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The school/college reference tells us about an applicant's abilities and potential. Admissions Tutors look for indications that a student’s academic strengths are well suited both to the course and to the style of study at Cambridge.

Comments from subject specialists that show evidence of an applicant’s intellectual flexibility and curiosity, analytic ability, logical reasoning and the ability to learn quickly are extremely useful.

Most of our applicants are predicted to achieve top grades in the qualifications they are studying, and words such as 'outstanding' appear in many references. Instead, it is helpful for remarks about academic performance and potential are as specific as possible. The following can be particularly informative:

  • comments from subject teachers indicating a rank order in class (such as '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 a willingness to explore and discuss ideas outside the confines of the subject specification, if applying for a subject studied at school/college
  • evidence of steps taken to find out about the subject, for a non-school/college subject
  • reasons for underperformance in qualifications, if applicable
  • updated information about an applicant's progress or personal circumstances, as long as it is received before the December interview period
  • any health or personal circumstances that might affect performance at interview

For applicants with a particularly difficult educational or personal background, it may be appropriate for the school/college to complete and submit an Extenuating Circumstances Form.

Please note that there is no need to write a special/separate reference for Cambridge as we receive a copy of the UCAS reference you supply. However, if you wish to make any Cambridge-specific comments, please direct these to the Admissions Tutor at the College to which the student applied or to the Cambridge Admissions Office in the case of open applicants. Please ensure that the applicant's name, course and UCAS Personal ID are clearly stated.

Predicted grades

Admissions to UK universities currently operate on a pre-qualification basis - offers are made in advance of applicants achieving their final grades. Offers are then confirmed or rejected once an applicant's qualifications have been achieved. In order to facilitate this process, UCAS asks referees to indicate the expected performance of an applicant via predicted grades. A predicted grade is the grade of qualification an applicant’s school or college believes they are likely to achieve in positive circumstances. These predicted grades are then used during the admissions process, to help the University understand each applicant’s potential.

Applicants will not see their reference or predicted grades on their UCAS application. If you (as a referee) return an application to a student to make changes, any predicted grades that have already been entered will be automatically removed. In these circumstances you will need to make sure these grades are re-entered.

Further information can be found on the UCAS website.

References for mature students

When writing references for mature applicants (who will be aged 21 or older when they commence their university course) studying towards an Access to HE Diploma or other one-year qualifications, please give as much information about assessment procedures and the grading system for the course, as well as details about the applicant’s performance so far. We are aware that this can be difficult, as some students may have only just started their courses.

If applicable, please make it clear that the student is on a one-year course and give as much information as you can about their academic achievement. Admissions Tutors may also find it useful for you to write a second reference at a later date.

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