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The Teacher's Reference

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

An explanation of the teacher's reference and how you can use it to separate yourself from the crowd.

The below article will be split into the following sections:

1. Background

2. Control What You Can

3. Useful links

1. Background

The Teacher’s Reference is a key part of your UCAS application. In a way, the Teacher's Reference is similar to the Personal Statement, only it is written by your teacher/tutor/principal etc. Personally, the vast majority of my reference was written by my History teacher at Leaving Certificate, with only the introduction and conclusion written by my school's principal.

Your chosen referee (the person writing the reference) should include examples of your skills and talents most relevant to the course. As I was applying for law, I was aware that there is no one subject at Leaving Certificate that can prepare you for law at undergraduate level, and so essay-writing subjects are the closest thing to good preparation. This is because you exercise clarity and conciseness of writing, while simultaneously developing analytical skills and critical thinking. This is why I selected my History teacher, ensuring he provided examples of how I had improved these skills, and how I was performing in assessments.

2. Control What You Can

Most teachers writing references in the UK will know how to do so, because they write references for all of their students applying to universities in the UK. As this is less common in the Republic of Ireland, far fewer teachers are aware or knowledgeable of what is expected of them for UCAS. As such, you should control what you can.

Some schools allows students to choose what is included in the reference, and to read it before it is sent off to ensure they are satisfied. My school did not allow this, but if yours does, take the opportunity to get exactly what you want in the reference and make it as perfect as you can. If you get to choose the teacher writing the reference, consider factors such as (1) the relationship you have with that teacher, (2) the relevance of that teacher’s subject to the degree for which you are applying, (3) the likelihood that the teacher will include what you would like them to include, and so forth.

I got three articles that explained the teacher’s reference, printed them off, and spoke through them with my referee after class so that he was aware of how to write the reference effectively. I also included a list of some information that I would like to have included on the reference, such as achievements in debating, examinations etc.

Many students think the teacher’s reference is out of their hands. It is not. Control what you can.

3. Useful Links

- UCAS explanation and tips for the reference, aimed at both students and teachers (here)

- UCAS explains HOW to write the reference (here)

- The Dos and Don’ts of Oxbridge References according to the Private Firm ‘Oxbridge Applications’ (here)

- The Cambridge explanation of the Teacher’s Reference (here)

- The Oxford explanation of the Teacher’s Reference and what should be included (here)


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