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Postgraduate Study


You will need to nominate two referees in your application to Cambridge.

When should I nominate my referees?

You need to nominate your referees early enough for them to submit a reference by the relevant deadline. Do not leave it to the last moment to make your nominations.

  • If you want to be considered for funding, all your references must be received before the funding deadline.
  • If not, we need both your references before the course deadline, otherwise your application will be withdrawn.

We will notify you via the Applicant Portal when your references are submitted. It is your responsibility to make sure that this happens in time.

We recommend that you stay in contact with your referees until you are notified that we have received their references.  If needed, you can send them reminders through the ’Manage References’ section of the Applicant Portal. We will not do this for you. Note, however, that it can take up to thirty-six hours for a submitted reference to register in your Self-Service account.

You do not need to wait until your references are submitted to submit your application. Any references provided later will be added to it.

Who should I nominate as a referee?

We allow two different kinds of referee; academic and professional.  There are some rules on when a professional referee can be used, which are stated below.

Both an academic and a professional referee should be someone who knows your work well and has overseen it, for example as a tutor, supervisor or manager.  They should be sufficiently experienced or senior to be credible as a good judge of your abilities.  They must also be willing to provide you with a reference; make sure you check this out before nominating them.

An academic referee will usually be someone who has guided and assessed your work.  This might be, for example: your personal tutor; your tutor for a dissertation, extended essay or piece of project work; or the teaching lead on a module of particular relevance to your proposed postgraduate course.  If you have taken an academic internship at another institution, your tutor there might provide a reference.

At least one academic reference should relate to your current or most recent degree course.

You may have been taught by a PhD student.  You should not nominate a PhD student to act as a referee, as this is not expected of their role and will not usually be credible to our assessors.  However, you might want to encourage your referee to talk to a PhD student who has taught you and knows your work well.

Your referee will not normally be the person who will supervise you at Cambridge, unless that person fulfils the requirements above and no others are available.

A professional referee might be, for example, your current or previous line manager, a senior colleague, such as a director, who knows your work well, or a project manager for a project on which you’ve worked.  They will normally be someone who has had responsibility for your appraisal and your delivery of work.

Please use the following rules in determining what type of referee should be nominated.


Your first referee

Your second referee

I am currently studying or have recently finished studying.

A tutor or supervisor from your most recent degree course is preferred (if they are able to sufficiently comment on your academic ability). Alternatively, a tutor or supervisor from your undergraduate level (if you have finished a postgraduate course as well).

A tutor from your most recent degree course or your previous course if you have a Master's degree.

I left higher education more than 3 years ago and I am unable to nominate two academic referees from my previous studies

A member of academic staff from your most recent higher education course.

A professional referee.

I left higher education over 6 years ago and I am unable to nominate two academic referees from my previous studies.

A professional referee. A professional referee.

How do I nominate a referee?

You nominate your referees via the Applicant Portal, using their institutional email addresses.

For an academic referee, this will usually include .ac or .edu in the address line. For a professional referee, it will be issued by their employer. If an institutional email address cannot be used, your referee will need to supply full contact details and, if possible, complete their letter of reference using institutional-headed paper.  They will need to explain why an institutional email cannot be used.

Check your referees are happy to provide you with a reference by the deadline and you have their correct email address. We recommend you send them a link to the Course Directory entry for your intended course, so they can tailor the reference to it.

What do my referees need to know?

Before agreeing to offer a reference, your potential referee should be familiar with our online guidance for academic referees and professional referees about what we’ll be asking them.

Your referees will have to submit references for you:

  • in English
  • electronically via our Online Referee Portal (we will not accept references through the post or by email)

References are supplied to Cambridge in confidence and as such are exempt from the right of access provisions of data protection legislation (UK GDPR). References will not be passed on to third parties or provided to applicants.

What do I need to know?

A good reference will be specific to a course. If you are applying to more than one course, we will require a separate reference for each course, although these can be from the same referee. If you use the same referee for more than one course, make sure they know they will need to upload a separate reference for each course.

References should be up to date. We will not transfer references from any previous application you made in a different year, if you are reapplying to the same course or if you are now looking to progress from that course to a higher-level qualification.

We will verify the identity of your referees and check your references for indications of fraud. If we are unable to verify the identity of your referees, your application will be withdrawn. If we find that you have committed application fraud, by misrepresenting the identity or status of a referee, fraudulently creating reference content, or interfering with the reference process, your application will be withdrawn and you will be banned from reapplying to the University of Cambridge for five years.

I applied to the University of Cambridge because of its reputation and to have the opportunity to study in such an intellectually stimulating environment.

Alexander, PhD in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics