Cover Story

A psychology doctoral student at a Midwestern graduate program—let's call him "John"—was willing to go a long way for an internship. Last fall, John applied to 18 sites in nine states, and over the course of five weeks in December and January interviewed in person at 16 programs.

In one three-day span in January, he flew to Maryland, then to Texas, then to Virginia for interviews. When he totaled his expenses for flights, rental cars and hotels, the tab came to $10,000. Why'd he do it?

"The more places I applied to, the better chance I had of matching," says John, who ended up being matched to his fourth choice, despite believing in a common match myth.

John's far from alone in being worried about landing an internship, according to a recent survey of 700 clinical psychology doctoral students co-authored by Katie Bangen, of the University of California–San Diego.

Bangen and her co-authors found that:

  • 22 percent of students are "very worried" and 57.1 percent are "worried" about not matching.

  • In addition to the tough competition for internships, students point to faculty members as a source of their stress—specifically those who don't meet deadlines for recommendation letters and who keep emphasizing how important it is to match. Professors can also lessen stress, said survey respondents, specifically by offering emotional support, providing concrete advice and being flexible with deadlines when students are traveling for interviews, for example.

  • Students spend an average of $1,966 traveling for interviews. "I think it's a big financial strain for a lot of students, especially if they end up re-applying the following year," says Bangen, who spent about $3,000 on travel during her internship search.

For some students, the long hours spent putting applications together and facing the stress of interviews and travel doesn't pay. Karen Freed, a fourth-year counseling psychology student at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, spent a few thousand dollars driving to five interviews in Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota and Winnipeg, Canada.

Just days after she learned she didn't match, she started a support group on Facebook for unmatched psychology students. People started joining within hours, and the group had more than 30 members in just days

"We talked about what are the options and what can you do for next year to make yourself more marketable," she says.

—C. Munsey