My manager (one of the recommenders) said that he is working from home for several months due to coronavirus. It will not be possible for him to give the recommendation letter on the letterhead. Instead, he said that he would submit it via email. My question is, will this letter count towards my application?

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    The letterhead probably exists in electronic form, and signatures can be added digitally. – Dan Romik Sep 28 '20 at 19:02
  • @DanRomik, Respected Prof. Can you kindly tell me what are all the ways in which recommenders submit the recommendation. For example, email with reference number, form with PDF ... – Deepak Tatyaji Ahire Sep 28 '20 at 19:05
  • It depends on the specific university, I can’t say. But in the US most universities will expect recommenders to submit the letter by uploading a PDF of the letter to some web portal. There might be an option to mail in a paper copy for those who prefer to do things the old-fashioned way. – Dan Romik Sep 28 '20 at 19:07
  • Is there any option to submit it via an email using the application reference number? – Deepak Tatyaji Ahire Sep 28 '20 at 19:20
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    You’d have to ask the university where you are applying. But I think it’s the wrong question, if your manager knows how to use a web browser then he can upload it through the browser just like everyone else does. – Dan Romik Sep 28 '20 at 19:21

In this era of networked printers, few people ever actually load letterhead paper into a printer any more. Instead, most organizations have electronic "identity" or "branding" collections that include templates for letterhead, business cards, etc.

As such, in my experience, most recipients (in the US and Europe at least) expect letters to arrive in PDF format. Many will not even allow a letter to be sent physically any more.

For most recommenders, then, using "letterhead" just means taking care to use the fancy formatting to make a good impression, just like one might wear formal clothing to make a good impression at a fancy event. In dealing with academics, however, eccentricity is to be expected, and variation from norms is often tolerated.

Bottom line: your recommender should probably be able to use letterhead electronically. If for some strange reason they can't, it shouldn't be a big deal, as long as it's still easy to tell they are a real and respectable person (e.g., emailing from an institutional address).

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    'as long as it's still easy to tell they are a real and respectable person (e.g., emailing from an institutional address).' ... or making it a PGP/MIME signed e-mail with the public key distributed via the institution's https website. – Daniel Hatton Sep 28 '20 at 19:49
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    @DanielHatton For certain subsets of the math/compsci community, sure. For most academic communities, that's just giving them extra work that they will not bother trying to figure out how to do. – jakebeal Sep 28 '20 at 19:52
  • Oh, you're quite right that most of the time the recipients don't know how to verify the PGP/MIME signature; but usually, having realized that they don't know how to verify the signature, they just accept the message is genuine without further question, which AIUI is the desired outcome here. – Daniel Hatton Sep 28 '20 at 19:57
  • Also, take into account the coronavirus situations. Almost all employees are working from home and the work load is high. – Deepak Tatyaji Ahire Sep 28 '20 at 20:01
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    @DeepakTatyajiAhire If I get a recommendation letter sent from "toyota_freak@hotmail.com", I have no idea who is writing to me. If it comes from "mary.jones@microsoft.com", then it's probably come from somebody named Mary Jones who works at Microsoft (or else a rather unusual phishing attack). Not a particularly challenging test, but significant all the same. – jakebeal Sep 28 '20 at 21:13

Yes, it will count. Since you write "manager" I assume it's someone in industry, not academia, and so your manager may not be familiar with academic letters of recommendation.

Probably the most important thing is that the letter should be a separate PDF document, and not just an email message. If the organization has an electronic letterhead, your recommender should use it. If not, then the recommender should put all the information one would find in a letterhead at the top of the letter. It should absolutely be mailed from the organization of the recommender, and not from someone@gmail.com.

I have a facsimile letterhead and a scanned signature in blue that's set up as an Acrobat stamp. I can make a PDF look like a scanned paper letter more easily than I can print and scan a paper letter!

Finally, if your recommender is not an academic, here is some advice I've written about writing letters of recommendation which the recommender may find helpful. http://ksuweb.kennesaw.edu/faculty/rbrow211/recommendations/recommend_advice.html

The advice about FERPA is specific to the United States, and if your recommender is not an academic at an institution where you've studied, it does not apply at all. It probably doesn't apply for a letter of recommendation from an academic as there is a specific exemption in FERPA for such letterd.

  • My manager works at Microsoft and he will be submitting it via email from his organization email ID – Deepak Tatyaji Ahire Sep 28 '20 at 19:57
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    That will be perfect. – Bob Brown Sep 28 '20 at 19:59
  • Thank you @Bob Brown! This is a great relief. – Deepak Tatyaji Ahire Sep 28 '20 at 20:02

Many universities have online systems for submitting recommendations in which the recommenders will get an email with a link to submit. In many of these they can paste the recommendation into a form or else upload a PDF. No signature needed. I usually do PDF with my letterhead template but it's not necessary.


I am not sure about this. You ask if a letter send by email without letterhead and without signature will be ok. If the system only accpects LOR via some annoying online portal, then the safe answer is no. The letter might never even get into the system.

You need to check with the place you are applying. My guess is that if they accept a LOR by email, then the letter you propose will probably be fine.

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