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Landing a psychology internship is more difficult than ever, but a simple calculation can improve your chances, says Duncan Seawell, PsyD, a postdoctoral fellow at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. Here's how: Visit the Web site of the internship site you're interested in, add up the number of applicants to the site over the last three years and count the total number of positions offered over those years. Divide the positions by the applications to get a measure of how competitive the program is, and use that number to make sure that you've included some safety sites in your portfolio, just like when you applied to college or grad school.

Seawell and his co-authors used this process to calculate the competitiveness of every APA-accredited internship site in a recent study in Training and Education in Professional Psychology (Vol. 3, No. 3).

"Each student needs to decide, with their adviser, how much risk they are willing to take so they are not applying to only the most competitive sites, but including some balancing sites," he says.

The median match rate for internship sites (aggregating data from 2004 through 2007) is 5.5 percent. However, that number varied greatly, with the most competitive site, Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, accepting only 1.9 percent of applications to its internship program, and the least competitive site, the counseling center at James Madison University in Virginia, accepting 55.2 percent of applications. (JMU, however, reported their first year of data in 2007, notes Seawell.)

Despite conventional wisdom, students don't always need to cast a wide geographic net to improve their match rates, according to Seawell's analysis. While some cities are more competitive than others—with Chicago topping the list with a 4 percent match rate—a student who applies to Chicago's least competitive internships will have a better chance of matching than someone who applies to only highly competitive internships nationwide.

Of course, that strategy is just a small part of ensuring a good internship match, notes Seawell. Finding sites that fit your interests and career goals and impressing training directors with your applications and interviews should be applicants' top priorities. But given how competitive the internship match has become, "Every little bit of information you can gather to give you an edge helps," he says.

—S. Dingfelder

What cities have the fiercest competition for internships?

Four-year match rate

1. Chicago 3.97 %
2. Philadelphia 4.43 %
3. San Francisco 4.48 %
4. Denver 4.60 %
5. New York 4.67 %
6. Boston 5.12 %
7. Los Angeles 5.20 %
8. San Diego 5.54 %
9. Dallas 5.60 %
10. Seattle 5.65 %

Source: Seawell, D.B., Krohn, N., Gorgens, K.A., & Erickson Cornish, J.A. (2009). Geography and internship match rates: Quantifying competitiveness and discussing implications for the internship imbalance. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 3, 127–134.