Almost one-third of the psychology doctoral students who did not match from 2000 to 2006 came from just 15 doctoral programs, according to a paper published in the May 2010 issue of Training and Education in Professional Psychology (Vol. 4, No. 2).
That means that less than 4 percent of programs were responsible for 32 percent of unmatched applicants, says study author Mike C. Parent, a counseling psychology student at the University of Florida.
With Parent, co-author John B. Williamson, PhD, examined match results for 22,167 applicants from 391 doctoral programs who applied for an internship through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internships Centers match system over a seven-year period.
According to Parent, their analysis shows that it's not a systemic flaw causing the glut of unmatched applicants but rather a handful of programs churning out a large number of applicants who go unmatched. All told, the 15 programs sent 4,808 students into the match from 2000 to 2006 — 22 percent of all internship applicants during that time frame.
The study authors declined to name the 15 problem programs, but they did note that 14 of them offer PsyDs rather than PhDs, and all but one are APA-accredited.
The APPIC internship match lines up students who need a yearlong doctoral psychology internship with programs at community mental health centers, university counseling centers, hospitals and other sites. In recent years, the number of available internships has outpaced the number of applicants. This year, 846 students, or about 23 percent of applicants, went unmatched.
Students who don't match to an APPIC-listed internship can face delays in completing a doctorate, incur additional expenses, generate greater student loan debt and might have a harder time getting licensed if they don't complete an APA-accredited internship.
Given these results, Parent would like APA to require programs to have at least an 80 percent match rate to qualify for accreditation. Potential psychology students, he says, should visit the APPIC website and examine programs' match rates before deciding where to apply.
"Because the problem is now so severe, a drastic response is now what's necessary," he says.
APA requires programs to be transparent about their match performance, says Cynthia Belar, PhD, APA's executive director for education. "This paper is indeed a contributor to the national conversation on these issues, and reflects analyses that help us understand, in a more sophisticated manner, the nature of the problem," Belar says.