University documents

Graduate schools in the USA want to know about you and your university. They need to build a picture of how you perform compared to your peers, and how you interact with faculty and students.

One of the ways universities make these judgements is through official university documents, usually comprising:

  • Two to three recommendation letters
  • Transcript(s)

Recommendation letters

Graduate schools might provide loose guidelines for selecting referees. We encourage you to choose your referees carefully, asking only those who know you well and can enthusiastically recommend you.

Recommendation letters should be typed and signed on official letterhead paper, and submitted by the referee.

They should highlight your:

  • Ability to succeed academically at the postgraduate level, based on prior performance, passion for your field and/or work ethic
  • Relevant experience, subject knowledge, personal traits (ethics, leadership) or skills (writing, critical thinking)
  • How your potential, skills, experience and successes compare with your peers
  • Positive activities in and outside of the classroom
  • Ability to contribute to an academic environment

We recommend you meet with your referees individually, to discuss your aspirations and how their letter might complement your overall application package. Above all, encourage your referees to avoid being too restrained and modest. American referees will be enthusiastic cheerleaders for their students. 

If given the option, you should waive your right to see all recommendation letters to guarantee their authenticity. 

It is your responsibility to notify your referees of submission requirements, formats and deadlines.


In general, transcripts should be official documents, preferably with an official stamp and signature, produced by the academic registry office of each university you have attended.

If you have participated in a study abroad programme, full details should be included on a transcript from your home or host institution.

You will likely be able to upload scanned copies of these as part of your application. However, if you are considered for admission you might be required to ask your institution(s) to send an official transcript by mail.

Alternatively, your university might be required to send them to an external credential evaluator, for which you will pay a fee.

It is your responsibility to notify your university of submission requirements and deadlines.

How are qualifications assessed?

There are three ways US universities might evaluate your qualifications. They might:

  1. Already know what it means to have a first, second, etc from particular UK universities and what they are looking for
  2. Convert your UK results using a chart similar to the one on our Admission Criteria page
  3. Require applicants to use a paid external credential evaluation service - if one is not recommended to you, consider using one from the following associations:
    • Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE)
    • National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES)