The references written on behalf of applicants to Lucy Cavendish play an important role in our decision making process. We always require a reference on the UCAS application, and applicants should not assume that they can replace this with a reference written for some other purpose, or an open letter of recommendation.

Ideally, your UCAS reference should be written by someone who is familiar with your academic work, as well as your recent history: for example, a tutor on a Further or Higher Education course you have taken in the past two years, or a teacher with whom you have maintained contact since leaving school. If this impossible, you should ask a responsible person who knows you (such as an employer or senior colleague), supplying them with as much evidence of your academic achievement and potential as you can.

We do not routinely request a second reference, except for the Graduate Course in Medicine. However, we may ask for supplementary testimony in the event that the reference included as part of your UCAS application does not meet our needs. This may occur if the reference is obviously out of date, generic, or very short, or if your referee has suggested we contact them for more extensive comments further into the academic year.

References are most helpful to us when they focus on academic ability, levels of motivation for study, and relevant analytical and/or technical competencies. Almost all our applicants are predicted top grades in the qualifications they are studying, and words such as ‘outstanding’ carry more weight if they are accompanied by specific information about performance, progress and potential such as:

  • observations from subject tutors (‘Her Biology Tutor writes…’);
  • comments on written English, verbal skills and intellectual flexibility;
  • a rank order in class (e.g. ‘top of 20’ or ‘in the top four out of 23’) or a comparison with current or previous applicants (for instance, ‘one of our top 10 university applicants this year’);
  • evidence of improvement ('has progressed rapidly from Merit to Distinction standard');
  • evidence of willingness to explore and discuss ideas outside the confines of the curriculum;
  • evidence of self-discipline, maturity and commitment;
  • possible reasons for past underachievement at GCSE, AS-/A-level, or equivalent;
  • details of any personal or health issues of that have had or could have an adverse effect on the applicant’s performance.

Second references for the Graduate Course in Medicine must reach us by October 22. These do not have to be in hard copy; we will accept a recommendation originating from your referee's e-mail account.