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Developing an appropriate list of internship programs to apply to is key to a successful application process.
First, create your wish list for your internship experience and sort by the following categories – 1) must have, 2) would like to have, and 3) don’t want. The wish list could include:
- therapeutic approaches – e.g., DBT, trauma-focused interventions, short-term psychodynamic therapy
- modalities – e.g., psychotherapy process groups; telehealth (video); crisis intervention; assessment
- client population – e.g., adolescents, families, racially and ethnically diverse client population, LGBTQ+, rural
- setting – e.g., hospital, university counseling center, community mental health, VA, integrated health
- other training opportunities – e.g., outreach, program evaluation, program administration, consultation/liaison, supervision of trainees (you as the supervisor)
- personal considerations – e.g., geographic location, salary/benefits, citizenship requirement, work culture (e.g., training-focused and supportive)
Now that you’ve developed your wish list of your ideal internship, you’ll want to consider the following factors as you choose and organize (prioritize) internship sites into a spreadsheet:
Training model – What is the training model of your doctoral program – scientist-practitioner, scholar-practitioner, or clinical science? Usually you will be considered a better fit if your doctoral program’s training model aligns with the internship site’s training model.
- E.g., It will be more challenging for you to make a strong sell to a scientist-practitioner internship training program if you are coming from a doctoral program that doesn’t emphasize research (i.e., not a “scientist-practitioner” model) and you haven’t conducted much research. However, if you have been actively involved in research (in academia or in a clinical setting) and have a strong related research interest to the internship site, you may consider applying anyway (this is what I might call a “reach site” as it isn’t an exact fit but you could make an argument that you have relevant experience).
- In a related vein, see what kind of degree programs interns are from – PhD, PsyD; clinical, counseling, school psych – who are typically chosen for the internship. (You will find this information in the bottom section of an internship’s APPIC profile.)
Internship training opportunities <—> your professional goals – what training opportunities is the internship site offering that will help you reach your professional goals? Do they offer training opportunities that match your wish list from above? This is one of the biggest aspects of goodness of fit. If you are applying to an internship based on its location more than its training program, the site will pick up on it if you don’t help them see how their training program will help you reach your professional goal. e.g., An applicant can appear very strong as an emerging professional but would be placed in the “do-not-interview” pile if their primary goal is to be a child/adolescent and family therapist and the site says only 5% of their clinic’s cases involves children/adolescents/families.
Internship selection criteria/requirements – do you meet the criteria of what the internship site is seeking in applicants? This is another significant aspect to determine goodness of fit.
- Hours: If they do not list a number of hours for intervention or assessment, I usually interpret this to mean they’d like to de-emphasize quantity of experience and focus more on range of competencies. That is, what competencies do those hours represent? If you have hours from a master’s program (hours must be practicum hours, not post-degree hours toward licensure), it may not weigh as much as your doctoral practicum hours, but they certainly help. (If you use Time2Track, go to the “Reports” tab and choose “AAPI view” to see what internship sites will see.)
- Should you apply even if you don’t meet all the requirements? There is no hard and fast rule about this. Some sites strictly rule out applicants who don’t meet certain criteria; others are more flexible and consider the whole picture of the applicant’s experience and qualifications.
- If you don’t meet a certain criterion but still want to apply to a site, you should have a solid foundation and relevant/overlapping experience that has prepared you for advanced training – e.g., maybe you don’t have solid clinical experience in providing cognitive processing therapy (CPT), but you’ve taken a class on trauma-focused interventions that covered CPT. Your materials should reflect a demonstrated interest in the various professional goals you’ve identified.
- An example where an internship site might be less flexible would be a Rorschach requirement – e.g., you didn’t take a class or workshop on Rorschach and haven’t had any other exposure or experience with it, and their program requires you conduct at least 3 Rorschach tests during internship year; in this case, they want/need interns to start from a similar foundation.
- Unfortunately, internship is not the time to say you want to try a completely new population or setting if you don’t have some prior demonstrated interest (through your coursework, research, clinical choices). See my cover letter article for an example.
Geography – the more flexible you are about geographic location, the more options you have. However…I want to acknowledge why this is problematic for many students –
- moving is expensive, and it is a financial burden for most doctoral students to relocate for a one-year program;
- relocation is difficult for those who have familial obligations, such as caregiving for family members, being partnered with someone whose job isn’t easily relocated for a year (including another psychology student), having children whose caregivers and schooling situation would change;
- not all geographic areas feel safe for everyone – e.g., rural locations may feel less safe for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ folks, and international students.
Tips for searching the APPIC Directory:
- Review internship program descriptions when you need a break from essays. Remember to filter “Program Type” to “Internship”; otherwise, postdoc programs will also appear in the results. Be sure to see if the profile is updated (you can figure this out by the application due date or internship start date).
- When you create a filter search on the APPIC directory, you can export the search results into a spreadsheet, which includes the hyperlinks for the APPIC directory profile of the internship sites (helpful for future reference as internship sites update their profiles).
- Go beyond the APPIC directory profile and review the internship program’s brochure for more detailed information (usually found on the internship program’s agency website). Download and save the internship program brochures in a folder. If you notice a discrepancy between the APPIC profile and the internship brochure, it is fine to email the internship training director to ask them to clarify.
- Create a spreadsheet to track which sites you’ve reviewed and your level of interest at this point. Talk to previous applicants from your program (especially those with similar professional interests) to get an idea for sites to check out.
Q: How many sites should I apply to?
A: See APPIC’s comments about number of internship sites to apply to – the statement really highlights what’s one of the most important factors about your application process – finding a good fit for your internship experience! In general, if you’re geographically flexible, around 15 (+/-3) sites is a good target number of applications (this aligns with APPIC’s comments). Application fees are per site.
Update: Upon further reflection about the uncertainty of COVID times, I think it might be useful to plan for 2 extra applications in case there are last-minute changes to training programs due to budget issues (i.e., reduced number of training positions or program shut-down for 2021-2022 year). (“Extra” – meaning you’re accounting for the possibility that a couple of your options could be cut.)
I do support and encourage students to apply to 2-3 “reach” sites if they really love the internship program and have relevant qualifications and experience (even if they don’t exactly meet a requirement or preferred experience).
Q: Should I focus on internships that also offer postdoc positions so I can stay in the same place for 2-3 years?
A: From what I can tell, it’s not very common for internships to (automatically) lead into postdoc positions. It certainly is an option in a lot of places, but it can often look like 6 current interns at agency X applying for 4 postdoc positions at agency X. Additionally, many agencies want to keep the postdoc search broad and national, so they aren’t necessarily reserving spots for their current interns. Basically, the likelihood of a continued progression from internship to postdoc within an agency feels relatively low, so I wouldn’t count on it in planning on my future. I wouldn’t prioritize a site simply because it also offers a postdoc. However, it would be good to ask about postdoc opportunities at their organization during interviews.
Q: Should I focus on applying to a setting where I ultimately want to be for my career? For instance, do I have to get a VA internship if I want to work at a VA down the road?
A: It depends (this is my go-to response!). Some VAs will prefer their postdocs to have had an internship at a VA; some might be more flexible. By the time you consider applying for a job at a VA, my guess is that you’d be at a much greater advantage if you have done internship or postdoc at a VA. Kaiser often likes employing psychologists who have trained in a Kaiser setting at some point. University counseling centers often prefer to employ psychologists who have trained at UCCs at internship or postdoc level, but they might consider someone who has experience in a community mental health setting that provides short-term therapy and has a community outreach model. Again, there are no hard and fast rules; you have to make a sell for how relevant your qualifications and experience are to their job requirements.