Blue Agave

Finding the Right Internship Match

Frame your internship search as a journey through a series of manageable decisions.

You’re at the point of realistically considering your internship for next year: You’ve spent the summer gathering thoughts and materials and you’re ready to work on your applications in earnest. Given that you haven’t undergone this process before, you may feel like a novice sailor facing the open seas—you see islands on the horizon, but they all look different and you have no idea how to reach them. What’s your best route to reach Match Day?

Seasoned internship veterans suggest narrowing down what you want in a site; considering a range of variables such as quality, cost and location when picking sites to apply to; making time for the process; and rank-ordering sites based on all of the information you’ve gathered, both objective and subjective. All of these tools can help you reach your favored destination: a good internship match.

Draw a Map

Before you do anything else, take time to map out your dream “island.” What has most fascinated you in graduate school, and what would you like to learn more about? What do you see yourself doing as a practitioner, and how can your internship choice further that goal? What geographical locations do you prefer, what can you afford and what are your family’s needs?

On the professional level, “I can’t overemphasize how important it is to have a clear idea of what you really want,” says Chia-Chih “D.C.” Wang, PhD, who received his doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri–Columbia after finishing his internship at the University of California, Davis’s Counseling Center in August. In Wang’s case, he knew he wanted to do multicultural counseling, to supervise as well as be supervised and to work in a people-friendly environment. UC-Davis offered all three: More than half of his cases were people of color, he supervised practicum students, and the staff shared a warm camaraderie.

If your desires pull you in more than one direction, consider combining your main interests in one site, adds University of Notre Dame doctoral graduate Elena Malofeeva, who completed an internship at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor’s Counseling and Psychological Services.

Given that she was doing a combined program in counseling and developmental psychology and minoring in quantitative psychology, Malofeeva knew she wanted a place that let her keep exploring both clinical work and research. So she applied mostly to well-respected university counseling centers, knowing they’d offer good opportunities in both areas with a population she enjoys: young adults.

But perhaps the most important professional factor is the quality of didactic training and supervision, information you can glean from reading the site’s written material, interviewing faculty and interns there and talking with your own faculty, notes Joyce Illfelder-Kaye, PhD, internship training director at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. “The ideal combination,” she says, “is a place with a good reputation for good training in an area you’re really interested in pursuing.”

Palm Trees or Pine Forests?

Next, consider the location of your internship “island.” While your professional development should outweigh a sexy locale, where you land is important for a number of connected reasons, including preference, family needs, cost and your career aspirations, those involved say.

Malofeeva is a good example. With her husband Evgeniy Malofeeva still taking computer classes at Ivy Tech State College and two young children, she knew they couldn’t afford an ultra-expensive location, they didn’t want to raise their children in a big city and that Evgeniy needed to be in commuting distance to South Bend, IN, where Ivy Tech is located.

“Ann Arbor is perfect for what we wanted in terms of our family,” Malofeeva says. “It’s in a country-like setting, so the kids will be able to play outside.” The location—about two and a half hours from South Bend—will allow Evgeniy to travel back and forth every week or so, the amount he needs to successfully complete his courses. And the cost is more reasonable than, say, Chicago, which is actually closer to South Bend—important, since her family is currently living on her $15,000-per-year stipend, Malofeeva says.

Factor in your long-term career plans when considering location as well, adds Doug Carpenter, PsyD, training director at the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, MO. Once you’ve identified your optimal locale, “look at postdoc possibilities at your internship site,” he says, “and check out the market for psychologists in the area.” If you’re fortunate enough to be considering your dream site, exercise creativity and wisdom, internship experts advise. For example, interns at Harvard University’s Children’s Hospital in Boston “have often lived in a university town for four or five years, and they want to be in an urban environment with more diversity,” says psychologist Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, director of the site’s psychology training.

While you should consider if you can realistically handle the intensity of Harvard and a big city if you have strong family obligations such as young children, for example, it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it, notes Illfelder-Kaye. A key is planning: Check out good child-care arrangements beforehand, for instance, or even consider a “commuter marriage” for a year if it seems doable—a strategy she has seen work well for some students.

That said, make sure you apply to a range of sites, advises University of Texas at Austin psychologist Greg Keilin, PhD, who chairs the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) and coordinates the internship Match and clearinghouse. “There are definitely very popular areas,” such as New York and San Francisco, he says. “I encourage students to apply to sites that range in competitiveness because even a very good student who applies only to highly competitive sites has a higher-than-usual chance of not being matched.”

Finally, strongly consider choosing only sites that are APA-accredited or are APPIC members, Keilin advises. Several states already require that students have either an APA-accredited internship or have attended an APA-accredited doctoral program to get licensed, according to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. And it’s good to keep your post-degree location options open, Keilin notes. (See “Why accreditation matters,” April gradPSYCH.)

Navigational Tools

With your map in hand for where you want to go, you’re ready to chart a route and set sail.

For starters, build time into your schedule. Applying for internships was about a seven-month process for Malofeeva, though many people take longer and it’s always good to start thinking about your internship as early as possible, she says. Because she knew what kind of site she wanted, she started last August, looking over site possibilities about five hours a week. From September until November, she spent about 25 hours a week creating and amassing application materials. Once she was called for interviews, she spent up to 20 hours a week in December and January visiting sites and doing phone interviews, then waited for Match Day in February.

“It was like a part-time job!” she says. Framing it that way actually helped her use her time more efficiently, she believes.

Relatedly, think early on about how you want to handle your dissertation, Malofeeva and Wang say. They both decided to clear their plates of the big D before starting their internships so they could devote full attention to their new roles, a strategy they strongly encourage despite possible drawbacks like extra time in school.

On a nuts-and-bolts level, most students are intimately familiar with the APPIC Web site,, the major vehicle for searching sites on salient characteristics. Comb it fully for ideas, resources and possible sites, Illfelder-Kaye advises. At the same time, check the background of former interns at these sites for trends in the kinds of students they prefer—doing so can provide you with important information about your chances of getting in, she says. And see where students from your program have gone before. If they’ve done well at those sites, the reviewers may look at your application more favorably, she notes.

Throughout the process, bone up on relevant reading such as journal articles and books on internship selection (see list below), says Malofeeva. Doing so helped her understand more accurately what sites look for in applicants, and what applicants should look for in sites, she notes.

Land Ho!

At last you’re approaching the shore of your fantasy island (or at least your realistic fantasy island). At this point, a big hurdle remains, a bit like those jagged coastal rocks: rank-ordering your sites.

“A lot of sites kind of look the same on paper—they look similar in their clientele, in what they do and in how many hours you’d be working,” says Jennifer Lessens, a graduate student at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology who is starting her internship at the Tri-City Community Mental Health Center in Highland, Indiana, this fall.

That’s where the magic words “fit” and “gut” come in. “A big part of it for me was the interview—how they treated me and the feeling of the place,” Lessens says. The training director seemed like someone she could talk to easily in a pinch; in addition, they offered her an office—for Lessens, a sign of respect.

Moreover, asking past and current interns specific questions about a site away from the pressures of the interview process can help solidify your intuitive sense of a place, Wang adds. In fact, many sites offer lists of interns who are willing to be contacted. (See Put you best foot forward in internship interviews, this issue.)

“Don’t just rely on the phone interview or even on a site visit,” Wang advises. “You need to ask three, four, five people, ‘What is the agency’s culture like? What is the quality of the supervision?’ And anything else you want to know.”

Grokking with a site makes the difference, agrees Jeff Baker, PhD, training director at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

“While there’s no such thing as a perfect fit, there are definitely good fits,” he says. “In the end it comes down to, do we like you and do you like us?”

When you’ve both made that choice, it’s time to step off ship and onto your new and exciting shore. Happy landing!

—TORI DeANGELIS Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, NY

Writing Successful Internship Applications and Finding the Right Fit

Internships in Psychology : The APAGS Workbook for Writing Successful Applications and Finding the Right Fit, 3rd ed.

Internships in Psychology provides you with all of the resources you will need to successfully navigate the internship application process. Designed specifically for doctoral-level psychology graduate students, this volume will act as your personal mentor with step-by-step instructions to help you land an internship placement that is the best match for you!

Helpful checklists, sample real-life application materials, and realistic advice for writing cover letters, thank you notes, and CVs are included. You will find:

  1. the most common reasons why people don’t secure a position;
  2. how many sites to apply to;
  3. rank ordering your list of programs;
  4. preparing essays, cover letters, and the curriculum vitae;
  5. securing strong letters of recommendation;
  6. preparing for interviews;
  7. writing thank you notes;
  8. receiving Match results, and more.

In addition to general guidance, the book provides numerous helpful checklists and samples, including several sample essays.

This resource is one of several services provided for students by the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students — the premier group committed to representing, leading, advocating, and developing resources for graduate psychology students.”

8 Tips for a Successful Internship

“You’ve finally received word that you’ve scored an internship site — a process that’s taken tremendous amounts of work and effort. Though it’s taken years to get here, your internship year will fly by. Below, experts provide their insight on making the most of your time.”

The quest for an internship: Four students’ perspective.

Select the link above to download this article from EBSCO. (password required)

“What are students’ experiences in applying for internships? Although the preponderance of recent internship literature addresses marketplace issues and competitive strategies, narratives of the applicants’ experiences have been largely absent. Using an interpretive approach, 4 recent internship applicants reflect on the process of applying for internships as it contributes to the development of becoming a psychologist. The authors highlight 3 values of professional practice–community, respect, and authenticity–that can inform the dialogue of internship reform and suggest practical implications for student applicants, internship training directors, directors of clinical training, and the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers.”