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 Have To Submit Supplementals

There was a time not long ago when APPIC had few to no restrictions on what sites could request as supplemental materials. Sites began to demand more and more, and the application process became even more unreasonable than it already was. Some training directors were requesting individualized recommendations, additional essays, multiple essays, work samples, and more. I think this was partially so that sites could try to lower the number of applications they received by making the process even more demanding than necessary. (It must be terrible receiving so many applications that you have trouble choosing which of the overly-qualified candidates you will choose.)

The year that I applied to internship for the first time, APPIC mercifully put their proverbial foot down and announced that the only supplemental materials allowed are 1) a sample redacted assessment report and 2) a work sample/case conceptualization. Luckily for you, you probably already have these! I guarantee that, by the time you apply for internship, you have written at least one work sample for class, and if you are applying to the kinds of sites that require a sample assessment, you have had a practicum experience at which you have written several to choose from. Just double-check with your supervisor that you can use these reports.

With your supplementals, make absolutely certain that you have removed any and all identifying information about the client before you submit them. The many urban legend-horror stories about internship applications include several tales of solid applicants who were rejected because they accidentally left the client’s name on their redacted assessment. This means remove first and last names, addresses, home towns, et cetera (I left the state that the client lived in and that did not seem to be a problem). Refer to your client by first initial only, or by a fake name and clearly state that the name has been changed.

I also recommend having more than one sample for each of your supplemental pieces and choosing based on the type of site requesting it. I had two assessments: one of a young child whose primary issues were behavioral, and one of an adult with severe developmental difficulties. As usual, you should have extra sets of eyes look for style, format, and typos.

Good luck! Your application is almost complete!

So You’re Tackling The Essays

Internship sites talk about wanting someone whose personality will mesh with the culture of the site, someone whose personal interests and personality are as compatible as their professional interests. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find a logical way to list your clinical style or your hobbies on the CV. Enter the essay section of the APPI: an opportunity to sell your personality, interests, and unique style (in four concise blocks of 500 words or less).

I recommend starting work on your essays early, just after you finalize your site list. As with your CV, you have the option to upload multiple versions of your essays to send to different types of sites. Please do not take this to mean that you need to write individualised essays for every site. It means that, if you apply to forensic hospitals and VAs, you could tweak your essays to highlight your personal interest in each of these types of sites. Also, as with your CV, make sure that you have others review your essays for content. Unlike with your CV, though, I recommend choosing two or three readers at most, otherwise you risk receiving conflicting feedback that will cause you undue panic rather than actually improving your writing.

As usual, this post is written based on my individual experience applying for internship. You might read this and decide to do the exact opposite of what I did, and it might work out great for you. Also, when I was writing my essays, I found this resource to be invaluable in organizing my thoughts and figuring out how to get started.

So what exactly is expected from you in these essays?

  1. The Autobiographical Essay. This essay can be incredibly intimidating to write, since the prompt is “Tell me something about yourself.” Sites are equally vague about what they are looking for from the essays, and it has been suggested that this is because DCTs don’t actually know what they want from you. If you are applying to more than one type of site, I highly recommend writing more than one version of the autobiographical essay. I approached this essay as an opportunity to identify myself to sites as a real person who has been shaped by my history into who I am. I opened with a story from my childhood, followed up with an experience I had in college, and then tied these events together as a description of what led me to the field and to my current clinical interests. My biggest challenge with this essay was narrowing down what I wanted to talk about. It’s tempting to try to cram every piece of information about yourself, but there is simply not enough space. You have to decide what is it about you that you want to present to sites, what information is vital to who you are as an applicant that is not available on other parts of the application.
  2. Theoretical Orientation. In my first draft of the second essay, I emphasized my knowledge of my chosen orientations and tried to discuss general approaches to conceptualization and treatment, working in as much jargon as I could so that sites would see how smart I am. Then I threw that draft in the garbage and started over. Good clinicians don’t recite textbooks; they put their knowledge into action. Instead, I chose two clients that I felt demonstrated my preferred orientations and discussed my approach to their conceptualization and treatment. Two is a good number because it shows more range in your clinical skills than you could provide with just one example. Three is possible but more challenging because of the word limit. I opened with a brief, two sentence description of my preferred orientations and jumped into my case examples. I also tried to convey a willingness to be flexible with my therapeutic approaches based on each individual. The 500 word limit does prove to be a challenge. Remember, everyone is held to the same limit, and sites can only expect so much information in this essay, which is why many sites also request a work sample as a supplemental application material. Again, if you are applying to more than one type of site, I suggest making different versions of this essay with examples from the demographic with which you would be working.
  3. Diversity Experience. This essay was hands-down the most frustrating for me to write. Why is the diversity component of my clinical work sectioned off into its own little corner? I ended up taking the multicultural components out of my second essay for the sake of space, and I felt like I was writing off some very important issues in my case conceptualizations because I could include those components in this essay. Personally I think it would be better to combine essays 2 and 3 into one longer essay that would allow applicants to discuss diversity issues as a component of their theoretical orientations, but no one asked me. For my diversity essay, I wanted to focus both on my interactions with clients from different backgrounds and on how my own background and culture impacts the therapeutic relationship. I ended up using three case examples because I had so much trouble choosing only two instances that I felt encompassed the scope of what this essay was asking for, but this of course made it even more difficult to stay at the 500 word limit. In the end I broke each case example down into a description of how the client’s background factored into the therapeutic process, and how my background influenced the relationship. And after days of editing, I finally was able to cut down my essay to exactly 500 words.
  4. Research Interests. The biggest research project you do as a graduate student is your dissertation, so I started this essay with a description of my project and where I was at in the process. You can also bring up your timeline for completion to show the site that you will not be ABD for years after internship. I also talked about some other research projects I have worked on throughout my graduate career and mentioned areas in which I would be interested expanding on these interests in the future. This essay really varies in importance based on the internships you are applying for, so know your sites. If a site requires 10 hours per week of research, highlight how your research experience and future interests are in keeping with those of the site. This is probably because I did not apply to many research-heavy sites, but this essay was probably the least stressful for me to write.

There is no one way to approach the essays, and they easily become overwhelming due to the vague instructions. Try not to over-think the details of what you write and be open about who you are as a clinician and as a human being.

Next week’s topic is cover letters. Enjoy the weekend, and remember to take care of yourself!