Today I should be happy.
Today I got matched.
But I’m depriving myself of any sense of pride or accomplishment because I still don’t feel good enough. Yes, I worked hard. Yes, I am a published author. Yes, I had volunteer experience. But I was rejected twice before.
After I wasn’t matched the first round, I was consumed by a wave of negativity that pressured me into giving up my dream. Nobody wanted me then, so what’s different now? In all honesty, not much has changed. Now I have a Master’s Degree and 2 more publications, but other than that… I’m still me.
We always joked that there were three types of nutrition students, which we broke down into letter grades. The “A” students were exactly what you’d think. They made straight A’s, were best friends with the professors, were on track to being accepted to the Coordinated Program and would become a Dietitian before you even graduated.
The “B” students were just as determined and intelligent, BUT their grades were not as perfect. They met, some even exceeded, the requirements for obtaining their Verification Statement, but just fell short of the “A” students GPA. However, there’s a completely valid explanation for this difference. They worked… they had jobs, they volunteered, and they studied in their spare time.
And last but not least, we have the “C” students. These are the undergraduates we weed out. From day one every professor tells you how difficult it is to make it through the program let alone get accepted into a DI or CP. These are the students that fail to meet the requirements. They’re retaking classes, lazy, and not truly passionate about nutrition.
I always considered myself a “B” student. I came into this major later than most, but I worked hard to catch up. I was working 20-25 hour weeks, taking a full course load, and assisting in research projects with my spare time. I had a 3.2 GPA (not extravagant I’m aware), I devoted myself to the field of health and wellness, I presented posters at conferences, and I was listed as an author in one of my projects. But did any of this matter? No.
I watched two of my best friends suffer through the matching process before I subjected myself to it. Their GPA’s were much better than mine, but we had the same amount of experience, some of which was at the same job. Both of them got matched their first try. When it was my turn I was skeptical. I had a bad feeling I would be the one to get rejected because my GPA was subpar and that stupid 50% acceptance rate was ringing in my head. Turns out, I was right.
Think about this, in 2016 there were 5,944 applicants. Do you know how many were matched? 2,823. To make matters even worse, there were 3,389 openings. That means 566 spots were unclaimed. That’s 566 opportunities any of the rejected 3,121 applicants would have killed for.
The statistics are concerning to any DPD student dreaming of pursuing their passion in nutrition. And I would be lying if I said they didn’t terrify me at first, but they actually made me stop and think. Was I not a well-rounded applicant, or did I apply to the wrong programs?
The first time I applied I wanted to stay local. I just spent four years in Alabama and was enjoying my time at home with my boyfriend and family. I applied to two schools close to home, one in NY (which was a stretch for me), and another in CT as a safety.
On that dreaded matching day, D&D informed me that I had been considered for a program but all the spots were filled before they reached my name. Thanks D&D, but that still doesn’t make me feel any better.
I immediately broke down. I turned my phone off, collapsed on the kitchen floor and began sobbing uncontrollably. It took a rejection this big to make me realize how bad I truly wanted this.
After about 30 minutes, I managed to pull myself together, turn my phone on and tell my friends and family I hadn’t been matched.
“Oh my gosh you’re kidding right!?”
“That’s not funny Kelsey, what program did you get?”
“Okay, so what’s your plan B?”
PLAN B!? There was no plan B! My plan was to get accepted, but clearly that didn’t work out!
It took a few weeks for me to get over feeling like a complete failure and to come up with a plan B. This one mainly focused on NOT becoming a RD and never subjecting myself to this kind of pain ever again. I even Googled, “I didn’t get matched, what do I do now?”
I was hoping to find a blog post, a website, SOMETHING, from anyone who had been in my shoes and found an alternative solution. Someone who would pat me on the back and say, “there there, everything is going to be okay, it’s not the end of the world.” Shockingly enough, I did not find this magical Feel Better Fairy. The only advice I came across told me to, “keep trying, don’t give up, the world needs more Dietitians!” Not very comforting, but they had a point.
I finally sat down and looked at where I went wrong. My grades were not the best, okay yes I already knew that, but did I apply to the right programs? Most of them had clinical concentrations, something I have absolutely no interest in. So why did I waste my time applying to programs I knew I wouldn’t get into and lacked the experience for? Convenience I guess.
I had graduated in the summer of 2016 rather than May with my fellow classmates because I changed my major so many times. By the time applications came around I had enrolled in a Master’s program, started my own business, and was happy being home in NJ. I spent 4 years in Alabama, and while I’m grateful for my experiences there, I was ready to stay in NJ and start a career.
The second time I applied was in the fall. If you know anything about the matching process you know that only about half of the programs participate in fall matching. Thinking the odds were in my favor, I decided pretty last minute that I would apply to Sodexo’s distance DI… also a mistake.
Sodexo gets a large chunk of applicants each round of matching due to the convenience of them finding your preceptors. About 2 weeks before Notification Day I realized I had never been contacted for an interview and there was no chance I had been accepted, which of course I was right.
This time, Notification Day was different. I was relaxed, I knew what was coming. I opened up D&D and saw I had not been matched. I still wasn’t a strong applicant and my chances of being accepted into their program were pretty slim. This rejection stung a little less, I don’t even think I cried, but it was that overwhelming feeling of “what the heck are you doing with your life,” that put everything into perspective for me.
FIND A PROGRAM THAT WORKS FOR YOU.
Apparently, this had never occurred to me. What about a distance internship? I wanted to stay close to home, I definitely had a better chance of getting accepted and there was a possibility I could keep my current job.
Then I remembered how difficult that would be. When I looked at programs participating in second round matching the first time I was rejected, I had the opportunity to get accepted into a distance program, all I had to do was secure my preceptors in time, which I was unable to.
That’s when I realized I needed to get a jump-start on finding preceptors.
For those of you considering applying to a distance program, I’m going to be brutally honest with you… finding preceptors IS NOT EASY. You are going to contact every RD within a 50-mile radius and be told no time and time again.
DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE!
I live in NJ, a heavily populated state, about 20 minutes outside of New York City. There are 4 programs within the state that offer Dietetic Internships and a majority of hospitals have contracts with them, Sodexo, Aramark, or many of the DI programs in NYC. My chances of finding a clinical preceptor were slim to none… I even looked into hospitals near my parent’s houses in Vermont and Florida.
I began my search for preceptors in December about a week before Christmas. I was able to secure my community and food service rotations by mid-January, but I was striking out left and right with a clinical preceptor. I used the Academy’s Find a Preceptor page, made a list of every hospital in the state and was emailing or calling the Dietitians constantly, I reached out to the DI program directors to see if they could put me in contact with previous interns (by the way they legally cannot give you that information), and I contacted the NJAND to see if they knew of any hospitals without existing contracts.
At this point you’re probably panicking because you’ve done the same thing and also struck out. And this is where I’m going to inform you that you haven’t exhausted every resource possible, you just need to think.
What haven’t you done?
Quick story, my dad renovates houses, and lucky me, one of his new neighbors just so happened to be a RD. He gave me her phone number and I reached out to see what I could do to make my application stronger. She was a program director for a DI in NJ (one I obviously did not get into) and she told me the best thing I could do was gain some clinical experience by volunteering at a hospital. My dad put me in contact with one of his old friends that worked at one of the ginormous health system companies in NJ. He found me a hospital to volunteer at, all I needed to do was get some shots and a physical and I’d be all set. By the time all of that had gotten done it was January, applications were due in a month and it wouldn’t really look good on my resume, so I never did it.
I know it was extremely rude not to take advantage of this opportunity, especially after so many people helped me get to this point, but I had no other options. Feeling like a complete d***, I went through old emails and contacted the hospital coordinators I previously spoke with to ask if they had contracts with other programs or knew of any clinical dietitians willing to take on interns. And guess what?
I was set. I secured ALL of my preceptors, even my elective rotation, by the end of January. I completed my application and patiently waited to see if the third time really was the charm.
It was an odd feeling not being completely overwhelmed, nervous, or excited on Notification Day. I almost felt like I had no emotions at all. When 7pm rolled around I was sitting in my bed not knowing what to expect.
And then it happened. I logged into D&D to see my matching results and there it was… I had been matched to my top choice program. I stared at the computer screen with my tear filled eyes wondering what was missing. Why was there no excitement?
I didn’t feel accomplished. I was not proud of myself. But then it hit me. THIS WAS MY THIRD TIME GOING THROUGH THIS. My lack of emotions were really relief!
It would have felt better had I been matched the first time around, but I was relieved to finally be accepted. I no longer felt completely unworthy or unwanted. My dreams were becoming a reality and I was one step closer to getting my life started.
When it began to sink in I started feeling guilty. My mind brought me back to that dark hole I trapped myself in the first time around and I wondered how the unmatched applicants were feeling. I remembered searching the #rd2be and #dimatching hashtags after I was rejected and crying over everyone else’s happiness. Obviously not everyone will react the same way, but I thought some of them might.
So to those of you who didn’t get matched, I get it.
Be upset. Get angry. Contemplate your career choice. Say you’ll never apply again. Get it all out now because I promise you, your mind will change.
The world needs more Dietitians and you did not subject yourself to four years of working your ass off for absolutely nothing. Make your degree worth something and take pride in your accomplishments.
I was a horrible student in high school, I almost failed out of college, I had no direction, no life plan, nothing going for me. But look at me now. I’m a college graduate 2 weeks away from completing my Master’s and on my way to beginning my dietetic internship. I always tell people I work so hard in school because I just want the credentials.
While that’s true, I also want to prove to myself I am capable of achieving ALL of my goals and becoming a Registered Dietitian.
Will it happen the way I originally planned? Absolutely not, but the truth is, most things in life won’t. I put my entire life on hold for this internship. I turned down jobs, didn’t work as hard as I could have because deep down I knew I would continue reapplying.
So to those of you searching, “I didn’t get matched, what now?” Please don’t give up. I know that feeling. It stings. It crushes your soul and your spirits. It takes away any glimpse of hope you had of becoming a Dietitian. It can destroy you, but only if you let it. It takes courage and strength to admit you’ve been rejected.
It also takes courage and strength to reapply.
You have the ability to grow and learn a lot about yourself within that time. I suggest you take advantage of it.