Should I get letters of recommendation signed across the envelope?
November 14, 2008 6:31 AM   Subscribe

In applying to grad school, the folks writing letters of recommendation didn't sign the flap of the envelope and one doesn't have a postmark because it was sent via FedEx. How big of a deal is this?

I don't know what happened. They had a form that indicated they should sign across the flap of the envelope. I mentioned it in an email and letter. I talked to two of them in person, yet none of them did it (!).

They sent the letters to me as I am to include them with my application. The signature requirement is obviously a check against dishonest applicants, which I am not. The first one that came in I didn't worry about because it had a postmark from a distant place so I thought that might be good enough. But another arrived overnighted from FedEx, so the stamped envelope that I provided didn't get postmarked.

The deadline is December 1 (16 days). Should I resend these envelopes for their signatures - with a return envelope? Ask them to print them out again and send them to me? Chill out, and send the admissions committee what I have? Ask my recommenders if I may sign their name by permission?

I guess I'm curious if the admissions committee is going to really treat them as suspect without the signatures? I suppose they should.

My first thought is to send them back for signatures ASAP.

Mildly stressful as the deadline approaches...
posted by GPF to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by kickingtheground at 6:46 AM on November 14, 2008

Call the admissions committee and ask them what to do. They may allow you to turn in what you have and get verification later.
I know when I was applying, I had a recommendation come in a month late and admissions was cool with that.
posted by greta simone at 7:04 AM on November 14, 2008

I would just send them in as-is. The admissions committee will never see the envelopes anyway--the department administrator will open your letters, throw away the envelopes, and add the letters to your admissions file. If you are really concerned, you could call the department administrator and ask, but I can't imagine that it is a big deal.
posted by jtfowl0 at 7:15 AM on November 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Ask my recommenders if I may sign their name by permission?

That's the only thing you definitely SHOULD NOT do. I would probably call the admissions people and ask.
posted by grouse at 7:50 AM on November 14, 2008

really, isn't a fedex tracking number (with which you can see delivery date) as good as a postmark these days?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2008

Short, one word answer: chill.
posted by ob at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2008

Really, don't worry about it. I've found application rules in actuality to be much less strict than they sound on paper.
posted by peacheater at 8:44 AM on November 14, 2008

Actually, call the admissions secretary and ask about the signature. I had this happen to me when I applied to grad school and two of the schools would not accept the letters without the signature.

The postmark shouldn't matter at all, though -- it's the signature across the flap that is important. It shows that the letter hasn't been tampered with, which a postmark does and can not. There are services that allow you to get recommendation letters sent to you in one package for each school (for example, my undergraduate college's career office had this, and when I applied to grad school all the letters were sent there and then sent to me, addressed and signed by the secretary at the career center).

Since you have a bit of time, you should contact the admissions secretary at the schools you are applying to and the people who wrote the letters if necessary. Also, don't most schools allow recommendation letters to be submitted online these days? That might be a good backup option.
posted by k8lin at 8:59 AM on November 14, 2008

More than showing it hasn't been tampered with, a signature demonstrates it's a blind letter that you, the applicant, were not allowed to read. No signature means you may have opened their letter, read it, and put it in a new envelope.

Blind letters are stronger than open letters because it allows the profs to speak freely. Many schools *require* blind letters. You should definitely talk to the admissions committee. I would suggest you propose writing and signing a declaration that you have not opened or read the letters and include that with your application.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:05 AM on November 14, 2008

Totally not a big deal.
posted by salvia at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2008

This happened to me too, and it wasn't a big deal. In fact, the grad secretary of my school that I handed my application to in person just ripped the enveloped in front of me, and took the actual recommendation letter, tossing the envelope without even looking at the signature (or the lack of) on it. I assume if it mattered she could easily have checked with the prof.

That being said, grad school applications can be a bitch sometimes. I still recommend calling the admissions committee.
posted by shamble at 10:37 AM on November 14, 2008

Nth-ing the suggestion to call the grad secretary. Good chance that the envelope will indeed be tossed, but just in case, it's good to touch base.

Also, as a forgetful and mistake-prone professor myself, I have a high tolerance for this kind of thing (especially post-deadline letters of recommendation) because I know it is not the student's/applicant's fault. But plenty of forgetful and mistake-prone professors are somewhat less understanding, unfairly, I think, but there it is. (Hence the suggestion to check with the secretary.)

It seems like you (generic 'you,' not GPF in particular) never feel more helpless than when you need to light a fire under a prof from whom you desperately need something. Take comfort in the knowledge that a lot of us totally get that and seriously empathize. We've all been there.

Good luck with your applications!
posted by isogloss at 11:00 AM on November 14, 2008

Thank you all for the advice and reality check.
posted by GPF at 2:34 PM on November 14, 2008

Post application follow-up:

I did speak with the secretary. She was very helpful. Echoing isogloss's sentiment that recommendation letters aren't in the applicant's direct control, passing the deadline isn't a deal breaker. She went so far as to say that the applications wouldn't be reviewed for several weeks, anyway. She also said that as long as the envelopes were sealed, then there wouldn't be a problem.

I imagine every department has their idiosyncrasies.

Thanks again.
posted by GPF at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

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