So You Need Letters Of Recommendation

I know these posts about each section of the APPI are not up to my usual standard of entertainment. Heck, I’m bored with writing them. The good news is, this is the last of my application posts. Starting next week we will focus on the interview process, and then the match. When I started this series I did not realize how extensive of an undertaking it would become. (Sometimes I don’t think things through before starting a project. I occasionally wonder if that is how I ended up in a doctoral program.) I may well still have posts about the internship process coming out when next year’s applicants are interviewing.

Anyway, letters of recommendation! Almost every site I have researched requires 3 letters. A few give you the option to submit a fourth, but I do not know of any sites that require 4 letters. You can request as many letters as you would like; for example, if you are applying to VAs and college counseling centers, you might choose to send a letter from a VA supervisor to the VAs but not to the UCCs and vice versa. You also have the option to have your writers submit more than one version of their letter. (If you have an adviser who is willing to personalize your recommendation to each individual site, then she or he needs to evaluate their professional boundaries, but they might be willing to tailor two versions of the letter for specific types of sites.)

When should you ask for letters? I maintain that it is not possible to ask advisers, professors, and supervisors to write you a letter too early. The first time I applied for internship, I wanted a letter from a college counseling supervisor, but I had just started that practicum. The question of a recommendation for internship was the topic of our very first supervision session. He was surprised, but he got it done. Just make sure that you confirm that they received APPIC’s email requesting the letter. I had an instance where I had to re-submit the request because the email fell into one of the internet’s black holes, and I could have saved myself some time if I had followed up sooner.

When will your letters be uploaded? This depends on the writer. Both years, my dissertation chair had my letter submitted more than one month prior to the deadline. My former supervisor, on the other hand, uploaded my letter on exactly November 1 both times. It was nail-biting for me, but he got it done. If you are worried, or if you have not heard from the writer in a few weeks, or if the deadline is tomorrow, there is nothing wrong with calling them to follow up and make sure they are not having any submission issues.

Can you read your letters? APPIC does not have a way for you to read your letters after they have been submitted. I believe you actually agree to waive your right to see them. However, I have been advised by multiple parties that you should never agree to let someone be your letter writer unless they are willing to let you view the letter before it is submitted. At the very least, when you ask someone to write you a recommendation, clarify that you do not want them to accept unless they are willing to write a strong letter. Due to the internship crisis and subsequent metaphorical arms race among applicants, letters of recommendation for internship are not typical of the rest of the world. Generally, a strong recommendation includes an assessment of the individual’s strengths and areas for growth. For your applications, you will need your letters instead to be glowing tributes to how awesome, amazing, and perfect you are in every way. Indications of room for improvement are often taken by sites as a sign of weakness and lead to your application being moved into the rejection pile. Make sure that your letter writers are on the same page as you with regards to the content of the letters.

And, as usual, remember to take care of yourself despite the ever-increasing stress levels and burdens of responsibility on your time and mental health.

Next week I will move on to the dreaded Waiting Period, followed by a series on nailing your interviews.

So You’re Calculating Your Hours

This week I am writing from out of town as I search for apartments for my internship year. I am pleased to announce that I signed a lease yesterday afternoon, on a pet friendly one-bedroom with a huge kitchen, 5 minutes away from my site, and everything is falling into place.

Returning to my series on the application process, our next step is to discuss calculating your practicum hours. Hopefully you planned ahead and tracked your hours over the past few years, so most of the work has already been done for you. Most programs require that you have hours logs signed off on by your practicum supervisor at the end of each placement, and your DCT has to verify whatever you input in your APPI. Below I list my personal nuggets of wisdom for this step of the process.

  1. Make the most of each of your placements. From well before you apply for internship, you will be tracking your hours. When I completed an externship in a therapeutic school setting, I made a plan for myself at the beginning of the year to get as much as I could and immerse myself as fully as possible in that clinical environment. If I was filling out paperwork and heard that a student was having a difficult time, I chose to prioritize accumulating client hours and spend time helping that child. This often lead to me staying after the end of the school day to complete my other work, and at the end of the year I had significantly more hours from that placement than I would have otherwise had.
  2. Follow the APPIC guidelines to calculate your hours as accurately as possible. When you prepare your application, APPIC provides you with very specific guidelines as to how to count each of your hours. You might have to do some math, since they tweak the categories every year (my second year applying, some hours that had been categorized as therapeutic client time were re-classified as assessment based on the descriptions I read on the site). Having a high number of hours is important, but sites will be able to tell from talking to you if you are exaggerating your experience. Sell yourself…but stay honest.
  3. When in doubt, ask! You can’t go wrong if you do what your supervisor/adviser/DCT tell you to do. I sometimes brought home my assessment reports to revise, and I did this for months before my adviser told me that I could count this time even though I was not physically at my practicum site. In hindsight it does make sense – I was spending time writing an assessment report, after all. There tend to be a lot of rumors and misinformation about how to calculate hours, so I kept a line of communication open with my supervisors and adviser to make sure that I was tallying my hours based on what they told me.
  4. Don’t psych yourself out too much. Like I said, there is a lot of misinformation about how to calculate hours, and everyone has a slightly different system. If you discuss your hours with too many different people, you will over-think, and a relatively simple process suddenly becomes overwhelming. Keep it simple, because it does not need to be overly complicated. After all, whatever computer program you have been using to track your hours has done all of the math for you, and all you need to do is copy over the totals.

We are almost through the different components of the application. Next week I will touch on letters of recommendation. For now, I need to start packing!