It was my sophomore year in high school and it seemed like I had it all going for me… that was until my nagging parents teamed up and wouldn’t stop constantly chattering in my ear about this running start program my high school offered. This program allowed students to take college credits at a nearby community college during their junior and senior year at a really cheap and affordable price. I mean, why would I start taking college classes while I’m still in HIGH SCHOOL? Were they trying to punish me? Was I doing something wrong? No, they were simply the smartest parents on the block because I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Yeah, I kicked and screamed a little (stubborn second child syndrome) and got made fun of for never being present at my high school, but honestly it was the best decision I ever made.
Taking a full load of college courses and having to balance the classes [volleyball and jewelry…] that I still took at high school forced me to grow up quicker than those around me and take on more responsibility. It also helped me better prepare for the enormous leap into college that high school does a horrible job at doing. I graduated my senior year holding my high school diploma along with my associate’s degree in arts, a whopping 90 college credits.
Choosing Oregon State University wasn’t necessarily a hard decision for me. I knew I wanted to go into their dietetics program; thank goodness I had that figured out for me, it was far enough away from home where my entire graduating class didn’t flock to (sorry WSU), but still close enough to drive back to on the weekends, if need be. Actually, I think I spent more on gas money to and from home my freshman year than most do their first 3 years of school. Give me a break, I was a little home sick and my boyfriend was still in Washington—good thing we made it through that!
Anyways, I initially thought I would only have to take 2 years of classes in order to graduate with my bachelor’s degree. Wrong. Not until my sophomore year did my advisor tell me that in order to get into the didactic program (series of structured nutrition courses), you needed to first complete the list of Bacc core, or prereqs before even applying to the didactic program at Oregon State. Walking away from that meeting a little disheveled, some reevaluating had to be done and the next year I applied for as many scholarships as I could, considering the extra time I would be spending at school. I got selected for a few, which did help lessen the stress.
Since I had 90 college credits sitting in my back pocket, I was able to get into classes before any other students I knew as a freshman and take the least amount of credits (12) to be considered a full-time student. Yeah, there were a few terms I had to bump up the load, but for the most part I was smooth sailin’. That was probably the greatest benefit I received from running start.
The real stress started during junior year when the thought of applying to dietetic internships set in and all the professors were mentioning it in their classes. Not only did I feel unqualified at the time, I felt so behind when I compared myself to the other students in my cohort. It was like they were being summoned to every research experiment, nutrition club meeting, hospital seminar, professor side project, cooking demonstration for the public, volunteering at food banks—okay you get the idea— and I wasn’t! Was I missing the memo being sent out?? Was it too late for me to start building my resume? Was I not going to be chosen for my lack of experience? All questions I asked myself before I put my head on straight and reassessed the situation. I had about a year and a half left to really put something, anything, on my resume. I started meeting with my nutrition professors and getting to know them on a personal level. I asked if they needed any assistance with side projects they were handling. I asked my friends and family at home if they knew of anyone I could shadow with for several days while I was home. I volunteered with Food Hero at OSU doing recipe testing for their site. That’s all I had to do before I was able to start adding experiences to my resume and gaining skills in the field. For those going through the same program, do not compare yourself to the others in your class. I repeat, do not compare yourself! Everyone has something unique to offer and hopefully, the internships will see that. Also, NETWORK. I can’t say that enough. I was never one to put myself out there, but being in dietetics it’s almost a necessity to be outgoing and sociable.
During the summer after my junior year of college, I had the opportunity to shadow several incredible dietitians, which eased me into thinking I wanted to be a RD consultant. It was so fun for me to watch how motivation interviewing was put to use in the real world vs. having mock consults with the student sitting next to you who you’ve known for the past 3 years in your dietetics cohort…. What a different setting that was, man. I was so invested in those first few days that I was able to gain real life information getting to watch a dietitian do her thing. It helped me realize I actually chose the right path in life. Such a great feeling that was to know I wouldn’t have to change majors and start from ground zero.
I came back more confident than ever, ready to start my last year of college. I decided I didn’t want to apply to a standard dietetic internship (DI), which could be located anywhere across the country. I took a chance and chose to push towards a distance DI. This kind of program would allow me to choose the preceptors and facilities in my location of choice—close to home! The only time I would have to travel to the program location would be for a 3-day orientation before I started my journey, and during the internship I would have to send monthly packets of my assignments, timesheets, and signatures from my preceptors to the school. I definitely recommend this track to anyone applying. The ability to tailor your internship to your own interests is amazing; it almost didn’t feel fair at the time. Another plus is that most distance DI’s accept more interns so there’s a higher chance of acceptance compared to standard DI’s.
I knew that a lot of organization and planning had to go into this after talking to a few professors and two RD’s who went through the same program I had my eye on, the University of Northern Colorado. Distance DI’s are much more work than applying to a standard DI because it is required to have your entire list of preceptors, facilities, and paperwork filled out at the time you send in your application in February. I initially started looking for preceptors (RDs or professionals in the field who would agree to let me intern with them for a specified amount of hours) in September and wasn’t completely finished until the beginning of January. Like I said, it all depended on who I knew and the connections I had made up until then. I made sure to email and contact the director and assistant director of the program I was interested in to introduce myself and let them know the certain aspects of their internship I was drawn to.
Stressful can’t even begin to describe the process of applying to dietetic internships. After all that pressure of filling out applications, writing your personal statement, getting letters of rec, and submitting your application, the waiting game ensues. I took a gamble applying to not only a distance DI, but to one internship overall.
The time was finally here. Match Day. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 4pm on the dot, the time that everyone was waiting for, and my boyfriend came over for moral support along with my pup. I opened DICAS on my computer to see the results…… No match. NO MATCH ? What did I work up all through college until now, to get rejected??? My heart sank and had the worst pit in my stomach. I was mortified. I was heart broken, disappointed, sad, angry, and especially embarrassed to think I’d have to go to class the next day and tell the other students in my cohort I wasn’t matched. Would I have to go through this horribly stressful process all over again? It just couldn’t be true. I didn’t want to believe it.
The next 2 weeks of my life were pretty pitiful. I’d go to class, see the excitement and gratification on the other students’ faces knowing the next chapter of their lives was figured out, while I sat there depressed wondering how long until I got matched to a DI, until I became an RD. Now that’s one thing they never prepare you for. To not get matched. Advisors and professors build it up all throughout school that you will get matched and that there’s no other way. Nothing prepares you for the alternative.
I met with my dietetic director and she gave me the best pep talk she could. I couldn’t give up, even though match day was in the past. I left her office and called the director at the internship I applied to, the University of Northern Colorado. We had a good 40-minute conversation on why I wasn’t chosen, what I could’ve done to stand out better, what I could do in the future. The sympathy she had in her voice made me want to be a part of that program even more than I had in the first place. She basically told me that due to the high volume of applicants this year, I didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. I told her I was still very interested and if anything came up I’d be 100% committed no matter what. She was kind enough to offer her contact information for any future recommendations or advice when applying the next year.
At this time, it was about 2 months post-worst day of my life and I was starting to plan out the next chapter of my life— the DTR route (Dietetic Technician, Registered). This is a common route typically taken by those who didn’t match with a DI. It shows they’re still interested in the field of nutrition and are making steps in the right direction to become a registered dietitian. I had just gotten home from class about to make a smoothie bowl, what else, when I looked down at my phone that said I was receiving a phone call from Colorado.
I took a second and thought, “Is this really who I think it is?” It was, and I’m SO thankful it was. I answered the phone like I was about to win the lottery and the director from the University of Northern Colorado was on the other line. She briefly told me that one of her interns had just bailed that morning and I was offered her spot. My heart started beating uncontrollably and I was in shock this was happening to me. I couldn’t believe it! I quickly accepted the offer and booked my flight for orientation at the end of the month.
If I had taken even one more week of feeling sorry for myself after match day, I honestly don’t think I would be in the position I am right now. I was determined to make it work and be accepted to a DI. I worked so incredibly hard in school and I didn’t want it to be for nothing. The second chance at an internship made me more appreciative for the experience than I think I would have been if all went well and was matched first time around.
At this time, I’m all finished with my dietetic internship and JUST RECENTLY passed the national registered dietitian exam. Finally, I can start my career as RD, RD, helping the world find a happy medium with food, one healthy habit at a time.