Reference letter vs. Recommendation letter features

On BridgeU, we have two separate tools for requesting either a Letters of Recommendation (also known as a “Teacher Recommendation”, primarily a US application requirement but also sometimes necessary for some other destinations), or for generating a Reference Letter (a UCAS/UK destination requirement).

Here are the key differences:

US Letter of Recommendation

UCAS Reference Letter

Written by one author: the teacher

Written by multiple contributors

A complete, standalone document that speaks to the students performance, character and experiences

Relevant subject teachers - “Report Writers” - provide subjects-specific comments (3-4 Report Writers is typical, but this isn’t a restriction)

Requested by the student, via BridgeU’s Recommendations tool

Advisors set up the function by assigning students and subjects to Report writers on the Reference Letters tool

Author doesn’t need a BridgeU account, it is processed via a link in the email they receive

Report Writers do need a BridgeU account (there is a specific type of account with restricted access compared to an “Advisor” account)

Document should not need to be edited by an Advisor (although they may preview it on BridgeU)

Advisor provides introduction, conclusion and ensures flow and edits for cohesion

Multiple letters of recommendation can be sent to one university, and different letters can be sent to different universities. The advisor had final say on this, although universities have difference limits and requirements

ONE reference - the same content - is sent to ALL 5 universities in the student’s UCAS application

Sent by the advisor on BridgeU’s Document Sending portal.

Sent by the advisor pasting it into the UCAS portal and submitting as part of the UCAS application

No word limit, but around 1 A4 page is typical

4000 character limit



The reason we chose to split these two processes up is because we found that many schools, in trying to save teachers time, would try to extract subject report comments for a UCAS reference from various teacher recommendations. This is a very time consuming process for the person compiling the final reference. Furthermore, it sometimes meant teachers were writing a long US-style letter of recommendation, when actually they just needed to provide a few short, subject specific comments that could be used as part of a complete reference for a UK applicant. BridgeU aims to streamline both processes.

The Recommendations tool works well for the US letters of recommendation as the student can make the request directly using a teacher’s email, and personalise the message when making the request. It’s also possible to send the request to a teacher at a previous school which doesn’t use BridgeU, as they don’t need an account to receive the request or submit their letter. As an Advisor, you can track the status of the requests and you can preview complete letters to decide which universities to send them to.

For the UK, Advisors can manually set up teachers as report writers for students requiring a UCAS reference, or use our spreadsheet to assign in bulk. Via your BridgeU School Settings you can include guidance on the content, structure and length of the subject reports you require. Once the subject-specific comments are collected, it’s easy to insert them into the final reference box ready for editing, keeping in mind the 4000 character limit. Both Advisors and Report Writers are able to view the student’s information including their Profile Builder, Strategy Advisor and Personal Statement, to help them form a strong reference.

If you have any questions, need further assistance or have some general feedback for us - we’d love to hear from you! Contact our Support team via Live Chat and by emailing

You can also ask our BridgeU Community, a space exclusively for our BridgeU counsellors to ask questions, share insights, provide feedback and get help not just from BridgeU, but directly from other BridgeU counsellors.

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