Choosing your references when filling out your postgraduate application form is more important than you might think. Your referees are just as essential to your application as your academic history and personal statement. Universities often get a lot of submissions for their postgraduate courses and are unable to meet every single applicant, so they will use your references as a way to influence their decision as to whether you will be accepted onto the course. This is becoming increasingly common for taught masters degrees, so you need to ensure you are represented in the best possible light on your application.
In a nutshell, the referees you choose can make or break your application.
When putting together your submission you will generally be required to provide two academic references. These can be mentors or lecturers from previous courses who are able to provide an informed statement regarding your previous education and suitability to the course. Your references are extremely valuable to your application, so it’s important you have the right people to do this for you.
If you are returning to higher education after years of employment, remember that admissions advisors are understanding of this. If this applies to you, keep in mind that universities can accept references from an employer or other candidates who can offer a suitable academic evaluation of your abilities. It can really benefit your application if your job has been related to your area of study, especially if you have gained some valuable experience in the workplace that can be linked to your postgraduate learning potential. Keep in mind that character references will not be relevant to your application, so be sure to avoid choosing friends or family members as personal referees, as this sort of information about you will not be applicable.
There are a few do’s and don’ts to take into consideration when filling out your postgraduate application. Make sure you give all of the correct information for your references. Double check all your personal details and don’t give out old contact details; an accurate address and telephone number is crucial in case the university requires follow up information. Ensure you have spelt their name correctly (and neatly if handwritten) and listed the correct job title. Also be sure to include how you know this person and their relationship to you. One of the most important things to remember is to always get the permission of the person before you list them as a reference, and ensure they will be able to appraise you positively and highlight your achievements. By asking somebody to referee for you in advance, it also gives them an opportunity to think about what they may add to your reference, making your application stronger.
Contact your referees directly and request that they send the reference in a sealed envelope to yourself or your intended place of study. Alternatively, if the reference is to be emailed, it’s important to make sure that it comes from an official university or work email address. University admissions advisors will not be able to verify anything other than this.
You may find yourself waiting until you get a response, so don’t hold off on submitting your application if the deadline is looming, especially as you can also change previously submitted referees at a later date if necessary.