What are UCAS References when applying to Medicine?

What is a reference?

A reference is a statement written by a school teacher, mentor or somebody else in authority connected with your education or work experience. It is designed to state your suitability for the position to which you are applying: in this case, medical school. It allows your referee to write something about you that contributes to your gaining a place in medical school. It should fit in with the rest of your application (i.e. your grades and personal statement) by, for example, mentioning activities that you did not have space to cover (or which you wanted to come from an authority figure).

Why is a reference important?

A reference supports your application, conveying the conviction of the educational professionals who know you. A bad reference will have a negative impact (unless there are extenuating circumstances). A good reference will not harm your choices. There are several ways in which a reference can make a meaningful impact on your application:

  • Contribution to your application score: some medical school use it to filter out candidates before making offers for interview, and some include the application as part of their scoring system by allocating it a mark.
  • Admissions assessor: they will look into your references to get a feel for you as a person. A positive reference will feed back to the other aspects of your application and can possibly increase your marks, compared to a negative reference.

Who can write a reference?

Mostly this choice is made automatically: either your form tutor or teacher will write a reference for you as part of your application process. However, if you are not a typical applicant and have the opportunity to choose your own referees then there are some suggestions below.

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.

Extra-curricular supervisor

  • A coach, trainer, volunteer organiser, etc.
  • Works well, especially if you have strong work experience or extra-curricular achievements you wish to draw attention to (and of course, relating it to medicine; i.e. teamwork, leadership, management, etc.)

Most students find out that their ‘school’ will be writing their reference. Try to find out who will be writing your statement. Give them your personal statement arrange a meeting so that they can 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: don’t 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.

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