Clinical Impact Statement: This manuscript outlines the advantages and disadvantages of a remote admissions process from a social justice perspective. Specific suggestions to address disadvantages of a remote model, in order to promote trainee inclusion and equity, are provided to those who interview, educate, and train graduate students.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges on a global scale. The virus emerged in late 2019 and has continued to impact the world and United States greatly. Like many institutions, universities were required to transition to a work-from-home model. Psychology doctoral programs were impacted by this change, such that many trainees began conducting teletherapy and attending telesupervision for the first time in their academic careers. Many clinical psychology doctoral and internship sites made similar shifts (Goghari et al., 2020). In response to the pandemic, the American Psychological Association and Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) Board of Directors has strongly recommended exclusive use of virtual, remote, and online technology for the entire duration of the 2020-2021 admissions interview process (APPIC, 2020). Although a remote interview process may have initially presented challenges, some believe this is an opportunity for growth, especially in that it may facilitate a more equitable admissions process (Bell et al., 2020). In fact, some programs had already moved to a remote interview process prior to the pandemic either because of their geographic location or due to a desire to align with a social justice model (Bell et al., 2020).
From a social justice perspective, there are several advantages of a remote interview process. First, a remote process allows clinical trainees and other professionals to follow social distancing requirements. Social distancing maintains safety by reducing the likelihood of acquiring the COVID-19 virus. This is particularly salient for medically vulnerable applicants, applicants from communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and applicants who have traditionally had limited access to high quality healthcare, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC). Second, beyond COVID-19 considerations, in-person interview requirements maintain ableism, with disabled trainees experiencing more travel-related and housing barriers. Third, a remote interview process would limit scheduling conflicts that arise due to multiple interview offers or the need to balance competing life demands. Inflexible program expectations and scheduling conflicts are often a barrier to pursuing secondary education in psychology (Pham et al., 2020). Conceivably, this barrier would disproportionately affect specific subgroups of the trainee population, such as those caring for children, trainees with other family commitments, or financially under-resourced trainees who do not have the privilege to take leave from work. Fourth, a remote interview process reduces the financial burden of attending in-person interviews. Financial instability of many students has been heightened as a result of the pandemic, which has been acknowledged by the Council of Chairs of Training Councils (CCTC) and APPIC (Bell et al., 2020). More pervasive economic disparities, including a lack of generational wealth and multidimensional poverty experienced by minoritized communities, exist within and apart from the pandemic. Financial instability due to the pandemic may compound financial burden on minoritized trainees who were already under-resourced. Remote interviews remove the cost of travel, lodging and other accommodations, a figure that could easily be in the thousands of dollars. Further the benefits of in-person interviewing is limited, considering traditional pre-admission interview methods for medical school – a close proxy for clinical psychology programs – may lack validity (Kreiter & Axelson, 2013). In sum, there are compelling reasons to consider adopting a remote admission process at the graduate, internship and postdoctoral fellowship level in future cycles to enhance equity and representation throughout the academic pipeline.
Despite the advantages of a remote internship interview process pre-pandemic, students tend to prefer an in-person format (APPIC, 2016). It is essential to understand why this trend may exist, particularly from a social justice perspective. One possible reason for this apparent discrepancy between student preference and the advantages of remote interviews is that a remote internship interview may not entirely address issues related to access. For example, students living in remote areas or unable to afford costly, high-speed internet may not have the ability to participate in seamless video-conferenced interviews which not only disrupts the interview but can inadvertently reflect poorly on the applicant. Therefore, limited access to high-speed internet would disadvantage students who live in rural areas or are financially under-resourced. A second reason for why students may prefer an in-person format is that students who can attend in-person interviews are often perceived (consciously or unconsciously) to be more committed to and viewed more positively by a program. Although financially detrimental or unfeasible, under-resourced trainees who are often from minoritized backgrounds may still prefer in-person interviews given existing biases in the admissions process. This may be driven by beliefs that in-person interviews may help mitigate negative perceptions and increase their already lessened chances of acceptance.
Thirdly, students may prefer an in-person format because it allows them to gauge the environment, climate, and culture of the site. Minoritized trainees experience prejudice, overt and covert racism, and discrimination throughout their academic careers (Pham et al., 2020). One study interviewed Black school psychology graduate students to better understand attrition. These students attributed attrition to cultural mismatch and microaggressions (Proctor and Truscott, 2012). Thus, minoritized trainees may be particularly mindful in how they assess inclusive culture and their potential quality of life and safety during training, including how they will be perceived and treated within and outside of the program. For example, successful recruitment of minoritized students is often facilitated when ethnic minoritized faculty and students are well-represented (Muñoz-Dunbar & Stanton, 2009), as this may be one indicator of a safe and tolerant environment for minoritized applicants. These assessments of program culture may be more difficult in remote interviews, as compared to in-person interviews, as they can limit access to broad interactions with faculty, staff, and students (i.e., informal social gatherings), thereby limiting the ability to gauge representation.
Simply because the potential disadvantages of a remote interview model exist does not mean the model should be abandoned. Rather, ways to overcome these new barriers within the remote-interview model should be explored. Potential considerations include:
- High-speed internet access:
(a) Clearly communicate an expectation to applicants and faculty that internet connectivity issues should not reflect poorly on applicants.
(b) Provide resource lists, including local universities or libraries, that offer loaner laptops and/or high-speed internet access.
(c) Do no limit remote interviewing to videoconferencing and allow applicants to use telephones when needed.
- Biases in admission and favoring in-person interviewees:
(a) A universal shift to a remote model will remove pressure on minoritized and financially under-resourced applicants to attend for fear it may impact prospects of being selected. The most impactful effect on equity would result from all sites embracing a remote model.
(b) Transparency, structure, and standardization in the review process and selection criteria is needed. A clear, standardized selection protocol (which removes other mechanisms of oppression such as utilizing the GREs) will facilitate the use of discretion elimination and prevent subjective biases favoring those interviewing in-person and non-minoritized applicants. Additionally, asking all applicants the same questions, using rubrics to score applicants and their responses, and exposing applicants to the same places and information should be adopted. Some of these things may be easier accomplished through remote interviews. For instance, a standard tour of the campus or city can be filmed and shared with all applicants.
- Assessing environment and program climate and culture: a clear statement should be made to applicants on a program’s commitment to social justice followed by an interview experience that thoughtfully integrates diversity and inclusion.
(a) Programs should consider a designated time for a diversity panel discussion (consider allowing applicants to send in anonymous questions and topics to be addressed). Fostering an interviewing culture to support frank discussions around equity-related issues will empower both trainees and interview sites to speak candidly about the climate.
(b) Consider highlighting ways to engage in diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice such as program, department, or university/hospital committees and/or the presence of affinity groups.
(c) Include discussions around mechanisms of inclusive supervision and fostering multicultural competence through outreach efforts to and the treatment of diverse patient populations, as well as the formal didactics offered by the program.
(d) Applicants should have scheduled meetings with minoritized faculty and students.
(e) Schedule informal gatherings in which applicants can meet faculty, staff, and students not on their interview schedule and gauge representation within the training program. Remote group interactions naturally lend themselves to more structure, so ensuring everyone can interact with each other may be easier accomplished remotely than in-person. This may also be more inclusive to applicants with social anxieties and applicants from cultural backgrounds that do not emphasize assertiveness.
(f) Ask applicants if there are particular individuals with whom they would like to meet with.
(g) Provide a contact list of trainees whom applicants can reach out to, if desired, with regard to inclusion, climate, and culture (e.g., trainees who are parents, trainees who identify as gender non-conforming and/or LGBTQ+, racially and ethnically minoritized trainees, trainees who are in relationships, trainees who are moving on their own, etc.).
(h) Review current procedures and methods with regard to trainees safely sharing feedback, grievances, or concerns and how these would be addressed.
These considerations are not perfect nor an inclusive list of solutions. However, as a field that has struggled with representation – we can come together to develop social justice-oriented solutions that make each stage of our academic pipeline more safe, inclusive and equitable. We must commit ourselves to fostering the careers of and retaining our minoritized trainees, which begins with admissions.
Cite This Article
Callan, S., Ranby K., & Thamotharan, S. (2021). Social justice considerations of a remote psychology admissions process: COVID-19 era and beyond. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 56(2), 6-10.
Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (2020). APPIC Recruitment and Selection Guidance for 2021-22. Retrieved from https://www.appic.org/News-Articles/ArtMID/1931/ArticleID/9/APPIC-Recruitment-and-Selection-Guidance-for-2021-22
Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers. (2016). 2016 APPIC match: Survey of internship applicants Part 1: Summary of survey results. Retrieved from https://www.appic.org/Internships/Match/Match-Statistics/Applicant-Survey-2016-Part-1
Bell, D. J., Self, M. M., Davis, C., Conway, F., Washburn, J. J., & Crepeau-Hobson, F. (2020). Health service psychology education and training in the time of COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities. The American Psychologist, 75(7), 919–932. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000673
Goghari, V. M., Hagstrom, S., Madon, S., & Messer-Engel, K. (2020). Experiences and learnings from professional psychology training partners during the COVID-19 pandemic: Impacts, challenges, and opportunities. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 61(3), 167-189. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cap0000250
Kreiter, C. D., & Axelson, R. D. (2013). A perspective on medical school admission research and practice over the last 25 years. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 25(Suppl. 1), S50–S56. https://doi.org/10.1080/10401334.2013.842910
Muñoz-Dunbar, R., & Stanton, A. L. (1999). Ethnic diversity in clinical psychology: Recruitment and admission practices among doctoral programs. Teaching of Psychology, 26(4), 259-263.
Pham, A. V., Lazarus, P., Costa, A., Dong, Q., & Bastian, R. (2020). Incorporating social justice advocacy and interdisciplinary collaborative training in the recruitment and retention of diverse graduate students. Contemporary School Psychology, 1-14.
Proctor, S. L., & Truscott, S. D. (2012). Reasons for African American student attrition from school psychology programs. Journal of School Psychology, 50, 655- 679. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2012.06.002