Author Archives: William Barlow Elder

The Bonus Year: Thriving When I Didn’t Match

William Barlow ElderWhen I woke up and read the email that I didn’t match, I was filled with anxiety, self-doubt, and hopelessness. Where had I gone wrong? What more could I have done?  I prepared for Phase II and submitted more applications. But with so many students vying for so few placements I was not surprised when I didn’t match again.

What seemed to start out as a failure, turned out to be—honestly—what I came to see as a “bonus year.” I sat down in March and organized a year’s worth of activities. I wanted to further my professional and academic development, carefully rewrite my internship application, and have more fun. Once I accepted that I had an extra year, I found myself enjoying a higher quality of life than I had during any other year as a student. Here are some of the ways I decided to make this year work to my advantage:

  • Professional/academic development: I arranged practica at sites that provided depth and diversity to my clinical experiences, and also found opportunities to do research related to work I wanted to do on internship. However, the single most important opportunity the bonus year afforded me was completing my dissertation. I focused on doing quality work and enjoying my topic. Having a completed dissertation strengthened my internship application, but now as an intern, I have been able to focus solely on training.
  • Revamping my Match strategies: I had an entire year to completely rework my application and my site selection strategy. I revised several essays, completely rewrote others, and incorporated the feedback of as many professionals as were willing to read my materials. This yielded some very important lessons about how to represent myself, and also caused me to reevaluate my professional goals and parts of my identity. I chose a wider range of prospective sites and was less narrow in my interests than I had been the first year.
  • Fun: I decided to spend significant time in my personal life during bonus year, being with family and friends as often as possible. I gave myself room to slow down from the forced rush I had felt leading up to internship application, and really, the rush I had felt toward every developmental step of my schooling. I made time to read for fun, organize my apartment, go to the gym, see movies, sleep more, and connect meaningfully with others.

At the end of an additional year of preparation, I felt confident reapplying for internship. I knew what to expect from the process, I had many additional insights, I knew I could handle whatever happened, and I had a better sense of humor. I opened up my email the next year to find I had matched to an incredible program I was very excited about. Although I wouldn’t have anticipated I would enjoy the extra year in graduate school, my bonus year turned out to be a great one.

[Editor’s Note: If you did not match, please read our website article for more tips and strategies to cope and move forward. APAGS encourages individuals to share their own stories in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Together we can build a more supportive, braver community until the internship crisis is resolved.]