Ucas reference writing: common challenges
Whether you're writing your first or your 500th, some Ucas references will be trickier to put together than others. This guide tackles some of the typical issues.
Teachers: explore more of our resources to help your students
How to write a reference... for a student who isn't doing well academicallyThis is a quandary that many referees face: the difficulty of writing a positive reference for someone who has had a bumpy start to sixth form, whose attitude is questionable or who hasn't coped well with their studies.
Our tips? Aim for a holistic approach concentrating on the positives and drawing out all the student's strengths, not just their academic achievements.
So, you might highlight effort if attainment is poor; introduce extra-curricular activities, if relevant; mention any challenges they've faced away from education (with their permission); and, for improving students, illustrate how far they've come and the progress made.
How to write a reference... for a student you don't know very wellYou may find that you have to write about a student that you don’t know very well. Perhaps a student is very shy or on a one-year course, or maybe you're picking up a new class.
Either way, it is possible to address this:
1. Talk to the studentFind out what they would like you to include, what they would want an admissions tutor to know or what they feel they have achieved.
2. See where else you could gather informationPerhaps they volunteer in a setting relevant to their chosen course, or perhaps they are quiet at school but more confident at work. You could quote other people who can comment on their suitability or their skills.
3. Talk to your colleaguesTeaching or support staff may have additional information that you could include; perhaps a student has opened up to a colleague who can add a bit more depth to the reference.
4. Consider whether a temporary reference would be appropriateIf you support students on a one-year course, it is acceptable to write a temporary reference outlining what you have learned about a student and then send a full reference direct to the universities in the spring.
5. Avoid keeping it briefIt might be tempting to write a short reference if you feel you have little to say about a candidate, but tread carefully with this. Sometimes what's left unsaid can be as important as what is said.
How to write a reference... for a student's application to study a subject you're unfamiliar withIt's fairly likely that you'll know something about degree courses linked to your subject, but it's much harder if a student decides to opt for something a little, or very, different.
1. Talk to the studentYour student should have researched the course thoroughly to determine whether it is a suitable choice. Discuss what they've learned from their research, which skills and qualities they believe they need to demonstrate and, if it's a vocational course, what insights they've developed into the profession.
2. Talk to your colleaguesIf you feel you need more information, you could approach a colleague who has closer links with the subject, or try a careers adviser at your institution.
3. Do a bit of background research yourselfFind out more by looking up courses right here on Which? University - we've got detailed information on course outlines and subject requirements.
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