Navigating the Road to Become a Certified Child Life Specialist: Tips & Tricks from a Child Life Student

Navigating the Road to become a Certified Child Life Specialist Tips & Tricks from a Child Life Student

Currently the child life field is flooded with students and they are doing everything they can to complete school, land an internship and pass the certification exam. With so many question about the best route to take, I thought having a peer who is currently going through this phase could give you some great insight.

Welcome guest blogger, Alexx Friesen from My Path to Play 

In the mysterious world of child life, I used to find that I had more questions than I did answers, more concerns than comments, and sometimes even more doubts than I did hopes. I have been a child life student for almost a year and the amount of things I have learned, accomplished, and failed at over the last year are probably countless. In the end, I think that I have paved the way for myself and have done what I feel is right and necessary in order for me to succeed and fulfill my own dreams.

If I have learned anything over the last year it is that the child life community is overflowing with kind-hearted people who want nothing more than to put a smile on the face of a child who is scared, helpless, tired, and sometimes alone. We want to be the hero – the one that can walk into the room and ease a child into comfort rather than fear, and the one that can understand by simply being present.

You may be wondering what pathway is needed to become a child life specialist. In all honesty, the pathway isn’t linear…it is complex with curveballs of ambition, hope, and patience. So…how can I help you? I’m not entirely sure. What I can do is share my story, my tips, and things that have worked for me over time. It is my hope that through reading and being open to suggestions, we can all find ourselves in a place we are not only happy with, but proud of.


A huge part of the child life world is securing an internship. This, as we know, is an incredible stepping stone that gets us one (huge) step closer to being able to sit for the Child Life Certification Exam. But how do you get one? What does a student have to do to gain the coveted internship spot? I was fortunate enough to secures an internship for the upcoming fall, and it is my hope that by sharing my tips and tricks, I will be able to help you feel a little more confident as you get ready for the October application deadline.

Ready? Let’s start from the beginning…

Reminder: All academic programs are slightly different and therefore have slightly different protocols when it comes to applying for and securing internships – if you are completing your internship through your school be sure to discuss the steps with them as they will be able to help guide you!

How do I get an internship?
*Remember to check the application deadlines on the CLC’s website and submit applications accordingly*

1. Qualifications
* First thing’s first, where can you complete your internship?
* What hospitals will accept you based on the qualifications you already have?
* As a member of the Child Life Council, you are able to access a full directory of child life programs on an international level
[If you are not already a member and are actively pursuing a career in child life, I HIGHLY recommend becoming a member – many hospitals actually have that as an internship requirement]
* Use this membership to your advantage and make a huge list

2. Downsize
* Start cutting down your list. Your first draft (according to me) should be very rough, have tons of hospitals on it – most of which you maybe/probably haven’t even gotten in contact with yet and that’s perfect.
* Once you have this master list of hospitals, start shrinking it. While I think it would be great to send out applications to every single hospital around, this not only can be super daunting, but it is my belief that rather than focusing on making, let’s say, 20 applications really good, you’ll spend the same amount of energy, but make 40 applications only mediocre.
* If you DO go big, go big all the way and make EACH application stand out.

3. Details
* Once you have a better idea of what is on your list, start collecting basic information on each hospital and what their internship application package requires.
* Nearly all hospitals I applied to required a copy of the Common Child Life Internship Application, but there were a couple that didn’t. Also, many hospitals required additional pieces to be included in the package.
* I found that almost all of the US hospitals I looked into had a very detailed description on their respective websites of what they required.
* The Canadian hospitals were less detailed – my assumption is because the majority of them only accept McMaster University child life students. If you’re from Canada, don’t fear, there are hospitals that accept independent interns!

4. Contact
* Because I am an independent/unaffiliated intern, I spent a lot of time contacting child life programs across Canada and the US (I have my phone bill to prove it … yikes).
* I did this mostly because I wasn’t entirely sure what constituted being an independent intern and wanted to be sure that I looked into places that I knew I could actually be considered at.
* I encourage you to reach out to places you’ll be sending your application to.
* Got questions about the application? Ask. Want to confirm their mailing address? Ask.

5. Collect
* Now you know where you’re applying and you know what is needed of you… so what are you waiting for? Get collecting!
* Start with what you know you’ll need for each – resume (consider giving your current resume a makeover), transcripts (some may need official copies), references, verification of volunteer hours, and a child life course verification form indicating that you have successfully completed a course taught by a Certified Child Life Specialist.
* Be sure to factor the time it takes to gather all this information/paperwork before committing to submitting for a certain deadline.

6. Create
* The fun part – putting together and completing your application packages!
* My biggest tip for this part is to have fun with it…this is child life! My recommendation is to be creative while showing that you’re still able to be professional and show your passion. Don’t be afraid to be real and authentic in answering your application questions.
* Remember: No one owes you an internship. You need to prove to them why they need you, why their program will thrive by having you be a part of it.

7. Assemble
* Take up as much physical space for each application that you need – I took over my whole living room and laid out each application as needed.
* Label anything and everything
* Make to-do lists for each application – What is needed? What am I missing? Are there additional things this hospital needs that others don’t?
* Do whatever it is that YOU need to do, to ensure that YOU feel organized, confident, and comfortable
* Don’t forget to label and stamp accordingly! Make sure to include your return address as well! And triple check that each hospital address is correct.

8. Seal & Send
* Once you are positive that each application has all the requirements and anything extra that you think should be included, go ahead and seal them all up and ship them away!

The Waiting Game

All that’s left to do after this part is wait. I can only speak for myself of course, but waiting was easier for me than putting the applications together. Make sure that as you go through this process you are focusing on the idea that at the end of all of this, you want to feel comfortable and confident in your applications that you have sent. You should feel good in knowing that you have put your heart and soul into these applications.

Some things I found that made the waiting process easier for me were:

1. Being comfortable in knowing that I very well may not be offered an internship or even an interview.
* Be confident enough in the process to accept that in spite of all this hard work, you may have to do it again…and that’s ok!
* I think that it is important to accept the reality sooner than later that not every applicant can be accepted.

2. Have a backup plan
* What are you going to do if this doesn’t work out?
* Will you re-apply? If so, when?
* Pay attention to other opportunities that present themselves in order to ensure that you have something else productive and positive to be doing in the time that an internship could be taking place, in case it doesn’t this time.

I have often got the question, “Is it okay to follow-up after sending my application?” and in all honesty, I wasn’t sure of this myself. I came across a fantastic answer on the CLC forum that basically said, “if they asked you not to contact them regarding your application, don’t. If you applied for the position, they know you are interested.” This was maybe the most frustrating thing I read, but it makes so much sense! I would say no, don’t contact them, especially if it specifically says not to.

Navigating the Road to Become a Certified Child Life Specialist

I got an interview! Now what?

First, congratulations! Remember, some people don’t get any interviews, so be grateful you have been given the opportunity, Be proud of yourself, because they obviously saw something special in your application – but don’t get ahead of yourself, this is only an interview. Remember that they are more than likely interviewing several other candidates who are just as qualified, ambitious, and passionate as you. That’s not to scare you, but to bring you back down after the initial excitement wears off.

How to crush the interview – hopefully

Reminder: I am not a professional interviewer. What worked for me, may not work for you, and you don’t have to agree with or follow all of my suggestions. Always do what you feel most comfortable doing, but remember that breaking outside of your comfort zone can be a good thing.

1. Respond
* When you get your email/phone call asking to select a date, make sure to respond!. The last thing you need is the excitement of the whole thing cause you to forget to even answer them.
* Take a deep breath, look at your upcoming schedule. What can be moved around to accommodate the days/times they offered? If they asked you to provide them with dates, even better. Make it soon, but allow yourself enough time to prepare.
* Where is this interview taking place? If you will be needing to travel for it, make sure you factor that into your decision on a date.

1. Prepare
* Brush up on your psychology. Remember Piaget, Erikson, and Bowlby? Review! While I can’t say my interviews had direct questions asking to recite theories, I have had some friends who have. And while mine did not, it is – I think – important to show that your answers make sense not only based on common sense and reasoning, but from a psychological and developmental perspective as well.

2. Wardrobe
* Of course, for a phone interview this doesn’t apply, but for a Skype interview? Absolutely. Still look your best! And don’t forget to tidy up any areas they can see on camera.
* Dress to impress! While you may not be wearing a blazer and dress pants while working in child life, this is still an interview. Show them you mean business.

3. Relax
* Take a deep breath, and knock their socks off
* Remember, they are wonderful people who obviously see something special in you to take the time to sit down and hear about what you have to say.
* Be yourself, and don’t overthink. Let things flow like any conversation.
* Be concise in your answers, but make sure you answer what is asked of you. If you need a minute to collect and gather your thoughts, do that. I have been told that interviewers would rather you take a minute to organize yourself, than to listen to you talk in circles for five minutes.

4. Thank You
* At the start of the interview for selecting you as a candidate
* At the end of the interview before you hang up/part ways
* Roughly 24 hours later, thanking them again for taking the time to review and consider your application and for interviewing you

And once again, you wait…

At this point you should be so proud of yourself and thrilled that you even had the opportunity to interview with the a hospital. If you didn’t get an interview, that is okay. Don’t be afraid to ask them for feedback on your application. I know a couple of my applications didn’t even get to the right department at the hospital, so it was past the deadline when they received it. Sometimes it has nothing to do with your application and can be something silly like that, but always ask. You’re entitled to know where you can grow and reassure each place you receive rejection from that they can expect an application from you again the next round, because let’s face it there is no giving up in child life!

I know this has been so incredibly long, my apologies, but I do hope it was helpful and encouraging. If you have any questions please contact me either by email, or on my blog and I would be more than happy to chat.

My last reminder: Be proud of yourself, no matter the outcome. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out. If you know in your heart that this path was meant for you, then don’t stop until you make it happen.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 7.48.08 AMThank you Alexx for sharing your tips with us!

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