There are a few things you should know.
If you’re a freshman and you’ve just declared your major as nutrition…get ready. The next four years will be devoted to science classes, late night studying for medical nutrition therapy tests, and crying because it’s impossible to learn how to manage a foodservice operation out of a book.
If you’re a junior or senior in the major, you’re right in the middle of it all. Along with studying for the hardest classes you’ve ever taken, you’re also in the middle of applying for dietetic internships and graduate school programs. Believe me, I know how hard this is; I was in this same place only a year ago.
Last week, I had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater (Roll Tide!) and speak to one of the undergraduate nutrition classes about my experiences so far in my DI. I also spoke about the application process as well as how to make yourself stand out to different programs. This got me thinking that it might be a good idea to write a blog on all things dealing with applying and being accepted to a dietetic internship program.
So here goes…
10 Things that helped me earn the Internship!
- Love it or head for the hills. My biggest advice would be that if you make it to your sophomore/junior year as a nutrition major, and you don’t absolutely love the field of dietetics or can’t picture yourself working as some sort of dietitian (there are an enormous amount of different things RDs can do), get out while you can. If you don’t plan on working in the health care field in some sort of capacity, an undergraduate degree in nutrition is going to be pretty worthless. Remember, it’s never too late to change your major. If you start learning about the Krebs Cycle, management styles, or tube feeds and realize this is not what you thought it was, that’s okay. If you’re uncertain, do some research. Talk to other RDs about their experiences and what they do. Read blogs about RDs and try to picture yourself doing what they do. You should be passionate about your major and your future career, not dread it.
- Get involved. If you’re a freshman, join as many clubs as you can handle. It’s likely that you will never have as much free time as you do when you’re a freshman. Now is the time to get involved with what ever you can. It can be anything, though I suggest health related clubs to get you ready for the health field that you will enter one day. If your school has a student dietetic association, become a member! If they don’t, start one! If you’re a sophomore, junior, or even 1st semester senior, it’s never too late! Join whatever you can and get involved. Involvement shows to internships that you did more than sit in your room and study everyday. It shows that you’ve worked with other people and that your experiences are well rounded.
- Get a job. I strongly believe that having a job in undergrad made me more appealing to internship programs. For two years, I worked at a daycare as an assistant teacher. It was a simple, minimum wage job though not nutrition related (though I tried to make it be), but it was a job. It showed that for two years, I arrived on time, was responsible (you know the whole caring for children thing), and did something other than study and go to class. While I quit my job in the middle of my junior year due to my class schedule, others in my major continued to work. IT IS POSSIBLE. Even if it’s something little like babysitting or retail work, having that job experience can only boost your appearance to potential DI directors. Because in the end, a DI is basically the same thing as a job.
- Get experience. Another thing that I felt really made me stand out to my future internship director was my experience. As part of the University of Alabama’s nutrition undergraduate curriculum, we are required to complete a class that is all supervised practice. For 5 weeks during the summer between my junior and senior year, I was able to work with the dietitians at the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama. During this experience I talked to patients about their nutrition intake, calculated tube feeds (with extremely close supervision and guidance), and even practiced writing chart notes. I believe having this experience appealed to my internship director because I had already had a taste of not only the clinical dietetic field but also a taste of what the internship was like. If you’re not required to get experience for a grade, go out and do it yourself! See if you can shadow during your summer break or even during the school year. No matter the length, any experience is only going to make you look better.
- Get the grades, but don’t make them your life. When applying to internships, you have to have some specifics attributes. One of those attributes is grades. Most internships want you to have at least 3.0 GPA. If you’re applying to more elite or competitive internships, you’re going to want to have a 4.0. That being said, get the grades, but don’t make them your life. Some people are going to be naturally better at studying, learning, and test taking. There’s always going to be those students who make a 100 on everything. If that’s not you, DON’T WORRY. There are plenty of us out there who didn’t have a 4.0 and we still were able go on to be successful interns and RDs. All in all, STUDY! Do the absolute very best that you can, and if you do that, chances are you’ll wind up with the grades you want.
- Start early. If you know that you want to apply for a dietetic internship, begin the process as soon as you can. This means on top of everything listed above you will need to research the programs you’re interested in, take the necessary classes and tests that you need, and begin the application process as soon as you can. At Alabama, the nutrition department offers a class that’s sole purpose is to explain the DI application process and to teach you how to research the different programs that are out there. Taking this class was a HUGE help to me when it came time to actually begin the application process. Unfortunately, not every school offers this type of class. If your school does not, begin by talking one-on-one with your DPD director and then turn to online resources. The most popular resource that I’ve seen other undergrads use is All Access Internships.
- Research, research, research. Look up the programs you’re interested in and find out where they’re located, if they have distance options, and what the application requirements are. Look for things like stipends, length of the program, and if you have to be enrolled in the school’s graduate program. Most of this information and plenty more will be available on the programs website but if not, emailing the program director is always an option. This might even show that you’re interested. Also check out the Academy’s Website for more information.
- Visit. If the program offers an open house and you are able to attend it, go! Introduce yourself, show your face, and let them know you’re interested. Open houses let you see what their program is like and most of the time current interns will be available to talk with you and answer any questions you may have. If the program does not offer an open house, contact the director to see if setting up a visit is possible. Remember, the worst they can say is, “no”.
- Application/rank. Again, start early with the application. Register with the DICAS and matching websites. If the program requires you to apply to their grad school, go ahead and apply. If you need to take the GRE, take it early so if you need to take it again you have time to. Create an appealing resume and have multiple eyes check it for mistakes. Do the same thing with your personal statement. The more people who read it the better. Have your school send your transcripts as soon as the application opens (this can be complicated and timely depending on your school’s registrar). Get your recommendations in order. Know who’s writing them and give them detailed information on what they’re writing them for. Also send them thank you notes afterwards because writing recommendations can be timely. My biggest advice is to gather what you need for the application before it opens, so by time it does open, all you have to do it input all the information. Staying organized is key!
- Interview. If the program(s) you apply to ask you for an interview…this is a good thing. Being able to show a program who you are in person can make a huge difference. If you’re asked to interview, prepare as much as you can. Practice with other people, utilize online practice resources, and research everything about the program. Most interview questions are about critical thinking. Programs want to see how well you think on your feet. The directors know that you’re not an expert yet so answer the questions to the best of your knowledge. It is unlikely that a program will ask you to do calculations or anything huge but it’s always best to be prepared for anything. For the interview, arrive early, dress professionally (I wore a navy skirt and blazer suit set with a high cut blouse because my chest turns red in stressful situations, and I didn’t want that to be the focus of my interview. Make sure to dress for your body type!), and most importantly be yourself. If you’re not a good fit for the internship or visa versa, that’s okay! There are plenty more out there that may be right for you.
Remember, this is just my experience with everything. You may encounter different situations of your own. Feel free to comment with questions or if you’ve been through this process, comment with your own tips!
It’s a lot to take in, so take it slow, be smart, and know that if this is really what you want to do, never give up!
P.S. here’s my internship program in case you’re interested in a true southern experience internship 🙂