So…you want to become a registered dietitian but are overwhelmed with the dietetic internship application process. I was too, and I hope I can offer you some advice to calm your nerves and help improve your chances of getting matched.
Just in case you don’t fully understand the process, the #1 thing you should know about dietetic internships is that there is currently a 49% matching rate. This means that less than half of all DI applicants each year get matched to a program.
Don’t understand what matching means? The process of “getting into” a dietetic internship program is via computer matching. There is a Spring match and a Fall match, and the majority of programs participate in the Spring match, while only a few do both. DICAS is the online application system where you will fill out the standard DI application, upload your letters of recommendation, personal statements, resume, transcripts, etc. Then, you select which programs you want to send the application out to and pay the application fee for each. For the personal statement part of the application, you can upload a different personal statement for each program and designate it to where you want it to go. For the Spring match, the deadline for this is sometime in mid-February. The Fall-match deadline is in September, I believe.
Once you submit your completed application and all of it’s components, you have to register to be computer matched on a site called D&D Digital. If you forget to do this, you have zero chances of getting matched, because this is the program that does the actual matching. D&D Digital is where you enter in your info, select the programs you applied to, and pay a $50 fee to get you in the matching system. This is also where you “rank” the programs you applied to, and also where the internships rank their applicants.
(Don’t worry so much about forgetting this, because your professors and department heads are very on top of the process and there to help you and remind you of these things when needed!)
Match Day is sometime in mid-April. The internship selection committees have about two months to review their applicants and rank them on D&D Digital. Some programs have interviews during this time. About two weeks before Match Day, you have a chance to re-rank your programs. For example, if the program you ranked first definitely has interviews but you didn’t get called for one, it is very likely you won’t match to this program and might want to bump another one up that you have a better chance with. Make sense?
The computer matching system then matches students with programs based on their preferences and how highly they were ranked by the program…that is, until all the spots fill up. This is why getting accepted to a program is so competitive, because there simply are not enough spots. Some internships can host 20 or more students, while there are a few programs that only take two students per year.
Overwhelmed? Totally understandable. I was too. But here’s the thing: There is a lot of pressure to be a star student with a 4.0 GPA and outstanding leadership experience in order to get matched. I did not think I was capable of doing this right after college. However, I was able to get matched my very first time, and I am sure it is because I religiously followed the tips I’m about to give below.
Tip #1: UTILIZE ALL ACCESS INTERNSHIPS!
You MUST do this. This site was started by Jenny Westerkamp during her dietetic internship as a resource to help other students get matched. While most of the services come with a price, Jenny offers a number of free short videos detailing specific areas of the application, common mistakes, and more. She also set up a support group page for applicants on Facebook which I found to be extremely helpful. Getting into a DI is so competitive, but to be honest, everyone just wants to help each other!
When I started my application process in the fall of senior year, I went into it thinking I wasn’t going to get matched, but I still wanted to experience the application process so I could be better prepared for next time. When I started to look more into All Access Internships, I began feeling more confident in my abilities to be matched to an internship and ended up diving into the process. And of course I am SO GLAD I did this because I was matched during that first match because of their help.
I basically watched all of the free videos, asked questions and read comments on the support group page, and utilized several of the paid services. Jenny and the coaches offer a complete overview of the application process (known as the Get Matched Bootcamp), and reviewing and advising on resumes, personal statements, and reviewing the completed DICAS application to make sure you are not missing anything (so important!)
If cost is an issue but you would still like to utilize an AAI service, I highly recommend the bootcamp. I did the online version with Jenny and other applicants that signed up. I believe it was a little over $100. She also does a live one at some locations, so I would explore that if you are interested!
The reason I recommend the bootcamp is because the dietetic internship application and matching process is SO confusing and involves so many steps – that it is ESSENTIAL to understand exactly how it works. Isn't there a phrase that goes "know your enemy"? This is like that. The bootcamp was about 5 or 6 hours of an online webinar where Jenny talked about each step of the process and her advice, and also gave us a chance to ask questions. She also provided us with a PDF book detailing everything we discussed. Completing this bootcamp made the application process extremely clear and I felt a million times more confident going into it.
Tip #2: Do your research and find the BEST. FIT. PROGRAM(S).
I think this is absolutely key. While location does matter due to issues like cost or distance from family (especially if you have kids), I think it is essential to be realistic in this process. The best fit program for you may not be the one in the same town or city you live in, though it is definitely the most convenient option. But let's say, for example, that the one near you is clinical-focused, and you have little clinical experience and have no interested in pursuing a career in clinical dietetics anyway. Does it sound like the right fit for you? Probably not.
Because internships only have a few spots but hundreds of applicants, they also try their best to choose interns that they deem fit for their program. A clinical focused program likely wants to attract those with strong clinical experience.
So how do you find your best fit program? I would suggest writing down your strengths and what makes you stand out from other students. You may also consider some of your weaknesses, like a low GPA. Most internships require at least a 3.0 GPA, but some actually specify that they don't consider GPA as much as other parts of the application, such as experience, recommendations, and the personal statement. Therefore, if you are strong in many areas but don't have the best GPA, consider a program that will consider you!
And if you are interested in a specific area of nutrition, such as sports, wellness, or business - focus on internships that align with your goals or experiences. More and more internship programs seem to be branching off and offering different specialties, which makes choosing the "best fit program" that much easier!
Tip #3: Narrow it down
When I first began the application process, I had a list of about 20 internship programs I was considering. Because I did not have the means to just up and move to another state after graduation, most of my choices were distance options so that I could still live at home, or in the Boston-area. I quickly realized my "Tip #2" when I started to reach out to the directors of the Boston programs. Boston hospitals areprestigious, thus making their dietetic internship programs the same. The directors there happily answered my questions, but stressed that they tended to accept students with master's degrees, very strong clinical experience (I had some, but not a ton like they wanted), and likely some research experience as well. So, those came right off my list.
Once I did more research, I realized most of the distance options I was considering also did not align with my goals. By the end of my application process, I had narrowed it down from 20 programs to two: Simmons College and Wellness Workdays. I chose Simmons because it was community nutrition-focused (something I had a lot of experience in), and they said they valued multi-lingual applicants given the population we'd be working with in the Boston/South Shore area, which is also something I had under my belt. Simmons also stated that they placed students within two hours of Boston. I liked that because then I could still live at home on the Cape and not have to commute too far to my rotation sites.
I chose Wellness Workdays (based out of Hingham which is a town south of Boston) because it was a distance option that did align with my goals: it wasn't clinical-heavy and they had a unique option I was interested in: worksite wellness! The director, Debra, was also EXTREMELY helpful to me when I was asking questions that it made me excited to apply to this program. And I can happily say that I matched to Wellness Workdays :)
So anyway, my point is: Choose programs that interest you, spend time researching each one, contact the directors with specific questions, and narrow it down to the few that are the best fit with your qualifications and goals. It doesn't have to be two like I did. But, Jenny from AAI explains that you are likely to be matched to one of your top 3 or 4 programs due to how quickly the spots fill up.
I would also suggest doing your research by reaching out to current and past interns from the programs you're interested in! Part of the reason I am writing this page is because I owe it to the many people that gave me advice during my application process that helped so much. I reached out to interns I found on LinkedIn and those I met at Open Houses and all were very happy to provide their advice!
Tip #4: Choose strong references
My internship director told us at orientation that one of her greatest deciding factors were the letters of recommendation. While the personal statement is important because it is where you can showcase all of your strengths, hopes, dreams, etc..the recommendation letters are equally important! You have little control over these and likely have no clue what your reference is writing, so it is important to choose someone you know is going to write you a strong letter!
I struggled with this at first because while I had good work-related references, I was never one to speak up much in class and was afraid my professors didn't know me enough to write a strong letter of recommendation. I ended up choosing two professors in classes that were small, I did well and had a genuine interest in, and that actually knew me a little more personally. I was able to tell them a little more about myself, my goals, and my experiences which helped them write strong and detailed letters.
One thing thing you can do is ask your reference: "Would you be willing to write me a good letter of recommendation?" rather than just "Would you write me a letter of recommendation for my internship?" Some people can be brutally honest in their letters or end up writing bad ones without telling you, so getting confirmation that they can write you a nice, strong letter can make you feel more confident about who you're choosing!
Tip #5: Highlight your strengths!
Because the dietetic internship process is so competitive, it is important to distinguish yourself as a unique individual and strong applicant! Identify what sets you apart: whether it is a work or volunteer experience, language skill, leadership role, goal, hobby, etc..and turn those into strengths!
On my application, I focused heavily on the fact that I knew Portuguese and Spanish. Knowing that I would be interning around New England where there is a large Brazilian, Portuguese, and Hispanic population, I wrote about how I had already used that skill in a nutrition-related setting and how I planned to use it in a future. And I am sure it helped a lot! Creating a story and goal around your established skills and experience is a great way to strengthen your application and personal statement.
During your undergraduate career, it is important to have a well-rounded experience to better prepare you for all the different rotations. Some examples are:
- Volunteering with your local soup kitchen or food pantry
- Volunteering in the diet office at your local hospital
- Volunteering/working for WIC
- Having a leadership role in your school's nutrition association or your state's dietetic association
- Volunteering or working as a nutrition educator for outreach groups and programs
- Working for your school's dining services
- Working on a research project with your nutrition department
- Double majoring or minoring with a degree you have an interest in and can make it flow with your career in Nutrition (i.e Another language, Psychology, Business, Hospitality, Communications, etc)
- And so much more!
If you don't get matched...
Don't worry! Remember, the matching rate is only 49% (something that I think is seriously flawed). Jenny offers advice on AAI for those who don't get matched and how to go about second round matching (this means that sometimes people don't accept their spots and programs fill them up in a second round match). You can work on your master's degree, get a job in the nutrition-field that doesn't require you to be an RD, and try again. It may also help to reach out to the director of the programs you applied to and find out what could have made your application stronger. Then, focus on those for next time. And don't lose sight of why you started this journey in the first place!