Peace Corps Application Process
Hey Friends and Family!
Second to “why?”, the question people ask me most often is, “What’s the Peace Corps application like, and is it difficult?”
I never found the application too hard (I did finish it in one afternoon), but I think it can be a bit difficult if you aren’t prepared to answer important questions about why you want to join, or why you are right for the Peace Corps, etc.
I like to compare the Peace Corps application to a college application minus the SAT/ACT requirements. There are simple info sections and a short answer section which includes four, 250-500 word essays (don’t quote me on that exact word count, but they are very short and doable). In addition, you need three references: an employment supervisor, a volunteer supervisor, and a friend. When they ask for a friend, they really do mean friend, and they take it very seriously that you choose someone you have a close, personal relationship with. In some circumstances, you can substitute a professor for a supervisor, but you need to be prepared to explain why. Also, the references don’t need to write their own letters, the Peace Corps provides a form for them to fill out.
I’m pretty sure I had four (cause I’m an obnoxious overachiever like that)…
- Dr. Sapp: My favorite professor who was also my employment supervisor when I worked on campus.
- Scott: Father of the children I babysit.
- Leigh Wellington: Best friend and roommate at the time.
- Alison: Internship supervisor from NYC.
The most complicated part of the application for me was working on the application every 30 days. If you don’t update something on your application at least once every 30 days, they will delete your application (presumably to keep the number of unfinished applications in the system at a minimum). I ran into this problem on my first attempt to apply and had to start over again. That’s why I ultimately cranked it out in one afternoon. I simply wrote my essays in a Word document and then copy and pasted them into the application when I got to that section.
After the online application, the next step is an interview. The interview is super casual (I interviewed with my Peace Corps representative in a Panera) and it takes around two hours. Be prepared with LOTS of real-world examples of how awesome you are. Honestly, I don’t know what happens if you aren’t accepted into the PC, because during my interview, my PC rep basically said he would try everything to find me a country (not really an acceptance, but an official PC acceptance doesn’t come until you are invited to serve in a specific country). After the interview, my PC rep said I would hear from him when they found a program that might be a good fit for me. This can be a long process. I found out in November (over two months later) that I was nominated for service. This is probably the most confusing part of the application process: Nomination vs Invitation.
Nomination is when your Peace Corps rep finds a program/country that is a good fit for you; however, this does not mean you are definitely going to that country. You must submit a legal background check, medical documents, and possibly even complete more community service or language lessons in order for that nomination to turn into an invitation. However, I read somewhere online that 50% of people who are nominated for a country end up serving in a completely different country. I am a perfect example. I was nominated for service in Guatemala but I was ultimately invited to serve in South Africa.
Invitation happens when you submit all your legal and medical documents, you are legally and medically pre-cleared, and the National Peace Corps Placement Office approves you for service in that country. After all my documents were submitted, the Placement office decided that I wasn’t fit for service in Guatemala. Luckily, I was immediately invited for service in South Africa (I did not have to be nominated for service in South Africa since I had already been nominated in the past, so I immediately got an invitation). I like to think of it like this: Nomination is preliminary acceptance and invitation is final acceptance. Did that make any sense?
My absolute biggest piece of advice for someone applying to the Peace Corps, and I’m sure you’ve read/heard this elsewhere, but I feel the need to reiterate… APPLY ONE YEAR BEFORE YOU PLAN TO LEAVE! As in, click the “submit application” button, one year before the earliest date you can leave for service, because I’m sorry to break the news, but it really does take that long.
Edit: I applied in 2013 on the old application. The process has since changed and is apparently a bit shorter/quicker.
If you are interested in exact dates and specifically how long the process took for me, I am posting an application timeline very soon. In the meantime, feel free to ask me any questions!