Essay 1: Autobiography

Scrabble tiles spelling "Autobiography"
APPIC Essay 1 (Psychology Internship Application)

Essay 1: Please provide an autobiographical statement. There is no “correct” format for this question. Answer this question as if someone had asked you “tell me something about yourself.” It is an opportunity for you to provide the internship site some information about yourself.

If there ever were a projective essay question, this would be it! Understandably, students sometimes feel intimidated by this essay because it feels wide open. On the other hand, some students think this essay should be fairly straightforward since it’s like their personal statement for graduate school.

Tip #1 – If your essay 1 is interchangeable with a personal statement for grad school applications, then it is not internship-ready. That is, if what you wrote for essay 1 does not include a reflection on or reference to your graduate training experiences, then it might as well be a personal statement for a grad school application, not for a capstone doctoral internship. Internship selection committees have read hundreds of applications – they can tell if you are submitting a slightly altered version of your graduate school application personal statement.

Tip #2 – When thinking about how to catch the readers’ eye, be careful of “trying too hard” – only use a metaphor or reference to a unique experience if it is genuinely meaningful to you. The aim is to be authentic and provide a flavor of what you are like as a person.

Tip #3 – While you may write about your family history and/or past experiences for why you became interested in the field of psychology, this should not take up the bulk of the essay (maybe 1/3 to 1/2 at most). Instead, I recommend that your essay 1 focus more on the present (graduate training) and future (professional goals) in terms of your professional development. Write about who you are now and who you strive to be based on a reflection of your cumulative experiences.

For instance, let’s say you’ve given us a brief history to provide context for your interest in psychology in the first paragraph. Then the rest of the essay should delve into what your current interests are in psychology and what you hope your impact will be as a professional (i.e., professional goals in terms of nature of your work, populations, setting, etc.). (Note: this is only one example of how to structure this essay.)

Tip #4 – Remember that the reader is trying to get to know you through your essays – your goal is to have a personal tone while you discuss your professional development. Start using first person again! (Academic and clinical writing have trained you to leave that behind, but you’ll need to bring it back for your essays.) Lead sentences with “I” statements (e.g., “I sought opportunities to…”) and avoid passive voice (e.g., “I was given the opportunity…”). Share your perspective and feelings about your professional work – demonstrate to the reader what inspires and motivates you to do this work. Don’t simply describe what you do or what you want to do.

Essay 1 gives you the space to provide context for where you are in your professional development and why you want to do the things you want to do. When you name your professional interests and goals (even if it’s a little general or broad still), it helps the reader imagine how they can play a role in your continued professional development during internship year.

As a reader, at the end of reading essays, I want to think, “wow, I would like to continue the conversation with this person in an interview!” Therefore, one of your goals is to help the reader feel connected to you as a person. If you are worried about TMI (too much information), consider how sharing the information is helping convey (or distracting from) your overall message. As challenging as it may feel, ask for feedback!

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