This section of the Application Guide covers:
- the University’s requirements for references
- how to register your referees on the Referees tab of the application form
- tracking your references
- adding or changing a referee.
If you have been asked to provide a reference for an applicant, please visit our Information for referees.
Before you apply, you will need to contact your referees to ask if they are happy to write a reference (letter of recommendation) for you. Your referees should typically be academics who have taught or supervised you or, where professional references are permitted by the course, line managers or directors. Referees should not be those with whom you wish to study at Oxford, unless they have taught or supervised you previously.
You must register three referees as part of your graduate application. However, you need only two references submitted in time for the application deadline to be considered ready for assessment, as long as your application is otherwise complete.
You are still encouraged to obtain a third reference as early as possible, so that it can be taken into consideration when your application is assessed. The academic department assessing your application may ask you to have a third reference submitted before making a final decision.
It is your responsibility to make sure that your referees submit your references by your chosen course deadline, and to remind them as the deadline approaches. If you are applying for more than one course, please make sure your referees are aware that they will need to submit a reference letter for each course. Stay in contact with your referees until you are sure that we have received their references.
You do not need to wait until your referees have provided your references to submit your application. Any references provided after you submit your application will be added to it.
Choosing your referees
You should choose three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. It is a good idea to send your referees the entry requirements for your course so they can comment on your performance against the requirements. Your course page will indicate how your references will be assessed.
If you are a current or recent master’s student, one of your referees should be your supervisor or course director from this course.
Please note: if we have reasonable cause to suspect that your references aren't genuine, we will take reasonable steps – including contacting third parties – to determine their validity. If they turn out not to be genuine, your application will be withdrawn and will not be considered by the academic department.
What types of reference do I need?
The ‘How to apply’ tab on each course page will indicate what types of reference are required by the academic department. Your references should usually be academic, but some courses may indicate that professional references are accepted.
Personal references (ie, from family, friends or neighbours) are never acceptable.
If you are not able to provide the required types of reference specified on the course page, you should contact the academic department to confirm what will be acceptable.
Register your referees: step-by-step
You should register your referees on the ‘Referees’ tab of the application form as soon as you start your application, and before you complete the rest of the form. This will give your referees as long as possible to prepare your references.
Choose a deadline
Choose the deadline by which your referees should submit their references. This will appear in the request email sent to each referee. In the drop-down menu, you can select one of the standard deadlines for your course, or select ‘Other’ and enter a custom date. The deadline for your referees must not be in the past and it must be no later than the application deadline of the course you are applying to. If the deadline you set for your referee passes before you submit your application, you will need to return to the Referees page of the form and update the date to the date on which you are submitting.
Referee's title and names
Enter the title, given name and surname of each referee. We will also use this information to address your referee in their notification email, so make sure it is correct.
Specify the reference type for each referee, either 'Academic' or 'Professional'. Your course page will have more information about the types of reference you are expected to provide.
Referee's email address
- You must provide the referee's institutional or professional email address wherever possible. If this is not possible, your referee will need to explain the reason for this in their letter.
- Type in the email address of each referee manually. Avoid using your browser’s ‘auto-fill’ function to complete the fields, or copying and pasting from other sources, as this may cause an error.
- The email address must have an '@' symbol and a domain (eg 'ox.ac.uk' or 'gov.uk').
- The email address must not have been entered elsewhere in your application.
Provide the referee’s ‘Role’ during the period covered by their reference. This may be their job title (eg Director or Head of Department) or their position relative to you (eg Line Manager or Tutor).
‘I am ready for a reference request to be sent to this referee when I leave this page’
When you tick this box and navigate away from the page, your referee will be sent a notification email. This will contain a unique hyperlink to the online application system and instructions on how to submit a reference for you.
How should references be submitted?
Your references should be submitted:
- to the online reference system, not sent directly by email. If your referees experience any problems with the online system, please contact Graduate Admissions;
- directly by the referee. References you upload to your application or send to us yourself will not be accepted;
- by the course deadline to which you are applying;
- in PDF, .jpeg or .png format. References cannot be uploaded as Word documents;
- in English, unless explicitly permitted by the department or accompanied by a certified English translation (ie signed and stamped by your institution or an official translator). Any accompanying translations must be submitted by the referee directly, not the applicant.
Referees can find further instructions on how to submit references for graduate applicants on our Information for referees page.
I'm unable to enter my referee's email address
The email addresses of your referees must be typed in manually. Details you have copied and pasted from other sources may contain hidden characters, which will cause an error to occur.
If you are completing your application using a Mac, iOS device or Android phone, we would recommend that you retry using a computer running Windows, as this affords better integration with our application systems.
If you encounter an error while using a computer running Windows, we recommend that you try to complete the ‘Referees’ section using a different internet browser (eg Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Mozilla Firefox).
If you have attempted to use a different internet browser but the problem has not been resolved, we recommend that you take the following steps:
- Check that the information you have entered is correct, and there are no misspellings or extra characters. The application form will check that the format of the email address is correct.
- Check that all mandatory fields on the page, including the deadline for your references, have been completed.
- If the deadline date for the referees is now in the past, edit it to be today’s date.
If the error message persists, try to register your referees one at a time:
- Delete all of the email addresses and click the 'Save and Close' button.
- Close the application form and clear your internet browser cache.
- Return to the 'Referees' section and enter the email address for your first referee only.
- Tick the box to send a reference request email to the first referee.
- Click 'Save and Proceed' to move to the next section of the application form.
- Return to the ‘Referees’ tab to register your second and third referees separately.
If following these instructions does not resolve the problem, contact Graduate Admissions for further guidance. If possible, provide a screenshot of the issue with your query.
I've made an error with my referee's email address
Once a referee has been registered, it is not possible to change their email address on your application form.
However, you can make use of an additional referee slot to enter the referee's details again. After you have registered three referees, navigate away from the 'References' tab. When you return to it, you will be able to register your referee with the correct information in an additional referee slot.
If you have already submitted your application, it is possible to amend or change the email address of your referees using the Graduate Applicant Self Service portal. The portal will become available a few days after your application has been submitted.
I see an error message after adding a fourth referee
If you register a fourth referee and revisit the 'Referees' tab of the application form, you may see an error message when you try to navigate away from the page again. If this occurs, select 'Cancel', and you should then be able to navigate away from the page normally.
My referee hasn't received their notification email
If you have registered a referee as part of your online application but they have not received the email request, we recommend that you take the following steps:
- check that the referee’s email address has been entered correctly in the online application form. If you need to amend the email address, see Adding or changing a referee;
- ask your referee to check their Junk/Spam email folders to see if the email has been filtered into one of these.
If the above steps don't resolve the issue, you can instead ask your referee to submit their reference to us directly:
- your referee should send the completed referee form and reference letter to firstname.lastname@example.org, using their institutional or professional email address
- make sure that your referee quotes your full name and the name of the course to which you are applying in their email, so that we are able to locate the correct application
- once the reference is received, we will manually add it to your application.
Please note: after you submit your application, you can re-send reference request emails yourself from Graduate Applicant Self Service.
Tracking your references
When you register a referee, we will send them an email request with the deadline you have chosen. After this, we will not contact your referees again.
If your referee has not received their notification email, or they experience difficulty when submitting their reference, please consult our troubleshooting guide in the Reference requirements section of this page for instructions.
You and the relevant referee will receive a notification email each time one of your references is submitted via the online application system. If the reference is submitted by another method, you will not be notified by email; there may be delay before your application form is updated to show that the reference has been received.
After you submit your application, you can track the status of your references using Graduate Applicant Self Service. References not submitted via the online application system will also be shown in your Self Service, but there may be a delay as they must be processed and added to your application. You can also use Self Service to re-send email notifications to your referees.
What should I do if one of my referees is unable to provide a reference?
We do understand that referees are not always able to provide references.
You are required to register three referees as part of your application form. However, once your application has received a minimum of two references, it is possible for the relevant academic department to begin their assessment. The department may request that you obtain a third reference before they make a final decision on your application.
If one of your referees informs you that they will not be able to provide a reference, you will need to approach another suitable referee as quickly as possible. You must inform your referee of the deadline for which you are applying, and remind them to submit their reference as that deadline approaches. We will not send any reminders on your behalf.
Refer to Adding or changing a referee for more information on how to register a new referee before and after you submit your application. Remember that we cannot accept references you submit yourself.
Adding or changing a referee
Once a referee has been registered, you will not be able to edit their details via the application form. However, it is possible to add a new referee or register a referee again if you have entered their details incorrectly.
Before you submit your application, a fourth referee slot will become available once you have registered three referees on the ‘Referees’ tab of your application form. You will only be able to register a maximum of four referees prior to submitting your application.
After submitting your application, you can use the Graduate Applicant Self Service portal to add new referees, up to a total of six. You can also correct the details of a referee you have previously registered. The portal will usually become available a few days after your application is submitted.
If you are correcting the details of a referee who has already been sent an automated request email, please ask your referee to upload their reference using the link in the most recent email. This will ensure that their reference is associated with the correct details.
- You should register each referee using their institutional or professional email address. For more information, refer to Reference requirements.
- Each referee you register will receive an email notification. After this, we will not contact your referees again.
- It is your responsibility to make sure that your references are submitted in time for the deadline to which you are applying.
- You do not need to wait until your references have been received to submit your application.
- We cannot accept any reference letters which are sent in by applicants themselves.