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FAQ for schools

1. Which teacher should write the academic reference for a student applying for a UK university (via UCAS form for undergraduate or other for postgraduate)?

The university wants to see an academic reference from the school that gives them a good understanding of the student’s academic capability. This means that in practice, the reference is usually be written by the student’s tutor, but any teacher can write the reference as long as they have sufficient information and evidence that their reference represents the student. 

2. How can I give an academic reference about my student when the course has only just started?

If you cannot yet provide feedback on the student’s ability at a subject, you can still focus on the student’s overall academic performance.  You could mention:

  • Academic progress and potential for further study
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Any special academic achievements
  • Power of analysis and ability to present an argument
  • Reliability, determination, sense of responsibility.
3. How exactly should I write the reference?

You should aim for just one page. Try to make it personal and genuine, focusing on the positives only. The best references are those that complement the student’s own personal statement but do not repeat the same content, so it’s worth also asking the student to see what they have written in their personal statement.

Many universities appreciate a couple of lines about the school as it offers extra insights about the student’s achievements (e.g.: We are a medium size public school in a suburb of Madrid with just under 450 students aged 5-18 from over 15 different nationalities).

4. Are there any guides available on how to write a reference for an application to a UK university?

You can find some articles on how to write a good personal statement in UCAS. You can also find examples of school references on the internet, which are particularly useful for non-native speakers as they provide examples in English of how to highlight the positive qualities of students.

The most important is that the reference writer knows the student, his/her academic abilities and ideally has a conversation with them and reads the student’s personal statement. 

5. How else can the school support the student with his/her application?

There are many ways in which the school can help the student, depending on the school. Some international schools have a UCAS account and dedicated staff counsellors helping students from very early days, for example supporting them with researching degrees to match their abilities and motivation and accompanying the student throughout the application process.  Most schools, however, do not have dedicated counsellors or staff who know or understand the UK university offer. In this case, the school can offer a range of support to all their students.

For students just starting to explore the idea of studying in the UK, the school could:

  • Organise talks by universities, colleges or agencies for students and their families.  Students may discover careers that do not exist in their countries.
  • Encourage students to investigate the wide variety of options available to them. For example, you could get ideas from the Study UK ‘How to choose a university’, or discuss with students in class or one-to-one meetings.
  • Ask students to do a CV or ‘personal statement’ where they write down their qualities, achievements and ambitions on a piece of paper. This can help them focus on what they want to do and whether or not they want to apply to a UK university. 

For students who do decide to apply to study in the UK, the school could:

Help the student with his personal statement as well as the reference by offering feedback and proof-reading. Having a trusted adult who can support and review can make a huge difference to a student’s confidence.  

6. We have a few students interested in applying to universities overseas but we have no resources or knowledge about the different systems. Is there a single source guide for schools where we can find all essential information to help students interested in applying to the UK?

You can find some articles on how to write a good personal statement in UCAS. You can also find examples of school references on the internet, which are particularly useful for non-native speakers as they provide examples in English of how to highlight the positive qualities of students.

The British Council has developed a new online suite of training to provide a practical and professional training programme for agents and counsellors to enable them to recommend the UK as a study destination to international students. For information and registration please visit here.

The most important is that the reference writer knows the student, his/her academic abilities and ideally has a conversation with them and reads the student’s personal statement.