It's the advice every dietetic student has heard: "Maintain your GPA." However, for some students (myself included) life happens and things don’t always go to plan.
When your grade point average is under a 3.0, getting into a dietetic internship can feel like a season of the reality TV show, Survivor. For the eight weeks leading up to the fateful DICAS submission, you are a "castmate" stranded on a deserted island, competing to win the $1 million dollar prize (in this case, a coveted spot in a dietetic internship).
Having a less-than-stellar GPA can discourage the most competitive of candidates.. However, don’t give up faith! But keep in mind the advice doled out by Survivor host Jeff Probst: “Outwit, Outlast, Outplay.” As any avid viewer knows, the Survivor contestants who typically win are those who play a strategic game and are always planning their next attack. You'll need your own strategy when approaching dietetic internship application season.
Here are my top 5 tips to make your application stand out despite a less than competitive GPA:
Research, Research, Research
Get a copy of the dietetic internship supervised practice guide and research every potential internship. Take a close look at all the different parts of the internship — cost, GPA, length of completion, number of interns and types of rotations. All of these factors will play a role in getting into a DI and can be complicated by a lower GPA. Look at the number of applicants, average GPA and how the internship ranks applicants. From there, determine how you would fit in. For example, if the average GPA of the internship is 3.90 and there are 200 applicants, understand that the odds might not be in your favor. Be realistic about what internships you can get into.
Have at least 3 people read your personal statement, resume and application. The more eyes you have looking and reading the pieces of your application, the less likely you will have grammar mistakes and typos. Other eyes can help with formatting and word choices. The comments and edits from those reviewing your personal statement can only help your application and they will also help you become a stronger writer. I recommend having one registered dietitian nutrition, one non-nutrition professional, and a peer review your work. This diverse set of readers will provide insight from different perspectives and help to fill in the gaps where needed.
Get Volunteer and Work Experiences
To make up for your lower GPA, obtain work experiences that provide career development and show internship directors that you are committed to dietetics and the desire to become a registered dietitian. Working in the field provides a valuable internship-like experience. Once you get into an internship and begin your rotations, you will find that many rotations are similar to your job/volunteer experiences. Some internships also accept prior experience towards your supervised practice hours: a win-win! Look for opportunities with your state affiliate, ambulatory care clinics, health educator positions, WIC nutritionists, opportunities with the health plan, college campus wellness centers, community gardens, farmers’ market volunteer, etc.
Go for the DTR
If you have completed your DPD, I recommend taking the DTR exam. I once e-mailed an internship director regarding their GPA requirements. She told me that one of the main reason they look to the GPA is that it is a good judgment of the likelihood that the intern will pass the RD exam on their first try. Taking and passing the DTR exam demonstrates your ability to pass a test very similar in structure to the RD exam. The DTR position can also open up job and volunteer experiences in the clinical setting as well as opportunities with the Academy, state affiliations and DPGs. It provides great networking opportunities that can help you when applying to internships and with future employers. Never forget the power of networking. A friend once said to me, “If you’re not networking, you’re not working.” I’ve never forgotten that quote!
While it can be expensive, re-taking one or two classes in which you got a lower grade can help your application. This will show to directors your commitment to the profession and that you are a goal-oriented person. I recommend looking at your local community college or extended university programs.
Through it all, maintain a positive attitude. Internship applications and the interviews are the most stressful few months of your life. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a time out and do something for yourself. We tend to focus so much on getting into internships that we forget to take time to exercise, go out with friends and family, and live in the moment. While getting into an internship would be great, there will always be other opportunities for you to accomplish great things!