UCAS References for Medicine and Dentistry

Last updated: 8/07/2021

What is a reference?

References are a chance to boost your application.

Your medical or dental school reference is a chance to support your assertions about your own qualities and skills through an authority figure.

Universities use the reference to assess your suitability of the course, and despite being important, it is not something to be feared. Carefully planning is the key to getting a great reference.

If you are just starting to think about university, learn about the whole process of getting accepted into medical school.

Why is a reference important for medical and dental school?

A reference supports your application, conveying the conviction of the educational professionals who know you.  It supports what you highlight in your personal statement, which is why it shouldn’t just be a general commentary on your character.

A bad reference will have a negative impact unless there are extenuating circumstances. 

There are several ways in which a reference can make a meaningful impact on your application:

  • Contribution to your application score: Some schools use it to filter out candidates before making offers for interview and others factor it into their final decision.
  • Admissions assessor: They will look into your references to get a feel for you as a person. A positive reference reinforces other aspects of your application and improves your chances.

Who writes my reference?

Generally, a school teacher, mentor or any authority connected with your education or work experience can write it. 

The person should be familiar with your application and know how best to support you. This means you need to open communication early and check well in advance whether they are happy to supply your reference. Run them through what you’ve said and, if necessary, what to mention to support this.

You wouldn’t get a reference from your favourite maths teacher to confirm a genius for numbers not previously mentioned. However, that same teacher could confirm your capacity for hard work, teamwork, or any other quality you wish to highlight. Your referee needs to understand this.

Most students find out that their ‘school’ will be writing their reference. Try to find out who, and give them your personal statement and arrange a meeting. Ideally, they will be able to get to know you on a deeper level. 

If there is something important that you would like your referee to know then be organised and proactive; do not leave it too late to tell them about the amazing volunteering that you have done, for example, or the relevance of your application to a certain medical school.

Possible referees

Form tutor or headmaster

  • Takes an overview of the candidate’s performance across many subjects, as well as extra-curricular achievements.
  • The default referee.

Subject-specific teachers

  • Will have good knowledge of your specific subjects, but will be less useful for extra-curricular activities.
  • Will be useful for applicants with a very strong science background, for example, who wish to apply for a science-heavy course.

Researcher

  • Will be advantageous for someone who comes from a research background, and especially for those wishing to do a course with intercalation.

Work experience referee

  • If you had a brilliant experience, get someone to attest to your commitment, teamwork and skills!

Learn more about how to get work experience for medicine and dentistry.

Extra-curricular supervisor

  • A coach, trainer, volunteer organiser, etc.
  • Works well, especially if you have strong work experience or extracurricular achievements you wish to draw attention to and, of course, relate it to medicine or dentistry.

Top tips for getting a great reference for medicine or dentistry

  • Get to know your referee
    More in-depth references will help you stand out from the crowd
  • Request it early
    Ask early in summer for an October submission, not in the last week before submission
  • Provide information
    Schedule an appointment with your referee; bring your CV and personal statement
  • Thank your referee
    Update your referee on the outcome of your application - they want to see you succeed!
  • Ask to see the reference
    This is increasingly common. You can correct any errors or provide further information.

Harriet – University of Oxford

‘I was given a copy of my reference from my school a couple of weeks before the deadline for submission of applications. This reassured me that it was positive!

I corrected a couple of minor inaccuracies and added specificity regarding some skills.

In hindsight, it would have been useful to contact my referee in advance just to touch base and tell them a little more about myself and my motivations and interests.

Your referee may have hundreds of references to write so be patient and organised. Send them a copy of your personal statement early on so that the most important information about you is easily accessible.’

Personal statement

Your reference should support your personal statement, so it is important to give both careful thought.

When writing your personal statement, think about how you can evidence your qualities and skills and who can back this up.

Medify offers a medicine personal statement course to make sure you get this right. We also offer a personal statement review service, with personalised feedback within 3 days (or your money back) - it’s on an early bird offer for a limited time.

Bad references

  • Explaining negative situations
    You can use a reference to explain any negative aspect of your application such as having to resit exams due to bereavement or illness. An explanation from an authority figure is far more convincing.
  • Whole reference is bad
    It is very rare to see a completely bad reference. This type of reference will have a negative impact and you should consider not including it in your application.

Plan B options, if you don’t get a place to study medicine or dentistry.

What if my referee asks me to write my own reference?

Some applicants, particularly graduates, can choose their own referees. Their referee may have neither the time nor the inclination to write a reference. In this case, it is common to ask the applicant to write it - after which the referee reads and sends it.

  • The whole truth and nothing but the truth
    Keep everything factual and real. Do not use this as an opportunity to be dishonest. Your referee will not be pleased to be part of any deception.
  • Do not exaggerate
    Do not exaggerate your character traits in the reference as the lie will almost certainly be exposed. Be modest and your referee may upscale it; being boastful will possibly result in the reference being toned down by the referee.

Summary

Be proactive, don’t sit back and expect the perfect reference. This is not a straightforward character reference and requires the referee to know what you’ve achieved and what you’ve mentioned in your personal statement.

If you keep communication open with your referee and apply early, you should get the reference you need.

Best of luck!

If you’re a graduate or mature applicant struggling to find a referee, consider broadening your search beyond people who currently know you. Try contacting an old school or college, or reaching out to previous employers or colleagues. An old teacher or boss works fine.

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