My question is about letters of recommendation for University of Pittsburgh , graduate studies. My professor uploaded a plain PDF document of the letter over electronic recommendation. Will this create any issues? The document was not signed, but it was not mentioned anywhere to sign the letter of recommendation (which was done in the case if students themselves uploaded the letter)

I am worried.


I wouldn't worry too much about it.

We're currently in a transitional state between a world of paper documents and a world of electronic documents, and the conventions for digital signatures haven't really converged yet. As such, some people sign on paper and scan, some sign digitally, and some don't sign at all. If you're dealing with a large institution, they've probably seen it all, and are unlikely to hold it against you. After all, even if it was signed, what's the likelihood they would actually know what your professor's signature looks like?

  • very true jakebeal, I was really worried as i have uploaded both the LORs for university of pittsbugh without the sign or letterhead and it was an electronic recommendation.
    – supriya
    Jan 13 '18 at 16:55

The committee will be interested in what the letter tells them about you, not whether it has a signature in ink.

People submit LORs without signatures all the time. A PDF with an original signature requires a printer, a pen and a scanner, which not everyone has or has time for. (Yes, you can also paste in a scanned image of your signature, but where do you get that without a pen and a scanner?)

I suppose the lack of a signature might affect some people's overall impressions of a letter, including how much effort the author seems to have put into it, but we've been living in an electronic age for quite a while now. Unless they have some reason to doubt the authenticity or perhaps an unusual policy requirement at that institution, I think most committees will ignore the lack of an actual signature and focus on the content. It won't affect their decision.

The reason universities want signatures from students but not so much on LORs is to create some enforceable contractual conditions and because of the conflict of interest that exists when students are asked to self-report that doesn't exist with references. Asking for a signature reminds the students of the seriousness of the situation, that they are on their honor to submit only correct information, only their own personal essays, etc. When you ask for a signature, you get better behavior.

  • A PDF with an original signature requires a printer, a pen and a scanner — Or it requires a PDF version of the author’s signature. Or it requires software to add a digital signature. “Wet” signatures are increasingly rare.
    – JeffE
    Jan 14 '18 at 5:09
  • @JeffE An original signature is defined as one done with a pen, not by pasting in a scanned image. Jan 14 '18 at 5:21
  • @NicoleHamilton Not necessarily --- this is in fact now a point of controversy: linkedin.com/pulse/…
    – jakebeal
    Jan 14 '18 at 14:13
  • @jakebeal Sorry, Jake. You're confused. There is no controversy about what an original signature is or how it's defined: They're done by hand with a pen. The controversy is over whether to accept signatures that are not original in various contexts. I used the term "original" in my answer explaining why people don't sign LORs because that's what I meant. I stand by my answer and my use of the term. Jan 14 '18 at 14:45

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