You can do this.
Oh, come on.
You made it through your graduate coursework. You’re facing down that dissertation like a wild animal trainer, grim-faced, ready for combat. These are just application essays. No need to panic.
I know, I know. Every one of your fellow students has an opinion. All of your professors and supervisors give you different advice. You’ve revised your essays howmany times now? I get it. So, I’m going to give you my opinion, as someone who reads a lot of these every single year, and uses them to help decide which candidates we’re interviewing at WKPIC, and which we’re giving a pass this year.
I can only speak for our tiny corner of the APPIC Match world, but as WKPIC’s Training Director, here’s what I want to see in your essays:
This is my only chance to meet you on paper, other than a bunch of numbers and labels and statistics. Show me who you are as a professional and a person, so I’ll know if we can work with you. Are you smart? Let yourself shine. Are you funny? Use a bit of humor. Do you love to learn? Let me feel the energy. Basically, your essays can leave you in neutral, or push you into I’ve-got-to-meet-this-student.
And now for the details.
Do you really read the essays?
Yes. Every . . . freakin’ . . . one. Even when I’ve got a stack of fifty applications, and get another stack that big the very next week. The other internship faculty members do, too. Making a match with our setting is very, very important to us, and this is a huge tool in initial screening, in our opinion. Plus, I may have gone on internship in the Paleolithic Period, but Match existed, and I remember pouring my heart, soul, and future into every word I wrote. I’m assuming you did, too, and I plan to respect that. Last year, I even built a desk shelf onto my treadmill so I could read while I walked. I read in meetings between speakers. I read on breaks. I read on vacation days. If you write it and apply to us, we will know what you said. We’ll be reading those essays.
Does grammar and spelling matter to you at WKPIC?
To put it simply, YES. Our internship involves a lot of writing–initial assessments, evaluations, therapy notes, emails, and more. If I see I’m going to have to work multiple hours proofreading or revising whatever you do just to bring the basic grammar and spelling to standard, consider me scared, and likely scared enough not to interview you. That being said, if you end up with a couple of typos in your entire gigantic application, don’t panic. You’ll probably find a few typos in my posts on this blog. You may find a few typos in books I’ve published. I even found one in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (no, not lying! Somewhere around page 280-300, Snape is called Snap. Oh, Snap!). Typos happen. Just do your best, and show me that you have a reasonable command of the language.
Should I be super-specific and adamant about my theoretical orientation?
Um, no. Not for us. Even if you are, we won’t totally believe you. I mean, we know you’re not kidding or anything, it’s just that except in rare circumstances, theoretical orientation prior to internship and your first few years of practice can be a bit shaky. Tell us what you’ve done the most, what you feel the most comfortable doing, and where you think you’re headed/want to head with theoretical orientation. That’s enough for us. We’ll be happy to work with you in that direction, and see how it pans out for you as you contend with it across multiple functional levels and disorders.
Is creative good, or should I play it completely safe?
Remember, I am answering only for myself, and in general what we at WKPIC look for–but I like to see at least one creative or a bit less “in the box” essay. Again, what I like to see is YOU. Without at least a dash of intellectual pizzazz, I won’t know you’ve got that spark. You have to show me. I like seeing a couple of straightforward, professionally done pieces, and if they are all that way, that’s okay. If one steps a little away from “safe,” you definitely don’t lose my interest.
The bottom line is–you can do this. You can write those essays, and we’ll read them. They will matter.
Susan R. Vaught, Ph.D.
Training Director, WKPIC
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The AAPI essays are some of the most dreaded and feared of a prospective intern’s hoops to jump through. Part of what makes them so intimidating is that they are so ambiguous and open-ended, which makes most of us “Type A” graduate students cringe!
We have been trained to write logically and methodically to convey exact descriptions of client behavior for treatment planning and research. No one encouraged lavish adjectives or creative word pairs when we were writing our dissertations or progress notes, so why are we being asked to do that now?
However, AAPI essays should not be seen as an obstacle to getting matched with the internship site you desire, but a creative way of conveying information about yourself that your cover letter, recommendation letters, and CV just don’t capture. You would be surprised at how much a good essay can affect the application process. It can provide a key focal point during interviews to make you stand out from other candidates.
The following are specific tips to consider when writing each of your essays:
Use a Thematic Model
In general, all essays should use a thematic model. In other words, the first paragraph should introduce a theme you want to convey to your audience. The following paragraphs should reinforce that theme. The last paragraph should summarize how those previous paragraphs support the theme introduced in the first paragraph.
Make sure that you have a mentor, close friend in the field, or another trusted source to read over your drafts. But be careful – too many readers can lead to you getting conflicting feedback, just like having too many chefs will ruin a stew. Select people that you know have experience with writing and consider having no more than two proofreaders per essay.
Give yourself time to work on these essays and do not rush to get them over with. Consider that you may need to go through anywhere from 3-8 drafts per essay to get to the finished product that will give you the best results. Plan to spend no less than a week per essay and no more than 2 weeks per essay (drafts to proofreaders included) during peak AAPI season.
Engage in self-care! I cannot tell you how important this is during your intern application process. It can be hard to get feedback on your essays and you need to be taking care of your emotions during the entire interview process so as not to burn out with classes, dissertation proposal, and practicum before interviews even start.
Yes, You Can Overcome Grad School Burnout – Here’s How
Multicultural/Diversity AAPI Essay
The purpose of this essay is to convey how you view and interact professionally with people who are different from you. You need to inform your audience how your own and other cultures affect how you conduct therapy, intake interviews, assessment, and research.
Make this essay come to life by giving concrete examples using behavioral language (e.g., “I build collaborative rapport in treatment planning by asking about the client’s lived experiences with authority figures.” or “I look for the unique aspects of my research participant’s story to let me know how they experience their culture.”)
In this essay avoid:
- Littering your essay with too many examples. Each paragraph should not be another example from a different patient/client you worked with. Examples are great if they are succinct and carry a core theme you want to convey.
- Avoid grocery-listing (e.g., “I ask about a person’s intersecting identities, such as their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, religion, disability status, etc.”). This is taking up space without conveying any useful message to your audience except that you know the various ways diversity can emerge.
Language to use in this essay:
- “Appreciate”, “resource”, “egalitarian”, “advocate”, or any other feminist theory language
- Person-first language (e.g., “Children with autism” vs. “autistic children” and “Persons with disabilities” vs. “handicapped people”)
Language to avoid in this essay:
- Never use: “tolerate”, “accept”, “understand”
- Obsolete, outdated, or offensive language such “homosexual”
Theoretical Orientation AAPI Essay
The purpose of this essay is to send a message about yourself and how you operate as a therapist or researcher. This essay is not a format for you to lecture your audience about what the tenants of your theoretical orientation are. They know this already. Instead, use this essay to let them know how you use this (these) orientation(s) to be a facilitator of change.
If you don’t know your orientation or have no idea what to write here, spend your time writing about how you believe clients/patients change. Don’t just think about this; write it. After you write this, you will see from what theory you conceptualize from, making it much easier to see what theory you work from.
And don’t shy away from integrating! If there is more than one theory that speaks to you, great! That will actually give you more to talk about in your essay – but don’t fall into the trap of thinking this gives you multiple little essays to be shallow with. Keep this essay to a maximum of three theories – more than this will make you seem indecisive or unsure of yourself.
Use each theory you talk about to create depth in your orientation and how you approach your work with clients/patients. Think out of the box here! Maybe you’re a child therapist and primarily use Parent Child Interactive Therapy. Awesome! How does your Psychodynamic framework intersect with that?
Maybe you’re a researcher and you don’t think this essay really applies to you, but you have always been drawn to a Systems approach. That’s great! How does that intersect with your Adlerian mindset to help you conduct research that you hope will influence public policy?
Maybe you are working in a hospital setting for those with chronic severe mental illness or personality disorders. Tell your audience how your behavioral, manualized approach such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy is couched in your Rogerian techniques. This gives you depth and flexibility as a clinician which is attractive to sites.
Also, be sure to emphasize flexibility in your theoretical approach and convey that you are still willing to learn on internship.
Research AAPI Essay
I will start with the DO NOTs on this essay:
- Do not copy and paste your abstract for your latest research endeavor.
- Do not use this essay to only talk about your dissertation or to copy and paste from your dissertation.
- Do not bore your reader with all the conferences you’ve been to and how it’s important to network.
- Don’t feel limited by this essay!
You are a scientist! Own it! Consider the following questions:
- How do science and your research inform your practice with clients and patients?
- How are you hoping your internship year will continue those efforts?
- Where are your curiosities with this field? Make those known!
- How did you come to your research interests (don’t get too personal; get professionally personal. See below for what to reveal and not to reveal in the Autobiographical Essay).
- How did you take your clinical interests and curiosities and make them research interests?
- How does the research you’ve done benefit your practice?
- What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
- How do you want to make the field better?
- How do you want to make your audience better?
If you are having difficulty with this section, reread the “significance” portion of your dissertation in chapter 1 to be inspired. Why are you studying this? So what? Why is it important? How do you want to contribute to the scientific community as a whole?
Autobiographical AAPI Essay
The autobiographical essay might be the hardest essay because it is the most ambiguous. This essay also probably requires the most creativity which can be difficult for scientists and research writers.
What you want to do in this essay is to convey something about yourself personally but in a professional way.
Topics to avoid:
- Personal or family mental illness.
- Why you got into psychology in the first place (i.e., “I was always a good listener”, “My friends always came to me with their problems”, “I want to help people”, “I took a psychology course and that inspired me”). These are old, cliché, and boring.
- Outlining your journey from high school to undergrad to graduate school.
- Beating yourself up or putting yourself down in any way.
Topics to consider:
- A unique aspect of your culture.
- An appropriate metaphor, quote, or song lyric that speaks to you.
- A unique hobby you do, especially one involving self-care.
- An appropriately disclosed adversity you’ve experienced.
With all of these topics, elaborate on how these have shaped you as a person and how they guide you professionally.
Making Your Autobiographical Essay Unforgettable
If you approach these essays in a balanced way with measured efforts of hard work and self-care, you will be proud of your product. Trust that your work will pay off in a few weeks’ time, when the interview invites roll in. This is a unique time in your career; appreciate what it has to offer!
I want to give a special thanks to my dissertation chair and mentor who helped me tremendously in my internship application process: Dr. Jeff Klibert. Thank you for your dedication in helping me and other students jump through the hurdle of internship preparation.