UCAS References for Medicine and Dentistry

Last updated: 05/10/2022

What is a reference?

Your UCAS reference is a chance to boost your application.

Think about it as a way to support what you've said about your qualities and skills through an external authority figure.

Universities use this reference to assess your suitability for the course, and despite being important, it's no cause for panic.

So what's the key to getting a great reference? Two words: careful planning.

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?

  • Supports your personal statement

In an ideal world, your reference supports what you have said about yourself, building a cohesive picture of your suitability for a career in healthcare. It shouldn’t just be a general commentary on your character.

  • Explains extenuating circumstances

If you didn't achieve what you thought you would, it's an opportunity for a third party to explain what happened which held you back.

  • Contributes 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.

A student engaging in class

Who writes a reference?

1) A school teacher of your choice

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 to check whether they are happy to supply your reference.

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 that it's not a general commentary.

2) A school teacher assigned by your school

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

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

Possible referees

Form tutor or headmaster

  • They can provide an overview of your performance across many subjects, as well as extra-curricular achievements.
  • They're normally the default referee.

Subject-specific teacher

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


  • They 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, and bring along your CV and personal statement.

  • Ask to see the reference

This is increasingly common. You can correct any errors or provide further information.

Harriet, from University of Oxford, told us about her experience:

‘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.’

Find out how to get into medicine at Oxford or Cambridge.
A student remembering their medical work experience

Personal statement

Your reference should support your personal statement, so it's 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.

We take you through this step by step in our Personal Statement Guide for Medicine and Dentistry. You can also check out our Personal Statement Course for A-to-Z guidance on how to frame your experiences and demonstrate your suitability for medicine or dentistry.

Bad references

  • Explaining negative situations

You can use a reference to explain any aspect of your application that may be viewed negatively, such as having to resit exams (which may have been due to bereavement or illness). An explanation from an authority figure is far more convincing.

  • The whole reference is poor

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.

  • Keep it factual

Remember, stick to the whole truth and nothing but the truth! Don't 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.


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 is fine.

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