The Peace Corps' Application Process Just Got A Long-Awaited, Much-Needed Revamp


For more than a half-century, the Peace Corps has been sending American volunteers all over the world to lend their service in areas of need. It's one of the most rewarding experiences one can have, but recent years have seen the number of applicants dwindle (it's a lot of paperwork, OK?). In response to the decline, the Peace Corps has revamped its application process in hopes of attracting more volunteers going forward. Not only is it easier to apply, but the application will also incorporate many changes that volunteers have been requesting for a long time.

Run by the U.S. government, the Peace Corps is a volunteer program that sends American citizens to more than 60 countries for a two-year period to assist in social and economic development. Volunteer initiatives include educational, environmental, and health programs that tackle everything from pandemic disease to gender empowerment and food security. Since its founding in 1961, the Peace Corps has helped to promote world peace, citizen diplomacy, and international development across more than 139 countries, but between 2009 and 2013, the number of applicants fell 34 percent.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet appeared on NPR's Here & Now to announce and discuss the new changes, which are expected to provide a stronger incentive for people considering the program.

The Opportunity to Choose Specific Countries and Programs

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The previous application didn't allow candidates to choose specific locations or note preferences of where they wanted to be stationed. Volunteers were placed in countries and areas that needed the most aid. With the new application, prospective volunteers can not only choose the specific location they want to serve in, but the specific program as well.

When asked whether this new feature would cause an influx of volunteers to more desirable locations and a shortage in less-favorable countries, Hessler-Radelet told Here & Now host Jeremy Hobson, "A certain subset of our applicant pool want to go to the farthest, most remote, most difficult post. There are people who are just driven by that type of service."

A Shorter Online Application

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The Peace Corps' previous application used to be a hefty 60+ printed pages and would take more than eight hours to complete. That probably sounds like torture to the 140-character-tweeting, emoji-using millennials of today. Thus, the new application is shorter and online, and only requires one hour to fill out.

Apply-By, Know-By Date

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Similar to applying for a job or university, the addition of the apply-by, know-by date will inform applicants exactly when they'll find out whether or not they've been accepted and when they'll be shipping out to their destination. Hessler-Radelet said that not including this feature in the previous application posed a pretty significant problem for the organization. Their research showed that many past applicants gave up because the process took too long and was not transparent.

In interviews with

the Washington Post, Peace Corps alumni revealed that they waited more than a year on average just to find out if they were accepted. Some called it "restless applicant syndrome," an anxiety that defined the waiting period. The new application shortens the waiting period to six months, if it's completed by a certain deadline.

Increasing Diversity

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Hessler-Radelet also addressed the lack of diversity among volunteers, 76 percent of which are white. She told Hobson that the Peace Corps is hoping to change that with new recruitment strategies.

"A major part of our new recruitment effort is reaching out to diverse communities in ways we haven’t before," she said. "We’ve hired over 20 recruiters who are really focused on recruiting diverse populations. We also are creating partnerships with networks that service some of our underrepresented groups."