Money Matters

Trimming internship expenses

"I was everywhere!" That's how Meghan E. McGrady, a clinical psychology grad student at the University of Cincinnati, remembers the time she spent searching for the right internship. "I had several interviews on the East Coast and a couple in the Midwest; I was down in Florida, then I had a couple more in Canada."

With the cost of visiting potential sites adding up, McGrady did everything she could to keep her expenses as low as possible. She scoured Kayak.com, Priceline.com and other sites for the best deals on flights and hotels. She stayed with friends, family and — in one case — someone from her graduate program who was living in one of the cities she visited. She shared hotel rooms, cabs to and from airports and even interview outfits with friends.

Today, she's an intern at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "I ended up just down the road," she says, laughing.

Last year, students spent more money — on average more than $1,800 — applying for internships through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) than ever before. What will happen this year depends on travel costs, which is typically would-be interns' biggest expense, says Greg Keilin, PhD, APPIC match coordinator. Rising gas prices and students' tendency to apply to more and more sites are also driving that upward trend.

Fortunately, say Keilin and others, there's a lot students can do to cut their costs:

Plan ahead

"Students preparing for the application process are thinking a lot about getting their CVs and hours ready, but thinking about saving money for it isn't a priority," says McGrady. She started stockpiling cash — and signing up for airline and hotel reward programs — early in her grad school career so she'd be ready for internship interviews. Planning can also help you save costs when interview invites start rolling in, she says. McGrady checked APPIC and placement websites for onsite interview dates and grouped her interviews geographically to avoid zigzagging across the continent. Clustering your interviews also means you have to take less time off work, says Jesse Matthews, an intern at Holcomb Behavioral Health Systems in Exton, Pa. And don't be afraid to reschedule interviews to cut costs — most training directors understand that travel is expensive and are happy to be flexible, Keilin says. Another way to plan ahead and save? Watch for sales and stock up on interview outfits then. "Don't wait until right before your interviews and then go buy a bunch of stuff," says Matthews. "That ends up being more expensive."

Don't go overboard with applications

"Some students pay thousands of dollars trying to blanket the country with applications," says Keilin. "That just doesn't work." APPIC's data show that applicants only need to submit 11 to 15 applications to maximize their chances of success — a fact that APPIC reflects in its application-pricing structure. The first application costs $35, then $10 each up to 15. By the time you're submitting your 26th application, the price jumps to $50 a pop.

Interview by telephone or videoconference

Many sites don't require in-person interviews and don't give any preference to those who make the trek. "I really don't care if someone has great teeth and a strong handshake; I care about what people who have known the individual for years think about them and are willing to write about them," says John C. Linton, PhD, internship training director at the West Virginia University School of Medicine in Charleston. Of course, many applicants want to visit a site just to ensure a good fit, in terms of both training and the town. To accommodate them, Linton's site offers 18 in-person interview slots. "But visits are for them to see the program, not for us to evaluate them," says Linton.

Other sites prefer phone interviews or face-to-face interviews through videoconferencing software such as Skype. "The ability to see each other makes everyone more comfortable and able to communicate better," says Susan Recinella, PsyD, director of intern training at Florida State University's counseling center. Skyping takes a little getting used to, she says, noting that people tend to watch themselves instead of looking at the webcam. Practice with a friend beforehand, she recommends, to get feedback and ensure you know how things work.

Travel cheap...

Flights and cabs are fast, but don't forget about buses, trains and public transportation, says McGrady. Be the first to book a BoltBus ticket from Washington to New York, for instance, and you might pay just $1 for your ticket. Consider multi-stop flights or flying to a cheaper destination, then driving the final leg. And always carry your bag on — not just to save checking fees but because you don't want to risk arriving without your suit should your checked bag go astray.

...but not too cheap

As you look to trim costs, don't underestimate the value of arriving at your interview unfrazzled. "I sometimes chose to fly direct even though it's a little more expensive," says McGrady. "Sometimes the time and stress you save — especially since you're traveling in the winter — are important." Similarly, ask current interns at the site about cheap places to stay where you won't be kept up all night. (The internship site may also have deals with local hotels.) "Interns will know that the hotel you're looking at on Priceline is only $49, but there will be people dealing meth in the rooms next to you," says Linton. "People go on Priceline and have no idea how far away a hotel is, what the neighborhood's like and whether their car will be stripped in the morning." More expensive lodging may also have such cost-saving amenities as free breakfasts and courtesy vans to take you to the airport or even to your interview.

Work your network

Use Facebook and other social media to identify places to crash, suggests says Nabil H. El-Ghoroury, PhD, associate executive director of APAGS. Or ask your program for names of alumni or interns who might be open to hosting a visitor. "I crashed with the brother of a classmate of mine," says El-Ghoroury of his internship application days. CouchSurfing.org, which connects travelers with local community members who offer free lodging and advice, is another option. If you're worried about safety, review references from previous visitors and stick to hosts who've had their name and address verified by the website.

Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.