Degree In Sight

Piece to a puzzle

You're applying to internship sites and want to ensure you land an internship on APPIC Match Day. What better way than to apply to as many sites as possible, right?

Wrong, according to experts on the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) internship selection process, aka the "match." Applying to more than 15 sites doesn't necessarily improve your chances of being matched, they say. Most likely, students who've applied to that many sites won't have taken the time to ensure that each site is a good fit-a key to finding a successful match, says APPIC Chair Emil Rodolfa, PhD. Instead, researching and applying to 11 to 15 sites that you think would be a good fit "will ensure that you rank sites that are more likely to be interested in you as well," and increase the likelihood of a good match, says Rodolfa.

The "applying to more sites equals a match" notion is just one of the misperceptions some students have about the match-an internship application and assignment system that was revamped and computerized in 1999.

In the old "call system," students fielded calls from training directors on Match Day-accepting, rejecting or holding offers until a better one came along that day. While today's system is not stress-free, it gives students a pressure-free environment to identify their true preferences, experts say. And, according to APPIC's 2003 match statistics, 81 percent of applicants were matched with one of their top three choices through the revamped system. Yet, myths about match difficulties persist. Here are five more.

Myth: Guessing how sites rank you boosts match chances.

Fact: Students can actually hurt their chances of securing one of their top choices if they use this type of strategy. Students are most likely to acquire a top choice if they rank their sites in their true order of preference, without regard to how programs may be ranking them, says Greg Keilin, PhD, vice chair of the APPIC board and the match coordinator.

"The system is designed to respond to people's choices," says Keilin, who sums up his ranking advice in a chapter of the book "Internships in Psychology: The APAGS Workbook for Writing Successful Applications and Finding the Right Match" (APA, 2003).

"You want the computer to know your top choices so it can advocate for you," he adds. "If you submit a rank order list that is anything other than your true preferences, it's self-sabotage."

So, for example, if a site is your last choice, but it really wants you, there is no benefit to ranking that site higher, he says. By leaving it there, the computer will try to get you into those top choices first, yet your chances of matching to your last choice won't be reduced if your more-preferred sites don't work out.

This article was updated in September 2012 to link to the most recent edition of "Internships in Psychology."

Myth: Only second-rate candidates and sites tap the clearinghouse.

Fact: Well-qualified students often aren't matched in the initial round-some may have ranked too few sites, tried too hard to strategize or limited themselves geographically.

Many applicants dread having to go through the clearinghouse-where students who don't get matched in the initial round vie for internship positions on and after Match Day. Some worry it means that they're underqualified or that the "good" internships are taken.

Neither is true, stress APPIC match experts. "I hear over and over from training directors how they are typically as pleased with the students they get through the clearinghouse as those they get in the match," Keilin points out.

And some top-flight internships are available in the clearinghouse, adds APPIC chair Rodolfa. Some are there because they joined late due to a funding delay, didn't initially receive many applications or sought interns taken by other sites, he says.

Pacific Graduate School student David Spangler, for example, secured an internship through the clearinghouse at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, that offered him exactly what he'd wanted: a six-month rotation in a hospital rehabilitation center. None of the sites he'd ranked in the first round provided that opportunity because he limited his choices to the Denver and Salt Lake City areas.

Myth: If a problem arises with a made match, you're out of luck.

Fact: While it's true that matched students are contractually bound to attend their internships, APPIC does have an Informal Resolution Process to address serious match problems or dire circumstances, such as a student's sudden illness or a serious conflict between a student and his or her training director.

Former APPIC Chair Nadine Kaslow, PhD, handles the process and estimates that 10 to 20 students want out of or express serious problems with their match each year. In most cases, APPIC tries to keep the match intact: Kaslow has worked with sites to accommodate a student's illness or disability, and to resolve a last-minute change in training opportunities offered by a site. And, if the circumstances are dire-such as if a student is diagnosed with cancer-a student may be released from the match, she says.

Other situations don't warrant a release from the match. "Sometimes a student wants out for something they should have thought out ahead of time, like they rank a place and then decide they can't afford to move there," says Kaslow.

If a student reneges on a match without permission, he or she may face consequences that range from having to take an extra ethics class to being barred from future matches, says Kaslow, who advises students to avoid those penalties by planning ahead. "Go through the match when you are ready to go and only rank the places you intend to go," she advises.

In very rare cases, says Kaslow, a site loses funding post-match and its internship is no longer available. If that happens, Kaslow works with the site to get its funding reinstated or talks with area training directors to find interns alternative sites in the same city.

Myth: Two-step disclosure is meant to torment you.

Fact: APPIC's two-step notification process-informing students on the Friday prior to Match Day whether they've been matched, then revealing the site the following Monday-leaves many students wondering all weekend: Will it be Denver or New York City? Kansas City or San Diego?

Although students often complain that the wait is torture, says Keilin, there is a good reason for the delay that is based on past applicants' feedback: Students who didn't get matched need a few days to adjust mentally and prepare their application materials to enter the clearinghouse-when unmatched sites are posted for the first time, he says.

"It took me 24 hours to come to grips with not being matched," says 2003 clearinghouse veteran Mike Bergman. "If I'd had to start applying right away, I would have been totally overwhelmed."

Bergman, a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin, says the extra time gave him a chance to clear his calendar and to organize his application materials for Match Day, when unmatched students learn what sites are still available and fax and e-mail training directors their applications at a breakneck pace.

Myth: Couples have no chance of interning in the same city.

Fact: Couples have fared well in the last three matches: In 2003, 11 of the 19 couples who participated in the match successfully matched within 100 miles or less, seven of them within the same city. In 2002, 11 out of 17 couples were matched within 100 miles or less, eight within the same city; in 2001, 16 out of 22 couples were matched within 100 miles or less, 12 of them within the same city.

That's because the match allows couples to submit paired rankings of internship sites, which gives them a high level of control over getting matched close by, says Keilin.

Couples are generally happy with the system, Keilin reports, but it can be hard for couples who go through the trouble and still match apart. Some mistakenly think they would have fared better applying as individuals, he says, when in fact it's likely that they'd have gotten the same result applying individually.

Instructions for ranking as couples are listed on APPIC's Web site and the National Matching Services Web site (see below).