- Get to know your referee
Know your referee so that they can write about your strengths and write something personal about you. This will make you stand out to an admissions tutor who will otherwise see hundreds of similar references during the application period.
- Request it early
The vast majority of candidates will have their references done by their teachers automatically. However, some candidates need to choose their own referees and to approach each one with a polite request to write a reference. Ask early in summer for an October submission so that your referees have time to write a stellar reference. Do not ask them to write something in the last week before submission. you will not endear yourself to them, and they may question your time-management skills in the reference itself.
- Provide information
Your referees will be busy people, so to improve your chances of having a meaningful reference, schedule an appointment with your referee, if possible, to discuss your reference. Bring your CV and personal statement with you so that they can see what areas need supplementing in the application process.
- Thank your referee
This is something that often never gets done. Take some time to thank your referee in person for spending the time and effort to write your reference. Update them on where you are accepted to, and where you eventually decide to study. Your referees have an interest in seeing you succeed and they deserve to know what happened.
- Ask to see the reference
It is increasingly common for applicants to be shown their own references. This provides an opportunity to correct any errors that you may find, this is very rare, but it can happen, or to be able to 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 provided some reassurance that my referee had written positive statements about me. It was useful as I was able to correct a couple of minor inaccuracies or add more specificity to a mentioned skill or attribute. 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. I think this would have been helpful for both of us. Don’t forget that 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.’
- Explaining negative situations
You can use a reference to cover details of any negative aspect of your application such as having to resit exams, etc., and you have the opportunity to give an explanation such as bereavement, illness, etc. When an explanation comes from an authority figure it is far more convincing than if you had written about it yourself.
- Whole reference is bad
It is very rare to see a completely bad reference. This type of reference will have a negative impact on your application and you should consider not including it in your application.
What if my referee asks me to write my own reference?
Some applicants who are graduates can often choose their own referees. They may find that a referee has neither the time nor the inclination to write a reference. Some referees ask the applicant to write the reference themself after which the referee reads it 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.