July 31, 2023

[For Students] References: Are They Still Needed?

With the new version of the child life common application, references are no longer a standard requirement. There has been a lot of discussion on how to handle references and if hospitals will still use them in the future.  Another point to consider is that, when you apply for a job, you will most likely […]

With the new version of the child life common application, references are no longer a standard requirement. There has been a lot of discussion on how to handle references and if hospitals will still use them in the future. 

Another point to consider is that, when you apply for a job, you will most likely need a few references for the job application. So, even though you may not need the reference for an internship, you may need them for a job application. 

How many references should I have lined up?

Personally, I think it is best to have 2-3 people lined up as a possible reference. Some sites are asking for reference letters or contact information after the initial application process. It is vital to be prepared for that by asking your references ahead of time and being honest about how they may or may not be contacted. Once you find out a hospital wants to reach out to a reference, you should let your references know as soon as you can so they can be prepared. 

If your reference is not a child life specialist, or is unfamiliar with the child life certification process, it may be important to have a conversation with them ahead of time. Discuss the internship process, what this reference would mean to you, and some potential topics or qualities that might be helpful to discuss in a conversation with the hospital team. 

Who should my references be?

If you are applying for an internship, you would ideally have at least one, preferably two, child life specialists that could speak on your behalf. Traditionally, this is a practicum, pre-internship experience, or volunteer supervisor who has seen your work in the hospital setting. 

You would also want to have 1-2 professors who can speak to your abilities as a student. This professor or academic advisor does not have to be a child life specialist, but it is helpful if it is. 

Who should not be a reference?

References should be professional. This should be someone who has worked with you in a professional setting. This can be a manager from the daycare, the lead teacher in a classroom you support, a camp director, etc. 

Many people ask about families they have nannied for. A parent that you nanny for can be a good reference depending on the parent and the experience. If you nannied for only one child for a few months, that person might not be the best fit. On the other hand, if you’ve nannied for a family that has multiple children and you were with them for a few years, that might be a better fit. 

A few basic tips for references:

  • Be sure to ask them if they are willing to provide you with a positive letter of reference. 
    • Sometimes, we would get letters of recommendation that, frankly, weren’t very good. 
  • Give them enough time to plan and prepare for writing an actual letter. 
    • I generally think about 3 weeks is a good amount of time depending on the time of year. For example, asking a child life specialist or professor to write a letter on December 1st might not be the best time! Try to think ahead and ask at a more convenient time. 
  • Make it as easy as possible for your reference (*if you are applying to practicum pay attention)
    • Generally, a lot of practicums are still asking for references. The format and deadlines for these may vary greatly from place to place. Be sure you are organized and send your reference exactly what you need and when you need it. It can get really confusing to send a few directions, then randomly add on sites later on. Create an organized checklist for them and provide all information needed. 
      • The information they may need: 
        • hospital name 
        • who to address the letter to if available
        • your resume/cover letter for a reference point 
        • whether the format is electronic or mailed 
        • When you need the letter by (always give yourself extra time here)
  • Be sure to thank them!
    • Everyone’s time is valuable! Be sure to write a letter or at least an email thanking them for taking the time to provide the reference for you. 


Many child life specialists in the clinical and academic setting are aware of the need for reference letters and won’t be shocked when you send them a crazy list with forms, emails, and addresses. But, be prepared when it comes to asking non-child life folks as they may need a little more context and information!

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