Academic references guide for undergraduate applications

Find out how we use references in our admissions process for undergraduate degrees and what we’d like you to include when providing a reference.

The University of Manchester supports the 2024 UCAS reference reform and hopes it’ll enable you to focus your contributions to students' applications while reducing the considerable time pressure on you when providing references. Further information is available on the UCAS website, including examples of good practice (Word doc, 310KB).

Manchester’s admissions process

We operate a devolved admissions process, and all decisions are made within individual academic Schools or Departments. Our academics and admissions staff assess each application holistically and judge whether the content and demand of the students' application provide suitable evidence that they’re sufficiently prepared to progress onto the course they’re applying for.

Due to our devolved nature, academic Schools or Departments may use references in different ways. Our priority is always to ensure the application process is as fair and consistent as possible. We know other universities may have different expectations from a UCAS academic reference therefore, we’d never advantage or disadvantage applicants whose reference includes more or less information than we’d like. If we need further information, we’ll contact you or the applicant directly.

How we use academic references

We use academic references to contextualise and reinforce the other parts of a UCAS application. References don’t form part of our core consideration (unlike predicted grades, achieved qualifications and personal statements) but they’re a useful tool when making decisions.

Section one: Enter a general description about your school, college, or centre

Many schools and colleges already provide a standard piece of text in their references regarding their institution. We welcome information including:

  • Details on any selection policies (are you an open access or academically selective school/college?), funding status (private or government funded), school performance, intake demographics, and progression rates to higher education.
  • A brief explanation of the typical study paths your students take, such as the type and number of qualifications studied.
  • Any policies or processes used for predicting grades (such as internal assessments). This is an opportunity to articulate any policy about not predicting grades for qualifications where the school or college feels the assessment method or qualification structure is not suited to predictions.
  • Information about your school, college, or centre which may affect a student’s performance, such as significant staff changes or damage to buildings.

If you’re providing a reference for an applicant who is applying independently of a school or college, section one will instead ask you to briefly explain your relationship to the applicant.

Section two: Add information about extenuating circumstances that may affect the applicant’s education and achievement

We don’t expect this for all applicants, just those with extenuating circumstances.

As a guide, we recommend you include the following information where relevant in this section, with the applicant's consent:

  • A brief statement on the student’s overall academic performance that contextualises their educational journey. The statement should include information on their current performance and any changes over time. This can be particularly helpful if their performance has changed since receiving their previous qualifications (such as GCSEs) and can help us interpret differences between predicted and achieved grades.
  • Any individual circumstances such as a disability, a serious, acute, or chronic illness, bereavement, family disruption, or significant adverse personal circumstances. We consider extenuating circumstances very seriously and always want to know how an applicant’s performance may be impacted by their circumstances.
  • Factors which have limited the individual’s choice of subjects at UK Level 3 or equivalent (factors which have affected the whole centre rather than the individual should be included in section one). This is helpful when considering applicants who may not have preferred subjects for their course, although, we can’t consider applicants missing essential subjects.
  • Reasonable adjustments that've been identified by the school, college, centre or awarding organisation to support successful outcomes.

You must be clear whether any of the circumstances outlined have already been considered by the student’s examination boards or awarding organisations for the qualifications taken. We’re unable to consider these if they’ve already been considered. We’re also unable to consider information after an adverse decision has been made on an application.

A short description outlining the circumstances is sufficient. We’ll always seek more information if we need to. We appreciate some applicants may be uncomfortable with sharing details about their circumstances, which is why all information is kept confidential and will only be used (where appropriate) to the applicant’s benefit. Alternatively, you can provide this information directly to the admissions team for the course they’re applying for.

Section three: Outline other supportive information specific to the applicant and relevant to the course applied for that you think universities or colleges should be aware of

If you have no circumstances to note, this section can be left blank. We expect this to be the case for many applicants.

We don’t have any specific academic information requirements for this section and don’t expect you to provide individual comments from each subject teacher. We take predicted grades as your judgement on a student’s academic performance in each subject.

Only those circumstances that are relevant for your applicant need to be included here in short, clear statements.

Information that may be useful to include is:

  • Barriers the applicant has faced in accessing work experience opportunities or extracurricular activities (only where relevant to the course applied to).
  • Extracurricular activities that represent a significant commitment (including time away from school and evening or weekend activity) such as high-performance sports, music activities, and volunteering in the community.
  • Additional qualification information – if your student studies outside of the UK school system, it’s helpful to include information about their study that isn’t already within their qualifications information. For example, their chosen specialisms or the individual subjects included.
  • If your applicant is applying for a second time or after a gap (due to transferring universities, for example), it’s helpful to give a brief explanation of that change.
  • If you’re providing a reference from another university, state whether your applicant is still registered or has formally left. It’s also helpful to know if there are any outstanding disciplinary matters.

Referee contact details

If your applicant attends your school or college, we’ll need your reference to be provided with your official email address) or a generic published school email address and not a personal email account. We’ll use this email address if we require any more information.

Verifying qualifications

As a referee, UCAS provides a way for you to confirm you’ve verified all the qualifications listed by your applicant. You can reduce the evidence we ask applicants to provide by verifying their qualifications.

Check that applicants have entered their qualifications correctly, especially if the qualifications are available at different levels or offer similar subject titles, such as BTECs. Indicate whether each qualification is achieved or incomplete.

Evidence of grades achieved, such as GCSEs, may be required. Admissions generally accepted scanned copies of documents. However, the University can request original documents at any stage and during registration to the University.

Applicants with Access to Higher Education Diplomas or mature students

References for applicants studying an Access to Higher Education Diploma or mature students may need more detailed information later in the application process. This is because your applicant may have only just begun their current studies.