Dr. Chen’s Suggested Timeline

Dr. Chen’s Suggested Timeline for Preparing Psychology Internship Materials for the APPIC Match

This is the general timeline I have used while providing intensive individual advising for 40 clinical psychology PhD students since 2011.

Colleagues have sometimes commented that it seems like my timeline seems “early” as many students don’t start the process until August or even September. However, the feedback I’ve received from students over the years is that they appreciated this (loose) framework for various reasons:

  • Starting early gave them time to think critically about what they wanted during internship year (in general, summer is less busy)
  • It gave them time to process how they wanted to present themselves (i.e., communicate clearly and in a meaningful way). They could talk and think through what they wanted to include in their essays (and work through multiple revisions for each essay).
  • Having a timeline with milestones for different parts of the application helped alleviate anxiety and decrease procrastination
  • Finishing essays “early” gave them time to finalize their site lists and focus on tailoring each cover letter (this was especially helpful for international students who had to consider citizenship requirements for their site list)
  • Having a longer timeline provided flexibility for short breaks to focus on dissertation proposals or vacations and self-care (what’s that, you say?).

Ultimately, most of them were ready to send out applications by mid-October. Sometimes their biggest holdups were waiting for references. As a testament to the effectiveness of this timeline, former students have told me they use this timeline to mentor and advise doctoral students through the internship application process because they found it useful in their own process.

The internship application process will be stressful no matter what, but this timeline seems to help relieve the students’ stress a little bit and make everything feel more manageable. (To provide some context, we would usually meet for 1 hour every 2 weeks throughout the summer, so there were regular check-ins. I recommend finding a classmate or two to check in with regularly to help you keep on track if you don’t have an advisor or supervisor who can meet that often for application advice/feedback.)


– Start working on internship essays (at least 1 or 2 essays). Choose an essay topic you feel motivated to tackle and start there. (Most students I’ve worked with do the research essay last, as it feels more straightforward.) Ask for feedback on your draft(s). Talk through your ideas if you have writers’ block. Drafts should aim to be within 15 words of the 500 word limit (don’t make them too short or too long to begin with).

– Review internship program descriptions in the APPIC Directory when you need a break from essays. (Remember to filter “Program Type” to “Internship”; otherwise, postdoc programs will also appear in the results.) Keep in mind that not all programs are updated for the upcoming application cycle at this point.

o  TIP:  create a spreadsheet to track which sites you’ve reviewed, and your level of interest at this point.

o  TIP:  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).

o  TIP:  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.

– Subscribe to APPIC list-serves

o Match News list-serve – this is the official line of communication from APPIC and includes a minimal number of emails.

o  Intern-Network – email forum for questions from applicants. Keep in mind this list-serve includes thousands of students and hundreds of training directors and DCTs. Post judiciously. (There is a daily digest setting if you want to minimize emails. This list-serve has been much quieter the past couple of years.)


– Continue revising essays – you should be on 2nd or 3rd essay at this point. Continue to ask for feedback on your drafts and incorporate feedback that resonates with you. (See my thoughts about feedback in Writing the Most Interesting Internship Essays Ever.)

– Continue reviewing internship programs in the APPIC Directory – more programs will be updated at this point but not all. See APPIC’s comments about number of internship sites to apply to – remember, it’s what makes up the site list (i.e., goodness of fit) that is most significant (not how many applications you send out). In general, if you’re geographically flexible, around 15 (+/-2) sites is a good target number of applications (this aligns with APPIC’s comments). Application fees are per site.


– The AAPI Online Application usually becomes available – when you feel tired of writing about yourself in essays, start inputting information in the AAPI portal. It can be tedious and often takes more time than students anticipate. Be sure to follow your doctoral program’s instructions for the Director of Clinical Training (DCT) section of the application.

TIP:  Submit transcript requests as soon as summer grades have posted (for all graduate programs you’ve attended) – you need to start the AAPI online application in order to request transcripts. 1) Follow AAPI instructions for transcript requests; 2) Follow your university(ies)’ instructions for transcript requests. Do not wait until October to submit requests when AAPI becomes backlogged with requests. (There is a manual aspect of AAPI processing transcripts into your AAPI application, and it can take 2 weeks or more.)

– By the end of August/early September, essays and your internship list should be mostly finalized. Your internship site list should include details about deadlines (each site varies), minimum qualifications (hours, coursework, types of assessment administered), and the training opportunities you like about each site.

– Identify your reference writers and ask if they are available and willing to provide a strong recommendation using the AAPI’s Standard Reference Form (SRF) – attach the SRF document for them to use.

Autumn treesSEPTEMBER

– Focus on cover letters – if you are applying to a couple different types of settings (e.g., VA and hospital settings), then develop templates for each type of setting and have someone review for you. Ask for feedback and revise accordingly.

– Finish completing the AAPI online application.

– Provide your DCT information that would be helpful for their portion of the AAPI – bullet point list of your professional goals/interests; your CV; highlights of accomplishments, such as awards, publications, works in progress, service (professional or student organization leadership positions); clinical supervisor comments from practicum evaluations, etc.

– Provide your reference writers same information as above and include the SRF again for easy reference. Each reference writer only needs to complete the SRF once; they upload it directly to the AAPI online portal. Additionally, while the reference writer does not have to individually address the Standard Reference Form to each internship site, provide a list of internship sites you are applying to so they have a sense of your aspirations. Provide a deadline that is at least 7-10 days before your first deadline.


– Based on the cover letter templates you’ve developed, tailor each cover letter to the specific training opportunities you’re interested in for each internship program you’re applying to. Do not use the generic “I’m interested in your site” – just write out the name of the site so they don’t feel like it’s a form letter (even though it’s based on a template).

– Convert your essays and cover letters into pdf format. All 4 essays will end up in one document – you may simply label “Essay 1”, “Essay 2”, etc. before each essay (include your full name at the top of the document).

– Follow your DCT or doctoral program’s instructions for getting your AAPI approved by the DCT. Once you receive your DCT’s approval and have all of your completed materials uploaded, start sending out your applications (you pay a fee for each application).

– Register for the APPIC Match on NMS (this is different from the AAPI). There is a fee to participate in the match.


– Continue sending out applications. Start chewing your nails as you wait to hear back from sites (usually early December, mostly around December 15th).

– Create a spreadsheet of possible interview dates and identify tight timelines or overlapping dates so you are ready to schedule interviews when you hear back from sites. University counseling centers are more likely to offer phone or video interviews, which helps with scheduling and keeping travel costs down.

Snowy woodsDECEMBER

– Send thank you notes to your references – presumably you know these folks fairly well, so a handwritten note would be ideal.

– Prepare for interviews through mock interviews – with clinical supervisors, advanced trainees, faculty advisor, family, friends. Review interview questions and practice talking through case vignettes.

– Practice with at least one person who knows you well and at least one who doesn’t know you very well (e.g., a supervisor or professor you haven’t worked with closely). The people who know you well can point out things you forget to highlight about yourself, and the people who don’t know you as well can give you more of the “first impressions” feedback that is more similar to how an interviewer would experience you.

Review your application materials before you interview – oftentimes interviewers reference specific information from your materials, and you want to be familiar with your own materials so you don’t get caught off guard.

Review each internship program’s brochure and information about clinical supervisors and people involved in the training program before each interview.

– Some interviews start in mid-December. Make notes after each interview – details can be difficult to remember after a few interviews.

– Practice self-care so you don’t get sick.


– Attend interviews – remember to make notes after each interview.

– Send thank you notes to training directors – some people prefer handwritten ones, and some prefer email, so it’s up to you how you send them. Most importantly, personalize each note a little – highlight a memorable aspect of the interview or reiterate (briefly) the training opportunities that you’re excited about. Keep it short (one paragraph).

– Continue to practice self-care so you don’t get sick.

– Talk with your faculty advisor, clinical supervisor, and family about your ranking choices. Worried about how the match works? Review NMS’s explanation of the match algorithm.


– Early February – submit your rank order list on NMS.

– The waiting period between submitting your rank order lists and match day can be challenging. Practice self-care. Perhaps use this time to pay some attention to dissertation and make some progress (seriously!).

MATCH DAY – if possible, make plans for a quiet match day (usually on a Friday) and weekend. If you do not match, work closely with your DCT to determine if participating in Phase II is a good option for you.

Good luck!maneki neko

Click here to download a pdf version of this post: drchen.suggested timeline

Purpose of Psychology Internship Materials

As you get started thinking about your internship application, you may be wondering why it involves so many essays and materials. After all, after internship, most postdoc and job applications will only consist of a CV and cover letter. However, as much I think the internship application process is harder than it should be, the process of writing essays and cover letters can help you reflect on your training experiences and help you solidify your professional identity as an emerging professional in psychology if you take the time.

This page provides an overview of the purpose of the different parts of your internship application to help you organize all the pieces (instead of thinking, “what’s the point?”).


Essays help the reader get to know you as a person and emerging professional –

  • What would you be like to work with as a supervisee (personality, self-awareness/self-reflection, openness, critical thinking skills, knowledge)?
  • What are your values and philosophies about psychology and the work you do?
  • TIP:  Be sure to illustrate with examples – think of these essays as persuasive writing (rather than descriptive). For example, when writing about your theoretical orientation, instead of describing how CBT works, use a brief case example that highlights how you applied a cognitive technique and discuss its effectiveness (i.e., what the therapeutic outcome of using the technique was). Don’t forget to finish the thought! You are persuading the reader that you understand CBT, know how to apply it, and have found it useful in your work.

curriculum vitae

Your curriculum vitae (CV) lists the facts of your experience –

  • 53909B68-2A36-434D-99A6-C6FEAC0B9E48Is there a breadth of clinical experiences? What’s the theme of your experiences (clinical, research, service)?
  • Does your CV reflect that you’ve gone above and beyond the minimum requirements of an academic program (i.e., how have you demonstrated that you are invested in your own professional development)?
  • How do you know if you should include an experience? This is subjective, but ask yourself if the information would be distracting for the reader or interesting in that it represents some quality you want them to notice. E.g., Being voted high school prom king may not add to your CV, but serving as captain of your NCAA swim team in college may be interesting to mention because it represents leadership qualities and a student-athlete’s discipline.
  • TIP:  Showcase your unique qualities – fluency in another language; awards and leadership positions (psychology related or not); military service; prior work experience (condense the description if it’s a long history); volunteer activity.

Cover letters

Cover letters outline why the site is a good fit for you and your professional goals –

  • The fit is how well an internship program’s training opportunities match your interests, qualifications*, and career goals. FIT is the number one consideration in the internship application process (yes, according to research).
  • While it’s acceptable to develop a cover letter template, a generic letter will not be very convincing for a training committee to invite you for an interview. Some training committees read the cover letter first – you can have an amazing CV, but if you don’t explain why you’re interested in their specific training opportunities, they will have difficulty envisioning you as part of their program. Therefore, if the training program includes rotations, you should identify which rotations you’re interested in and why (this is also an opportunity to reference your relevant experience).
  • TIP:  Organize your paragraphs by your interest in training opportunities (e.g., PTSD rotation, crisis hotline, outreach to LGBTQ students), not by chronological order of your clinical experiences. Integrate your interest in their program offerings throughout your letter, not just in the first and last paragraphs.

*Qualifications do not mean you must have the exact experience that the internship site is offering (e.g., working with adolescents diagnosed with schizophrenia). It does mean that you have a solid foundation and relevant/overlapping experience that has prepared you for advanced training – e.g., you have taken several courses in serious mental illness (SMI) and have had a few SMI clients; you have worked with adolescents in a community mental health setting; or you have worked with adults on an inpatient unit. On the other hand, it would be a hard sell to apply to an internship site focused on inpatient work with adolescents, and you have only worked with adults in outpatient settings.

Click here to download a pdf version of purpose of internship materials.

Keyboard and coffee mug

Writing the Most Interesting Internship Essays Ever*

*Or at least something you can be proud of.

By Grace A. Chen, Ph.D.

Summertime is often the beginning of the internship application process for clinical and counseling psychology doctoral students. The internship is the capstone year at the end of many years of doctoral training, so for many students it feels like everything is riding on where one gets placed for internship. I have advised hundreds of doctoral students regarding their practicum placements in a competitive practicum environment (San Francisco Bay Area) for many years, and I have also provided intensive advising for internship applications for over 30 students. Based on these experiences, I wanted to share some thoughts about the internship application – specifically, the essays – to help support graduate students during a stressful process.

The internship application includes four essays –

  1. autobiography,
  2. theoretical orientation,
  3. diversity, and
  4. research.


After years of writing academic papers and then clinical progress notes, students must switch to yet another style of writing – personal essays…but within a professional context…and in fewer than 500 words per essay. It’s a little daunting to say the least. First drafts tend to sound like a) academic papers (dry, intellectual, impersonal) or b) personal statements for graduate school applications (chronological, more about the past than the present or future in psychology). At the precipice of internship-level training though, you want to sound like an advanced graduate student who has a strong sense of your professional identity.
Additionally, many of us are raised to be humble and told to let our actions speak for us, so the idea of writing about ourselves for 2000 words may be challenging for some. (Can’t they simply read my CV and letters of recommendation?) However, to be successful in finding the right fit for internship, postdoc, and beyond, we need to embrace (and continually develop) the important professional skill of talking confidently about ourselves, especially our strengths, while being true to ourselves. A few thoughts:


1. Be yourself. Really. Many times students will ask, “what are internship sites looking for in these essays?” While there is no right answer, generally the goal is to convey your professional development with a personal tone. The internship essays are an opportunity to showcase your professional development with a balance of sharing some of your personality. For example, describe your thought process, show some vulnerability, include some humor, and/or use specific examples that illustrate your point. The goal is to hook the readers so that they want to continue the conversation in an interview. So…how do you do this?

2. Solicit feedback and revise, revise, revise! Requesting feedback from multiple people – from psychology and non-psychology folks – is an important, although possibly uncomfortable, part of the process of refining your essays. Sometimes what you intend to say is not coming across well in writing; having fresh eyes read your essay could be helpful to highlight what you need to clarify. Furthermore, it may be helpful to take a break from writing and re-writing to fit into a 500-word limit and talk through your ideas with someone. I often ask students, “what is the purpose of this paragraph – what do you really want the reader to know about you?” What they answer verbally is not always apparent in the written essay, and the light bulb goes off as they talk it out – they need to write in a more straightforward manner. The writing does not have to be complex or poetic – simple and concise are quite helpful to the reader who is reviewing 80 or 100 applications. (They will not want to re-read your run-on sentence to decipher what you are trying to say.) The students I advise end up writing multiple drafts of each essay, which can be exhausting but rewarding in the end.

Ultimately you want to be happy with your essays – namely, the goal is that the essays reflect what you want the internship sites to know about you as a person and as a professional. Therefore, try not to get too overwhelmed by others’ feedback, especially if it’s conflicting (e.g., your clinical supervisor and faculty advisor have differing opinions).

3. Be yourself. (Again?) A major worry for students is that they won’t stand out in their essays, that they aren’t unique enough. (Won’t many people write about CBT?How will the site know that I’m really into social justice and not just using buzz words?) It’s a legitimate worry to some extent – the internship selection committee has read hundreds (or thousands) of essays over the years, and your theoretical orientation will not be original. However, how you understand and implement the theoretical orientation in clinical work will reflect your personal style, perspective and experience. I’ll provide an example from early clinical training – when asked to identify their clinical strengths, most beginning clinicians have told me “establishing rapport.” The students cringe when I tell them it is the most common answer I hear. However, I then ask, “how do you build rapport?” At that point, students provide many different responses, which I find quite interesting as the elaboration helps paint a clearer picture of the student as a clinician. Thus, you do not have to come up with unique or earth-shattering ideas in each essay (whew). Nevertheless, you will be more memorable if you “finish the thought” (as I like to say) and demonstrate your point with some details or a brief example. Being genuine inevitably works out – if an internship site doesn’t interview you even though you submitted brilliant and witty essays, then it is probably not a good fit anyway.

Now back to the question of, “what are internship sites looking for?” They are looking for a good fit. One research study about the APPIC match indicated that FIT is the number one factor influencing how a site ranks applicants, and countless supervisors and advisors will say the same thing. Therefore, apply to internship sites that seem like a good fit in terms of your qualifications, experience, and training goals. Trust the process.

Adapted from the previously published article in the Summer 2017 newsletter of the Asian American Psychological Association.