One of the scariest things I've ever seen was an estimate of the total cost of tuition and expenses over two years during a dietetic internship/graduate degree program. "How am I going to afford my electricity bill? Or food?" I thought.
But never fear! As a newbie to the game, I have five tips for all of you interns just starting out or those thinking about applying next round.
Do Not Pick a Program Based Only on Cost
Seriously, just don't. Your dietetic internship is something that you have worked hard towards for at least the past four years, and it represents the culmination of everything you have learned thus far. I cannot stress enough the importance of being happy with the location, focus and dynamics of your internship. I knew doing my internship in Chicago would mean a much higher cost of living than being in a smaller town, but I was so in love with the city and program that I knew I had to take a chance and apply anyway.
Pick a Program with a Graduate Degree Attached
I know, this seems completely insane. "Graduate degrees are expensive! I'm just adding more expenses!" To all of you thinking this right now, I have two words for you: student loans. Student loans are available to graduate students — meaning that taking out the maximum loan will help cover cost of living, books and the millions of other fees that will pop up as you go along.
Be Prepared for Surprise Costs and "Rainy Days"
Speaking of fees popping up along the way — that is going to happen a lot, especially in the first month or so as an intern. Be prepared for background check, blood tests, TB tests, lab fees and many more things that you have never even thought of. In addition, if you have undergraduate loans, you may not be able to defer them right away while you are in a graduate program (or, you may not be able to defer them at all if you are not taking graduate courses). Budget these costs into your financial plan so you aren't taking that money out of your future rent payments.
Become a Bargain Shopper
Buy cheap things! Starting an internship means potentially having to stock up on professional clothing, which can get expensive. I have learned the ins and outs of thrift stores (they're a good source of barely-worn dress pants) and discount stores that carry name-brand professional clothing for up to half the price. For food, I try to hit my local farmers market as much as possible and shop around for the best deals.
This is, by far, my most important advice! You most likely will be in new city, in a new place, or at the very least surrounded by new people and opportunities. Take advantage of the fresh start and try not to stress yourself out too much about costs. The time will fly by and hopefully, before you know it, you will finally be able to call yourself an RDN … and employed!