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Application Guide

Registering referees

Reference requirements

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. Advice on choosing your referees can be found in our How-to guides.

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.

Referees should not be those with whom you wish to study at Oxford, unless they have taught or supervised you previously.

The How to apply section of 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. 

It is a good idea to send your referees the entry requirements for the relevant 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.

Reference Authenticity

If we suspect that your reference(s) aren't genuine, or have not been submitted by the registered referee, we will take reasonable steps – including contacting third parties – to determine their authenticity. If the reference(s) turn out not to be genuine, your application will be withdrawn and will not be considered by the academic department. Where possible referees must be registered with an institutional or professional email address. If this is not possible, reference letters must explain why. References you upload to your application yourself are not permitted and will not be considered authentic. Personal references (ie from family, friends or neighbours) are never 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.

Reference type

Specify the reference type for each referee, either 'Academic' or 'Professional'. The relevant 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, you will need to provide additional details when registering your referee so that we can, where necessary, seek confirmation of their authenticity. Your referee will also 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 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 for referees 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; and
  • 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 refer to our instructions for referees on how to submit references.


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, update it to be today’s date.

If the error message persists, try to register your referees one at a time:

  1. Delete all of the email addresses and click the 'Save and Close' button.
  2. Close the application form and clear your internet browser cache.
  3. Return to the 'Referees' section and enter the email address for your first referee only.
  4. Tick the box to send a reference request email to the first referee.
  5. Click 'Save and Proceed' to move to the next section of the application form.
  6. 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. It does not matter if this means that you have a slot where a reference will not be submitted.

After you have submitted your application it is possible to amend or change the email address of your referees by following the instructions for managing your references from within the Applicant Self-Service Guide. The portal will become available within 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, refer to our instructions for adding or changing a referee within this Application Guide;
  • 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 [email protected], 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.

After you have submitted your application you can re-send reference request emails using the instructions for managing your references from within the Applicant Self-Service Guide.

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