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Acting as a referee for a student’s UCAS application is difficult. This is especially true when they are applying to a course as competitive as Medicine.

It is a lot of pressure and you will want to do the best by your students. The Medic Portal has used its insights into the process to produce this teacher guide for writing references.


What Is A Teacher Reference?

Teacher references, like personal statements, are up to 4,000 characters and 47 lines long. They should offer professional and considered appraisal of a student’s ability and suitability for Medicine.

In the words of the UCAS website: ‘as a referee, you’re aiming to give universities and colleges an informed and academic assessment of an applicant’s suitability for further study.’

Your teacher reference needs to dovetail with the student’s personal statement. Is should not simply repeat information already offered by them. In fact, UCAS warns teachers to:

‘Avoid repeating any of the information they [the student] has given in their application, unless you want to comment on it, and avoid mentioning any particular university or college.’

This is a very delicate balancing act to strike and one of the fundamental challenges of the teacher reference.

What Can My Teacher Reference Add?

Since you are not using the same information as the student, you should be asking yourself this: ‘what it is that I can say to strengthen their application that they might not be able to say themselves?’

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Provide a neutral assessment of their academic potential
  • Confirm that their motivation is real and sustained
  • Corroborate their exploration of, and suitability for, Medicine
  • Add what students are too modest to say themselves

And here are some practical examples:

  • ‘Their motivation and commitment to Medicine shines through to others’
  • ‘Their potential extends beyond their current level’
  • ‘They have an incredibly positive impact on other people’

Remember, a rigorous, evidence-based approach may make for a more persuasive reference than a personal plea.

What Are The Key Components Of The Teacher Reference?

UCAS flags the following key components. For each one, we highlight a list of fundamental considerations that the teacher needs to weigh up.

Post-16 academic performance and their potential for success in higher education.

  • Ideally, this will be a confirmation of their strong academic credentials
  • If there are mitigating circumstances around lower grades, include this
  • If grades are lower and there are no mitigating circumstances – reconsider their application?
  • Stress that their academic ability will transfer beyond A-Level
  • Are they equipped for the ‘lifelong learning’ of a doctor?

Why they’re suited to their chosen subject and career path, plus their attitude, motivation and commitment.

  • Suitability is more important for Medicine as it is a very long and specific course
  • In this case, you must consider the course AND the career together
  • Teachers must be aware of what it is really like to be a medical student / doctor
  • Commitment is essential — does this shine through on a daily basis?
  • Use evidence to support their motivation — do their actions support their words?

Achievements, work experience, and extracurricular activities that relate to their chosen course(s).

  • Work experience is essential — can you add to what’s in their personal statement?
  • What key qualities do their extracurricular activities show?
  • Elaborate on what the student writes with additional detail or emphasis

Skills and qualities like aptitude and enthusiasm, plus current or past achievements that will help with their chosen subject area.

  • Be aware of the key qualities needed to be a good doctor, including: empathy; communication; teamwork & leadership; stress management; desire to learn and to teach.
  • Link these qualities to the qualities and actions of the student.
  • Be aware of raising accidental red flags:

Example 1: ‘James got excellent AS results despite being very stressed’

Example 2: ‘James doesn’t talk much but always gets the best grades’

Should I Involve The Student?

Yes! We highly recommend this. You will have numerous applicants to consider. The student has only one: themselves.

Explain to students that if they want a great reference, it is their responsibility to keep you up to date with academic and extracurricular activities that demonstrate the key qualities.

Ideally, these should be submitted to you in writing, along with a list of things the student thinks would benefit their application but which they could not fit on the personal statement.

Do You Have Any Tips For Writing A Teacher Reference?

Here are the top five tips for teachers writing references for Medicine:

  1. Be honest. If you are struggling to recommend a student, are they really suited for a career in Medicine?
  2. If you have doubts, speak to the student. Perhaps they will share your doubts; if not they might convince you and in doing so give inspiration for the reference.
  3. Talk to the student regularly so you get to know them. Understand their motivations for Medicine, what they have done and what they have learned.
  4. Keep notes on any times when you notice your medical applicants showing key qualities needed to make a good doctor. You can then use these in your reference.
  5. Get the tone right. Aim for a reference that is objective and analytical, but sprinkled with personal endorsement.

Learn More:

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