples of mitigating circumstances and how we consider them.

Should your applicant choose Bath as their firm or insurance choice, any significant circumstances included in this section will also be shared with our Student Support team, to ensure we are best prepared to provide any additional support needed for every student when they join us.

What we want you to include in Section Three

Section Three: Outline any other supportive information specific to the applicant and relevant to the course applied for that you think universities or colleges should be aware of.

This section can be used to share other factors that we may find relevant in our offer-making. Content in this section can be brief – one or two sentences outlining the relevant information can be sufficient on each point:

  • Additional qualification information – if you are providing a reference for a student studying outside the UK school system, it is helpful to include any information about the student’s study that is not listed within their qualifications information. For example, this might include your applicants’ chosen specialisms or the individual subjects included in a larger baccalaureate-style qualification.

  • Reasons for change of study – if your applicant is making an application as part of a change of direction, such as transferring from another university, a brief explanation of your understanding of that change can be helpful.

  • Significant extra-curricular commitments – if your applicant engages in extra-curricular activities that represent a significant commitment (such as high-performance sport), please do use this section to highlight them.

  • Significant disciplinary action – if your applicant has been subject to significant disciplinary action (for example, permanently expelled or excluded) we expect you to include this. Internal disciplinary issues that have been successfully resolved do not need to be included.

  • Boarding schools only – if your school or college offers boarding and day school provision, it is helpful to know whether your applicant is boarding or not. This would not affect a decision to offer, but can reduce the amount of information we need to ask your applicant to assess their fee status.

  • Universities only - if you are providing a reference from another university, please include whether your applicant is still enrolled or has formally left.

Only those circumstances that are relevant for your applicant need to be included here. If you have no circumstances to note, this section can be left blank. We expect this to be the case for some applicants.

We will not consider detailed comments from each individual subject teacher included in this section – we take predicted grades as your judgement on a student’s academic performance in each subject.

Verifying entered qualifications

UCAS provide an option for you as a referee to confirm you have verified the achieved qualifications listed by your applicant in their application.

Please do verify their qualifications where you are able to as it can reduce the amount of qualification evidence we ask applicants to separately provide.

Please do check that the applicant has entered their qualifications correctly, including listing whether each qualification is incomplete or has already been achieved. Applicants may confuse certain qualifications where they are available at different levels or offer a range of very similar subject title (such as BTECs).

Applicants with Access to HE Diplomas

If you are providing a reference for an applicant studying an Access to HE Diploma, we may ask you to provide more detailed information later in the application process. We do this as we know you may be submitting a reference for an applicant who has only just begun their current studies.