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One of my professors gave me a recommendation letter for my master's degree application however I just noticed that she wrote the specific program that I'm applying to from a different university that I want to apply as well. Is it alright to just change that data? She send it on a pdf file, and I could easily change it to word and change it, but I don't know how acceptable that is. I'm afraid that the new program I want to apply will think is a fake letter or something like that. What should I do? Is 1.45 am and I need to finish the application ASAP.

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    "she wrote the specific program that I'm applying to from a different university that I want to apply as well" <-- I think that's less of a problem than you think it is. Admissions officers or faculty will understand that professors write hundreds of recommendation letters for dozens of students and can easily get confused. Her assessment of you shouldn't depend on where you're applying. On the other hand, forging the recommendation can easily backfire, even if done just to correct it. (I'm pretty sure that the result of PDF -> DOC -> PDF will not look like the original PDF as well.) – darij grinberg Dec 1 '18 at 6:13
  • But is it really forgint the recommendation if I'm only changing the part where it says I'm speaking on behalf (add my name) recommending her for the (add the name of the master's program) ? I'm not changing anything else. – luminous Dec 1 '18 at 6:23
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    Well, it's not her words anymore. But as I said, on a practical level: Your end result will not look exactly like the original. What if the person reading this PDF will also see another unaltered letter from the same author? – darij grinberg Dec 1 '18 at 6:25
  • I get that, but It feels bad that my recommendation letter is adress to another university in a totally different country. – luminous Dec 1 '18 at 6:32
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    Most programs accept letters well past the deadline for applicant submission. Unless this one specifically requires letters to be submitted ASAP, just notify her and ask her to resubmit. (And even then, don't edit it) – Azor Ahai Dec 1 '18 at 18:22
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You cannot do this.

Your professor recommended you for University A; changing their recommendation to University B is fraud. I realize that they are probably also willing to recommend you for University B (they may even have promised to write a letter for University B), so I know it seems like you're just saving everyone some time. But, the professor still hasn't authorized you to do this. I for one would be angry if I found out that anyone submitted a letter with my name on it without my explicit permission (and, for an undergraduate student, I would indeed want to glance at the updated letter before approving it).

The other concern is that University B could somehow find out about this and assume the worst (that you falsified the letter). They could reject you without even bothering to ask for clarification.

So, three options:

  • Ask the professor to change it
  • Ask the professor if you can change it (this addresses the first concern only)
  • Submit it as-is -- as noted in the comments, programs will not generally be too concerned about this mistake, particularly if Universities A's competitiveness >= University B's competitiveness.
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What you are proposing doing is called forgery. The reason it’s bad is that it involves deception and dishonesty. Even if your intentions are good, as they seem to be, that would make it well-intentioned forgery, but that’s still a kind of forgery, which is not only a big no-no in an academic context, but also a criminal offense in most places. So just don’t do it. More than that, don’t even think about doing it.

As for the practical problem you have that made you want to do this, it can be easily solved in a variety of ways that don’t involve any dishonesty. The simplest one would be to email the professor and point out the mistake, and ask her to fix it and send you a corrected PDF letter. At the same time, if you have an urgent deadline to meet, upload the original PDF with the mistake, and later find a way to contact the admissions office and send them the corrected PDF. This is just to correct an honest mistake, so I’m sure no one will make a fuss about this. By contrast, as others point out, finding out that you changed the letter the professor wrote would be immediate grounds for rejecting your application if not worse.

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As far as I’m concerned, if I were an admissions officer or on an admission panel, discovering such an action would be cause for me to call for immediate dismissal from the program and in fact from the university. I would advise the student that if called upon to explain this dismissal I would immediately indicate that it was because of admission under fraudulent premises.

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Well you can use it to apply the the program / uni named with no issue.

You cannot edit it as you suggest as she did not write or sign that...

It would have been better, and I do this, to write the letter to be specific about you, not mentioning the course by name and date but more generically...

  • But I'm not editing what she wrote itself about me. Is just the name of the university to which is being send the recommendation letter. – luminous Dec 1 '18 at 6:25
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    You don’t even have to do pdf -> word -> pdf... but I’m not going there... as I don’t think you have the right to alter it. – Solar Mike Dec 1 '18 at 7:01

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