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When I was filling out my DICAS application, I read every blog post and watched every video I could find looking for advice. And while there are a lot of great resources out there, none of them answered all of my questions or provided specific advice. So here are my own tips and tricks that I used while filling out DICAS in Spring of 2019. I hope it is helpful to you!
Still Far Out From the Application Process?
Great! You can start getting prepared now. The sooner you have this stuff in the back of your mind, the better! Helpful things that will set you up for success if you’re not ready to apply yet:
- Every time you volunteer, keep track of the dates, how long you were there, the supervisor’s name and contact info, and a brief description of what you did.
- Go ahead and create your resume and keep it updated as you go through school and gain new experiences.
- Look for leadership roles, either through school or in the community.
- Internship programs love innovation – if you have a cool idea, DO IT. Make it a reality! My friend and I had a crazy idea to start a nutrition podcast, and we actually did it. That really made us stand out as unique candidates.
If you are applying for Spring like most of us, do yourself a favor by starting to get your stuff in order in September. You’ll need to start thinking about how you’re going to gather the following:
- MONEY (for transcripts, application fees, etc.)
- Recommendation letters
- Inspiration for personal statement (like, why are you even doing this?)
- Stuff to put on your resume
- Emotional support (Who can you go to for a pep talk? Who can help you edit your personal statement? Which professors can you go to for advice?)
Once You’re Ready: Get Organized
I do not like the way DICAS is organized, so I made myself a personal checklist of every single thing I needed to do before I hit “submit”. Here it is in all its glory:
This helped me stay organized and helped me to be 100% sure I wasn’t leaving anything out. You can see I added check-boxes for each step along the way. Having this on the bulletin board above my desk really helped me stay on track, plus what’s better than checking things off a list?
I made sure to include all fees I needed to pay on that list as well as where that money was, which brings us to….
Start Saving For Those Fees!
Each part of the application process requires money from you.
- DICAS requires $45 for the first school you apply to, along with $20 for each additional school. These fees are paid after you hit that submit button, so make sure the money is in your account and you have a Visa or Mastercard handy (No Amex, checks, or cash allowed).
- D&D, the matching service that you also need to sign up with, requires a $55 fee at the time you sign up.
- Each internship you apply to typically has their own separate fees payable to the institution itself. Check each program’s website for specifications, but typically you need to have a check in the mail postmarked by the day the application is due.
- Another thing to be prepared for is that many programs require a deposit once you get accepted in order to hold your spot. This can be hundreds of dollars, so again, check with your specific program so you don’t get caught off guard.
- And of course, transcripts usually cost money. Some colleges offer a certain number of free copies, so check with your school.
First Things First: Transcripts
Do this as soon as possible! DICAS requires that you use their special transcript form, and they want a physical copy mailed to them directly from your institution. Not all schools are willing to provide physical copies, or allow you to attach a form to your transcript (which again, DICAS requires), so give yourself plenty of time to figure all of this out.
Don’t be afraid to call and ask for help from the institution you’re requesting a transcript from. Another good resource for figuring this part out is the DICAS help section on the website. You can even call DICAS and they’ll walk you through whatever you need help with. Use those resources!
Next Up: References
Another thing to do as soon as possible. Most schools want two letters of recommendation from academics (so a professor or the director of your program), plus one letter from a work colleague or boss.
You will send each person a request through DICAS; they will then be able to go onto the website and type their recommendation directly into the system. Also give a heads up to the people writing your recommendations that they will not be typing a free form letter. Apparently, DICAS wants them to answer certain questions about the student instead.
Make sure you’ve asked your chosen people if they are willing to write you a reference before you send the request, as it will email them automatically. And no, you can’t see what they’ve written =).
And here’s an important tip: don’t ask someone unless you’re positive they’ll write you a glowing review. Teachers notice when you’re consistently late or talk during class, and they will include that in your reference!
Here We Go: The Personal Statement
This is honestly the most time consuming and challenging part of the entire application process. DICAS wants you to answer:
- Why do you want to enter the dietetics profession?
- Discuss experiences that have helped to prepare you for your career.
- What are your short-term and long-term goals?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses or areas needing improvement?
- What other information do you consider important for the selection decision?
Make sure to check with your specific program’s instructions to determine whether you need to include anything else in your statement. You should start on your personal statement as soon as you can and work on it over a month or two … or three … or four. Give yourself lots of time to fine tune!
Since the personal statement is such a huge part of the process, I’ve written a separate post about it HERE – make sure you check it out!
Next Up: Session and Coursework
This is where you can really get yourself in a pickle. You need to list all of the courses you’ve taken that are listed on your school’s DPD Course List. This list can usually be obtained from the director of the dietetics program at your school – they will email it to you, and you will upload it into the DICAS system yourself. Make sure, if it isn’t already, to convert the DPD Course List into a PDF so that it cannot be altered in any way.
Again: You do NOT need to list each and every course you’ve ever taken! Just the ones on your DPD Course List.
Specific tips for this part of the process:
- Make sure you list everything exactly as it appears on your official transcript, not how it appears on the Course List! I know, it’s so confusing.
- I chose to order official transcripts from each school for myself just for this part. Print them out along with a copy of your DPD Course List.
- Make sure you enter each course by term – semester or quarter. Classes you haven’t taken yet need to be entered into future terms.
- Double and triple check that you have everything listed correctly in this section, as there are a lot of little pieces where you can make mistakes.
I found it helpful to go in the order of my transcript (since it was already in the right order). I started by crossing classes out on my transcript that weren’t on my DPD Course List. Then, I highlighted the course on both my transcript and the Course List once I had entered into DICAS.
A snippet of my school’s DPD Course List. I highlighted each course in yellow once I had entered it into DICAS, then again in orange once I had double checked it for accuracy.
Part of my personal copy of one of my official transcripts. You can see I crossed out courses not on my DPD Course List. Again, yellow highlighter when entered, orange when double checked.
On To: Volunteer and Other Experience
This is a biggie. Programs want to see that you are involved in your community and have taken on leadership roles. You can put experiences you’ve had in this section that are both volunteer and paid – I think a mix of both looks best!
If you haven’t kept good track of your volunteer hours, start looking for this information ASAP! Look through old planners, old emails, and your school’s social media platform (if applicable) for times you lent a helping hand.
If you work full time, have kids, or other circumstances that make it hard for you to volunteer, that is completely okay. You are not alone in that – the dietetics program is full of people with families and other obligations! One of the ways I gained experience was by freelance writing for health and nutrition websites. I did this from home when I could fit it in, and it looked great on my application (plus it was a valuable, paid experience!).
If you aren’t a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, now would be a great time to join! This looks good on your application (and it may even look unusual if you aren’t a member) and many internships require membership before you start anyway. Students get a discount, so take advantage of it while you still can!
A few ideas for ways to gain experience:
- Volunteer at your local food bank
- Shadow a local dietitian
- Join the nutrition club at school
- Volunteer at your school or community garden
- Write health and nutrition articles for your school’s magazine
- Attend FNCE or another nutrition conference
- Attend meetings for your local AND chapter
- Become a tutor
- Develop a class on basic nutrition or meal planning (make sure you follow myplate) and teach at your local community center
- Keep seniors company at meal time at a local assisted living center
- If you can / want to, find a job in food service
- Make some extra cash doing people’s grocery shopping or meal prepping
- Help with or start a recycling program at your school
Next Up: That Resume
Use your resume to consolidate all of your education and experience. When looking at my friends resumes, my biggest advice was always to focus on the related experience you gained from each entry. This may not always be obvious!
For instance, my previous career was as a veterinary technician. I focused on my experience typing SOAP notes, creating a training manual, and working in a medical setting. I left out things like taking x-rays because, while cool, it’s not related experience.
Look for areas in your previous or current jobs where you:
- were a leader
- trained others
- created materials (manuals, hand-outs, brochures)
- communicated with clients/patients/customers
- took accurate records
- were an entrepreneur
- worked with food in pretty much any way
Emphasize these points, and leave out less relevant duties. You want to stick to a few important tasks you were in charge of.
The fun thing is that resume is a place where you can really stand out. The formatting, style, and design are fully up to you! I chose to use my resume as a way to show a little bit of my personality, because I love being creative with design. Below is a downloadable template of the resume I used:
Just be sure that your resume lines up with everything you input manually on DICAS. I realized some of my dates weren’t consistent between the two, and I’m glad I caught it before I hit submit! Speaking of that…
Before You Celebrate: Triple Check Everything
Yes, really. Here’s how I went about this:
- Once I had everything entered into the system, I went through each category on the computer looking for errors.
- Then, I printed out my application (you can do this under “program designations”) and put it alongside printed copies of my transcripts, resume, and DPD course list to double check everything on paper.
- After doing that, I set everything aside and looked at everything again the next day with fresh eyes.
- And THEN, I submitted it.
You’ll drive yourself crazy nitpicking and rechecking everything one zillion times… plus, it can be really scary to hit submit. Once you’ve triple checked everything, you’ve gotta be confident and be done.
Finally: Be Confident
This application process can be really, really stressful. If you are in the thick of it, know that you will finish and hit that submit button. Reach out to fellow students to help you out. Maybe work on your applications together in a cozy coffee shop. You can do this! Once you break it down and look at one chunk at a time, it becomes much more doable.
And because I’m all about that sweet, sweet self-care, here are some ideas to keep you sane during DICAS season (because yes, there is always time for self care!):
- Take a short walk outside
- Play with you dog, cat, or kiddos
- Leave a little early for school and grab a coffee at your favorite place
- Give yourself a mani/pedi (Yes guys too! Take care of those nails!)
- Take some deep breaths and roll out your shoulders
- Make a dinner date with your friends who are also applying to DICAS (Broke? Share a plate of apps and a pitcher of beer / margs)
- Clean up your desk space and add a bouquet of fresh flowers
- Cook yourself you favorite meal
- Go outside and put your bare feet in the grass (grounding!)
- Have a warm cup of tea
Need More Help?
DICAS actually has a customer service number you can call! If you have any question at all, dial them up and ask. They’re the experts, after all! You can also ask your advisor, or the director of your dietetics program if it feels appropriate, although they won’t always have the answers (it’s probably been a while since they used DICAS after all!).
Also, don’t forget that each page of the application has an “instructions for this section” link at the top right corner of the page. They instructions aren’t always detailed, but it can be a good starting point if you aren’t sure what you need to do.
So there you have it! I wish I had something like this while I was applying, and I hope it’s helpful to you. If you have any of your own tips and tricks to add, make sure to leave a comment below! Let’s help each other out =)
Good luck and try not to stress out too much! This will pass, and at some point this will all be behind you. You can do it!