Ahh…you’re a senior dietetics major and you just have one year left of your undergraduate career before you graduate and hopefully get accepted into a dietetic internship—if you’re part of the 50% of applicants that match to a dietetic internship each year.
There are over 200 different programs to choose from in the US, so where do you start? How do you know which program is best for you? And how do you increase your chances of being matched? Here’s what I would suggest you consider when deciding which internships to apply for:
Before you begin, visit the Eat Right website for a list of all accredited dietetic internships. You can sort the internships by state and program type.
1- Decide what type of program you want.
A straight-up dietetic internship — these are usually 6-9 months long. Benefits: it’s quick and you’ll be eligible to take the RD exam less than a year after getting your bachelor’s degree. Some programs may offer a few graduate credits as well.
Masters/internship dual program—these are usually 2-3 years long. At the end of those couple years you’ll have your master’s degree and you’ll have completed your internship hours, so you’ll be eligible to take the RD exam. Benefits: You’ll have your master’s degree so you have the potential to qualify for higher-paying nutrition manager/director positions. Some of these internships will waive 100% of your tuition, some offer a few stipends, and other programs you have to pay all the tuition & fees yourself. Contact the program for details.
Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways (ISPPS- “Ispys”) — These are individualized, flexible internships that are almost a do it/design it yourself type program. These are going to be a good idea for non-traditional students (ie: can’t move away from your spouse and kids), students who are highly self-motivated, or students that want a more flexible schedule. Programs can be completed quickly, or you can stretch it out over several years. For more information, visit the Eat Right.org website’s explanation of ISPPs here.
2- Nutrition Focus
Are you interested in clinical nutrition? Sports nutrition, rural agriculture, foodservice management, long-term care, or community nutrition? If you don’t know what area of dietetics you want to go in to this may not matter as much, but if you know you want to be a clinical dietitian, it may benefit you to apply to internships that have a strong clinical focus. Most internships are around 1200 hours, but some internships may have 300 hours of clinical, or 600 hours of clinical, for example. Look into the programs and see if you can contact previous interns or the current director for a list of the preceptor sites.
3- Geographic Location
Dietetic internships are only ½ year to 3 years long, but if being close to your family for that amount of time is important to you, you should look into programs that are close by, perhaps within 100 miles or so. Be aware, however, that may severely limit your options. If you have the mindset that you can live anywhere for ½ year to 3 years, then look all over the US for programs that interest you. If you want to stick to a certain geographical region, then go for it (east coast, south, midwest, west coast, etc). My personal suggestion would be to keep an open mind. This is a small amount of time in your life that you have to experience something new, meet with different people from around the country, and grow as a person. In addition, when you apply to programs that are far away from your undergrad institution, you eliminate most of the competition from your fellow undergraduate peers.
If you are lucky enough to have gobs of money, or you recently hit the lottery, or you have family members who are financing your education, then this may not apply to you. But if you’re like me and are responsible for financing your post-graduate education, then cost is a huge factor. Some 6-9 month internships will cost $6000. Some will be double that. If you decide to go for a masters/internship program, do they offer financial aid? Scholarships? Teaching assistantships or research assistantships with stipends? Full tuition-waivers? Do they offer in-state tuition to you even if you are from out-of-state? Do they expect you to just take out $50,000 in loans? This is a serious thing to look at. Dietitians make like $40,000 – $55,000 a year, before taxes….is paying $61,600 for your internship and master’s degree really worth it? (*cough* University of Florida *cough*) Programs should have this information available for you and if you can’t find it on their website or other advertisements or promotional materials, contact the program director for information, as well as any current students (if their contact information is online). You don’t want to get into an internship and then suddenly realize there is no way you can afford it.
If you can, contact current interns from the programs you are interested in. Current interns will be able to give you details about the program that may not be advertised on the program’s website. When I was applying to dietetic internships, I emailed and phoned a few interns, and they were all very friendly and more than willing to answer any questions I had about the internship, as well as give any advice for how to get into the program.
ALSO: How many internships should you apply to?
This depends on the strength of your application. If you have a strong resumé and are confident in your application, you may want to just apply to 2-3 internships. If you are unsure about your ability to get matched to an internship, you may want to apply for 4-8 internships. Keep in mind that the application process is expensive, and it may cost around $200-500 to apply to a handful of programs.
The amount of internships you apply to also depends on how many applicants each internship receives and how many interns are accepted each year. You have a better chance of getting into an internship that has 50 applicants and 24 spots, than an internship that has 120 applicants and only 10 spots. So, if you apply to 3 programs, and all 3 programs have 60+ applicants and only 5 spots, you may want to apply to more than those 3 programs. If you apply to 3 programs that have 25 applicants and 6 are accepted, then applying to those 3 programs may be enough. You can see how many applicants there were to each internship at All-Access Internships.
Speak with your undergraduate program director about the strength of your application and what programs may be a good match for you. Your program director should know which internships are highly competitive, and which internships tend to have available spots remaining each year. Use your judgment here. If you’ve worked hard in your undergraduate career, earned good grades, gained relevant volunteer and work experience, and create a strong personal statement, then you should have nothing to worry about. Get excited, you are getting one step closer to your goal of being a Registered Dietitian!