I am a lecturer at a public university in Bangladesh. I am going to give recommendations for students from my class who are going to apply for graduate admission to some US universities. These letters will be submitted online.

My problem is related to the signature. Please check the my recommendation style: I have written my name as a recommender. Is it essential that I also sign the recommendation?

To who it may concern,

[actual letter]


Maria S. Sultana

**** University

email: ****

mob: ****

I am talking about a signature like this (below red marked): I will upload a letter in the style of that shown below in the (online) recommendation form. Is it necessary to put a signature on a letter, like the one I have marked below?

enter image description here


Personally, I always sign my recommendation letters, including the ones submitted electronically. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever submitted a physical recommendation letter.

I do this for two reasons:

  1. In the United States, at least, it is still quite strongly the custom for such letters to be signed.
  2. It at least proves that the person writing the letter has access to a copy of my signature.

Now, both of these might be a bit archaic in our modern networked world, but the customs haven't really shifted yet, and until they do, it's good to keep doing it the way that will be expected by many recipients.

That said, you certainly don't need to go through the hassle of printing, physically signing, and scanning: if you have a high-resolution image of your signature, you can affix that as an image in the appropriate part of your document. Some word processors or PDF editors will also allow you to "digitally sign" and associate this with some form of cryptographic signature.

In short: sign your letter, but do it the easy and electronic way if you can.

  • 6
    If you have access to Adobe Acrobat (not Reader) it is extremely easy to turn a scan of your signature into a "signature stamp." Thereafter, affixing a signature is a matter of about three clicks. I made my signature stamp a medium-blue color, so it's a good facsimile of a pen-and-ink signature. No one has ever questioned my stamped signature. As Jake says, you could also use a cryptographic digital signature, although I haven't bothered with that yet.
    – Bob Brown
    Jan 14 '16 at 13:23
  • 5
    @BobBrown The "Preview" PDF viewer on Macs has this same capability.
    – jakebeal
    Jan 14 '16 at 13:41

I do not think you will require a sign on the top of your name. It is because, you will send the letter via email or online recommendation form. The graduate committee will understand this. :)


At this year (2016), most mathematics graduate program applications in the U.S. seem not to really require a (graphical) "digital signature", and I think this is because the population of letter-writers has not quite caught up to the technology to create such things. Instead, the on-line interfaces sometimes ask that you type your full name "in lieu of signature", supposedly as confirmation that you are who you say you are, and so on. Currently, it does not appear that an imbedded graphical signature is acknowledged to suffice...

Currently, the genuine security, such as it is, in these applications, is that a password is sent via email to the email address of the recommender, provided by the student. Completely unclear how fraud is promised to be avoided, since a student could provide emails that went to someone else...

Also, at this time, there appears to be no genuine (cryptographic) digital signature (e.g., md5) of content of these letters, etc.

In summary, at this time, for U.S. math grad schools at least, there is absolutely no compulsion to imbed graphical signatures in PDFs for letters of recommendation.

(I do have an imbedded signature in the letterhead template I've constructed, etc., which seems necessary for some other purposes (NSF, in the U.S.), but currently irrelevant for grad school applications, apparently.)


A signature is just a means to verify that it is indeed you creating and verifying the letter. The letter is being uploaded by you, which could serve as a digital signature. The written signature in this context is a formal nicety (I would do it anyways). I would add a line that indicates that the letter is original content produced by you.

  • But this is rather easy to fake, normal network security being what it is...
    – vonbrand
    Jan 16 '16 at 2:10

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