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5 Simple Tips for Applying to Psychology Internships

Advice for students seeking summer research opportunities.

Source: Uobphotos/Flickr

Many undergraduate psychology students struggle with finding paid research opportunities for the summer. It’s hard to know where to start. I spent several months speaking with fellow students, professors, and combing the internet for advice. Recently, I accepted a paid summer internship position to do psychology research.

Five things I learned:

1. Start Early. Many applications don’t open until December or January. But that doesn’t mean you should wait until the last minute. You can boost your odds for success by searching for opportunities early and creating a list for those that interest you. It can be challenging to locate available internships. In addition to asking people for advice, I also spent time online looking for internships that matched my interests. Give yourself plenty of time to create a list of options and formulate a rough outline of how to complete the applications in a timely manner.

Where to find psychology internships? You can start here:

2. Use winter break to focus on applications. By the time winter break arrives in December, you should have a solid list of choices. In between family time and Netflix binges, direct your attention to your application essays. They will require your full concentration. The essays will prompt you to articulate reasons for pursuing scientific research, what motivates you, and how you can contribute to their program or laboratory. Some applications required me to answer a series of 300-word short essay questions. Others asked for a 1500-word essay to express what motivates my interests, coursework, and previous research experience. If you plan your time wisely, you can finish your applications before the spring semester begins.

3. Get personal. Most of the internship applications will ask for your transcript and résumé. From these documents, they’ll get a good sense of your accomplishments and interests. The essay questions allow you to reveal a glimpse into what makes you tick. Beyond academic and work experience, the readers of your application will be curious about what underpins your interests. For example, suppose you are interested in social psychology. You could write about a time when you discovered an interesting finding in a research article and how it shed light on a previous experience that up until then did not make sense to you.

4. Contact the sites. You might have questions about your favorite internship programs. Don’t hesitate to connect with the programs to express your inquiries. You might be curious about how many people you’ll be working with, whether you’ll be paired with a research advisor, or if the program provides summer interns with housing. Do your homework. Make sure your questions aren’t already answered on their websites before reaching out.

5. Prepare materials for recommendation letters. Every program to which I applied required at least one recommendation letter. Suppose you’re requesting a letter from a professor. Provide a list of extracurricular activities with which you’re involved, and mention any research you’ve done. Describe why you selected them to write the letter, remind them of interesting ideas you presented in class, and their positive comments on your coursework. In addition to the raw materials for a strong letter, provide your recommenders with the programs to which you’re applying, the application deadlines, and why you’re applying. You’ll want to make their job as easy as possible. Give your recommenders at least two weeks to write the letter. Make sure you thank them after you’ve received decisions from the internship programs.

Good luck!

You can follow me on Twitter here: @robkhenderson.

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