What We're Really Looking for in Application Essays

Essay, you say?.

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 how many 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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