7.1 Introduction to references

What is a reference?

A reference allows your school teachers or referees 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 (grades and personal statement) so that it includes mentions of activities that you did not have space to mention (or wanted it to come from an authority figure).

Why is a reference important?

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 on how a reference can make a meaningful impact to your application:

  • Contribution to your application score: Some medical school use it to filter out candidates before the interview offers stage, and some include the application as part of their application scoring system by allocating it a mark.
  • Admissions assessor: They will look into your references to get a feel for you as a person. If it is a positive reference, then that feeds back into your other aspects of your application and can possibly bump up your marks, compared to if it was a negative reference.

Who can write a reference?


Mostly this is all done automatically, so either your form tutor or teacher will write this for you as part of your application process. However if you are not a typical applicant and can choose your own referees then the below are suggestions:

Form tutors or headmaster

  • Takes an overall view on the candidate’s performance across many subjects, as well as extracurricular achievements.
  • The default referee.

Subject-specific teachers

  • Will take a strong view on 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.


  • Will be advantageous for someone who come from a strong research background, and especially applying for a course with a view for intercalation.

Extra-curricular supervisor

  • Either 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, relating it to medicine – i.e. teamwork, leadership, management etc.)

Most students find out that their “schools” will be writing their personal statement. Try and find out who exactly will be writing your statement, and give them your personal statement as well as trying to aim for a meeting so that they 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 and 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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