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Information for referees

Referees are kindly requested to submit an online reference form, including a reference letter, to assist the University in making a full assessment of each applicant’s academic record and abilities.

Being a referee for a graduate application

Acting as a referee is an important role in helping us assess whether the applicant is likely to be successful on their intended course. The information below sets out what we are looking for in a reference and how to provide a reference that will be of most value to our academic assessors.

If the applicant has not sent you a copy of their CV when asking you to act as a referee, you may find it helpful to request this from them to get additional information on any relevant activities or achievements, particularly if your last interaction with them was a while ago.

How to submit your reference

We advise applicants to contact and register their referees as early in the application process as possible. 

As soon as an applicant registers you as a referee, you will receive a short automated email with the applicant's details and a link to the online reference system. It will also include the deadline for your reference, as entered by the applicant in their application form.

Submitting a reference will involve the following steps:

  • accessing the reference system using the link supplied to you
  • answering a few short questions about the applicant and their academic record
  • uploading your reference letter as a PDF file (see How to convert your document to PDF file format)
  • submitting your reference.

Once you have submitted the form, a confirmation will appear on screen and an automated email will be sent to your registered address. 

If the applicant applies to more than one course, you will need to repeat this process for each application.

Your reference letter

What we are looking for

  • We are looking for insights into the applicant’s suitability for an academic course. Please try to focus your reference letter on the experience and skills that will be relevant to this (eg capacity for analysis or independent working).
  • For information on the nature of the course and the skills and experience it will require, follow the link to the course page in the notification email on the Oxford University website.
  • If you are unable to supply a reference within the required timeframe or do not think that you know the applicant well enough to write one, please let the applicant know as soon as possible so they can register another referee

What to include in the letter

  • Explain the capacity in which you know the applicant, so our assessors can appreciate how well positioned you are to comment on their suitability.
  • Briefly state your own background and qualifications so we understand the basis of your assessment
  • Reference letters should be typically 500-1,000 words and should not normally exceed two pages. You should write in enough detail to give specific examples of their qualities and achievements, but longer letters will not be taken as indicating greater support.
  • You should cover the applicant's general suitability to undertake the proposed course and how well the course matches their experience and interests
  • Interim grades from any in-progress course
  • Confirm any prizes awarded and extra-curricular activities undertaken
  • It would also be helpful to include evidence of the following examples of skills where possible/relevant:
    • Critical thinking
    • Independent and collaborative work
    • Written and oral communication skills
    • Ability to organise workload
    • Data analysis

What not to include in the letter

  • Material that is irrelevant to the application, such as protected characteristics like ethnicity or sexual orientation
  • Personal extenuating circumstances without the applicant’s explicit agreement

Professional references

Depending on the nature of your professional role, you may not be able to speak to all of the above skills, but please try to identify specific examples where the applicant has demonstrated the qualities and experience relevant to their intended course. If you do not think you can comment meaningfully on areas relevant to the applicant or your organisation’s policies limit what you can include in a reference, you may need to inform the applicant.

English is not your first language

We do require references to be submitted in English and by the referee themselves. It is possible for your reference to be translated by a third party, but it must be reviewed and submitted by you.

Contact information

Applicants are required to register referees with their institutional or professional email address. If you do not have an institutional or professional email address, we would be grateful if you could give your full contact information in your reference letter and explain very briefly why it was necessary to use an alternative email address, eg if your academic institution does not issue email accounts. 


If you wish your reference to be treated as confidential, please select this option in the reference form. If you are submitting your reference letter directly by email or in hard copy and wish it to be treated as confidential, please clearly indicate this at the top of the letter. Otherwise, in the event of a subject access request, your reference may be disclosed to the applicant.

Automated emails and reminders

The notification email with the information you need to access to the system and any subsequent emails from the online reference system are sent immediately on the applicant’s request. The timing and frequency of these automated emails are under each applicant’s control, though all applicants are also strongly advised to keep in contact with each of their referees directly throughout the process.

If you cannot find or do not receive the initial email then the applicant can re-send this to you. 

Deadlines for references

Please note that references must be received by the University’s application deadline in order for that application to be considered.

It is the applicant's responsibility to accurately communicate the deadline that they intend to use to you, to ensure that all of their referees are given good notice of the deadline they intend to apply for, and to arrange alternative referees if any of their referees cannot meet the deadline.

If you are unwilling or no longer able to act as a referee, we would kindly request that you let the applicant know directly.

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