K M Enayet Hossain
11 October, 2022

5 min read


Matters related to academic reference letters

Academic reference letter is an important document for university admission, in particular for postgraduate applications. It is vital that you get this right. This guide provides necessary information about the academic reference letter so that you do better with reference letter.

What is an academic reference letter?

An academic reference letter is testimonials to confirm facts and to provide relevant opinions of a student’s academic accomplishments, characteristics, aptitude, and an academic evaluation of your research, intellectual qualities, ability and potential. The letter is normally written by someone with whom you have an academic relationship with, and can comment on your academic capacity to undertake further studies i.e. the course tutor/professor/dissertation/theses supervisor who knows you well through teaching the course or particular subject/subjects of the course (ideally within 2 years) in your former or current school/college/university.

Features of academic reference letter

An academic reference letter should have the following features to get accepted –

  • Must be on intuitional official letterhead paper
  • Must mention for when, how long they know you and in what capacity
  • Contain referee’s full name, designation, contact information
  • Hand-signed and dated by the referee

Importance of academic reference letter

Almost all the universities require academic reference letters (usually two) alongside your admission application and other documents. Some universities do not even issue conditional offer without these while other universities may issue conditional offers with condition of academic reference letters as prerequisite for unconditional offer. Therefore, it is as important as any other admission documents either to submit copies of academic reference letters at the application stage or provide academic referees’ details (if you have informed and taken consent from them) so that universities can contact them to collect the necessary references via emails.

Are Academic Reference & Academic Recommendation Letters same?

Academic Reference & Academic Recommendation letters are not same. A "letter of recommendation" is one that is specifically requested by someone for a specific academic program or scholarship or other award application. Letter of recommendation is addressed to the person who requests it, normally sent directly to the requestor and not seen by the student.

A "letter of reference" is normally more general in nature and not addressed to a specific requestor – it is normally addressed "To Whom it may Concern". These letters are most often given directly to the student and they can send it to different requestors by themselves.

How many academic reference letter I need to provide with admission application?

Normally, most of the prospective universities may require 2 academic reference letters with your admission application. However, some postgraduate courses may require one academic reference and one professional reference, or two professional references.

Professional references are provided by current employer (if you are currently employed) or former employer that detail your leadership/managerial potentials and capacity to undertake postgraduate studies. If you are self-employed or are the CEO yourself, you should provide references from business partners, key customers or respected business individuals.

Who should I nominate as an academic referee?

Please use the table below as a general guideline –

Your situation Your 1st referee Your 2nd referee
Recently finished undergraduate studies A tutor from your undergraduate degree course A second tutor from your undergraduate degree course
Recently finished (up to 3 years ago) postgraduate studies A tutor or supervisor from your postgraduate degree course A tutor from your undergraduate degree course OR present postgraduate tutor
Have not recently studied (more than 3 years ago) and you are unable to nominate two academic referees from your previous studies An official member of academic staff from your most recent higher education course Your employer or another professional person who can testify to your academic ability in a formal context

Do my referees need to have institutional email addresses?

Institutional email addresses are preferred as some prospective universities are very strict about this. However, if the intuition you studied at or the organisation you were employed by does not have institutional/organisational allocated to the referee, then other email addresses (i.e. yahoo, gmail etc.) will be considered by some of the universities if the reference is a letter on institutional/organisational letterhead paper. If the reference is provided via email, then it must be from an institutional/organisational email address of the referee.

Do I need to put my references on my CV?

Yes, it is preferable to put your referees’ details on the academic CV designed for admission application purposes. However, you will need to provide these details on the admission application. Make sure the details on the CV and the details on the application portal are same.

Can I change my referee on the application portal?

If you are not uploading copies of reference letters and providing referees’ details for university admission to contact them, you can change referees in exceptional circumstances but it is not preferable. You should talk to your referees first if they will be willing to provide references and if they have consent for you to provide their names and contact details.

What if my referee no longer works for the institution/organisation where I studied/worked?

If your referee has changed institution where you studied or changed organisation where you worked, they can still provide references for you – if they are providing letters then these have to be on letterhead of their current institution/organisations; if they are sending these via email then it is alright to send these from institutional/organisational email addresses of their current ones. They can clarify on the letter/email that they knew you from their past institution/organisation where they had academic/work relationship with you.

Do I need to send you my original reference letter by post?

No, you do not need to send hard copies of your reference letter by post. You can upload clearly scan copies of these either when you make your application online or after you have submitted your application through application portal.

Can university admission team contact my referee to ask for a reference?

If you do not have any reference letters but you have talked to your referees who have agreed to provide these or if your referee prefers to send a reference directly to us then you can enter their details (if they have given consent) on the online application portal – University admission department will send your referees reference request email/a link so they can send the reference directly. Make sure to put correct details and follow up with your referees to find out if they have received the requests and replied to those.

If my referees do not receive notification emails, what can I do?

First of all check that the referee’s email address has been entered correctly in the online application form. - if you made an error with this, let the university admission team know it immediately. If you provided correct email address then request your referee to check their Junk/Spam email folders to see if the email has been filtered into one of these.

Can I or my relative/friend write the reference on behalf of my referees if they don’t have the time to do it?

No, you or a person who you have personal relationship with you cannot write references for you, these will not be accepted. These have to come from a neutral person who knows you from academic or work/professional relationships.

Can my referees give reference in native language if they are not competent in English?

Please note that all documents you provide must be in English. If your referees are not competent in English and provide you reference letters in their native language, then you need to get those translated in English by international official translator/translator company, any unofficial translations will not be accepted.

I have further questions and require more clarifications on this, who should I contact?

If you need more information or further clarifications about academic references, you can contact one of our student consultants who will be happy to guide you through this and the admission process.

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