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So You’re Deciding Where To Apply

As I start this series, I am inviting any readers who are in the process of applying to internship, have successfully matched, or who are undergoing the Clearinghouse/reapplying for next year who are interested in writing a guest post to share their internship experience. As with my posts about the writing of my dissertation, my perspective is one of thousands, and I would love to be able to share others.

The first step in the application process is figuring out where to apply. There is an abundance of vague advice about deciding which sites to apply to. According to the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers, 744 internship sites offered 3,501 spots in Phase I of this year’s match. APPIC recommends that students apply to no more than 15 internships, and if you want to stick to this guideline (I personally didn’t, but the average applicant submitted 16 this year), you have to rule out 729 programs. It is completely overwhelming, and advisers, classmates, DCTs, and sites all encourage you to find sites that are a “good fit” for you.

After completing both Phase I and Phase II of the Match twice, totaling 4 application cycles, I have come to believe that “fit” is a mythological term with no real meaning. During Phase I of my first application year, I applied to sites that were consistent with the type of work I wanted to do after graduation. In Phase II, I applied to sites that fit with my previous training experiences. In Phase I this past fall, I applied to sites that fit with the specific training experiences in which my application could clearly and quantifiably demonstrate my interest. Three attempts to understand “fit” and three soul-crushing rejection letters from the National Matching Service telling me that I was not placed at an internship.

At the start of my fourth round of applications, I took a different approach. In Phase II, there is no application fee, and anyone who is registered for the Match can apply to any participating site free of charge. Since none of my strategies had worked, I decided to apply to any and every site that was either accredited or in the process of becoming accredited. For the first time, the interviews rolled in, several from sites I never would have previously considered – sites that do not fit with my training experiences, sites that are not a picture of where I see my career in ten years, sites I had completely overlooked in my first three application cycles.

Of course, this complicates things for anyone trying to follow my process. I am certainly not suggesting that anyone attempt to submit 744 applications for internship. What I am saying is that “fit” is a generic, empty term. Keep an open mind. Do not get stuck on a particular “type” of site. Do you want to work in an inpatient hospital for the rest of your life? That is a fantastic goal. That does not require that you spend your internship at that type of site. When I was applying unsuccessfully, I lost site of the fact that internship is only one year of your life. Why not try something you have not previously considered? It could round out your training and give you a new perspective on your skills that you would not have realized otherwise.

The use of the arbitrary nature of “fit” does, of course, go both ways. When the rejections started rolling in during Phase I this past fall, I began contacting training directors to ask what I could do to strengthen my application. Many cited that my interests were not a strong fit for what the site had to offer. I want to clarify that, due to the nature of the internship crisis, sites have begun receiving more applications, which does make the process of selecting interviewees more difficult. Sometimes fantastic students are overlooked in the flood of applicants. But it seems that “poor fit” has become the “he’s just not that into you” of internship: it gives no real explanation as to why a site is not ranking you, but lets the site off the hook for being more specific. As long as the internship crisis continues, sites will have to cite this reason regardless of its truthfulness, and it is not fair to anyone.

So let go of your expectations for finding a “perfect fit” for your internship year, and keep an open mind. I guess I have no real advice about choosing where to apply beyond that. We need to develop a new formula for what constitutes an ideal training experience, one that is not reliant on such vague criteria. We also need to find a resolution to the discrepancy between the number of applicants and internships available, but let’s take this one step at a time.

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