The Peace Corps unveiled changes to its application process in July, including the shortening of the application, the addition of “Apply By “ and “Know By” deadlines, and increased student choice in programs and countries.
“We launched a new, shorter, online application that takes only one hour to complete. … Already the response to these new initiatives are tremendous,” Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said.
According to Hessler-Radelet, the Peace Corps saw its highest number of applicants in a single day after implementing these changes to the application process. She said that the new process will allow students to apply in a timely manner and, if accepted, start their volunteer program with the Peace Corps shortly after graduation.
Katie Gehron ’12, a current Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, offered her opinion of the previous Peace Corps application process and compared it to these new changes.
“The application process when I applied was long with multiple parts about our technical experience and medical history. … My application experience was quicker than the average applicant at the time, but it still took about five months from me applying to getting my invitation to serve,” Gehron said in an email. “The streamlining of the application process I think will be a good change. … The process gives the freedom for William and Mary students to apply at the same time that they would be applying for jobs their senior year, instead of applying a year in advance to start around graduation.”
The Peace Corps currently operates in 66 countries. Applicants can apply to one, two or three specific programs at a time or opt to go to wherever they are needed most. In the past, applicants could not apply to serve in specific countries or programs. Gehron said that she hopes applicants consider letting the Peace Corps place them in the countries which have the most need, rather than focusing on those they know.
“I studied French and focused my studies on food security while at William and Mary,” Gehron said. “Even though I wanted to go to a Francophone (French speaking country) and I wanted to work in a good insecure country, I never looked at Burkina Faso. … When I got my invitation to serve in Burkina Faso, I was nervous, but I quickly learned about Burkina Faso and realized that it was exactly the country that complimented my skills and was what I was looking for. … One of the Core Expectations of the Peace Corps is to ‘serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go,’ it is where there is the most need and where we will be the most effective.”
Susan Nelson ’15 plans to apply to the Peace Corps this year. She said the option to choose the program or country influenced her decision to apply.
“I would love to engage with issues that I have already had experience with or studied, because I feel as though I’d be able to bring more to the table and further my career goals, as opposed to an area which I don’t have a background in,” Nelson said in an email.
Nelson plans to apply to programs in Jordan or Tunisia, where she has visited in the past, she said she is passionate about the issues the populations of these countries face.
Traditionally, the College of William and Mary ranks among the top 25 medium-sized schools — between 5,001 and 15,000 total undergraduate populations — for total alumni serving as volunteers for that year. Last year, the College ranked 22nd with 17 alumni serving as volunteers. This constituted a 12-place drop in rankings, as the College ranked ninth among medium-sized schools in 2013 with 30 alumni serving as volunteers.
When asked if the changes to the Peace Corps application could affect the number of accepted applicants from the College, Hessler-Radelet said that more colleges are showing interest in having alumni join the organization and that the process may become more competitive.
“We are very excited about having a strong, diverse pool of applicants. … I think it’s going to be a little bit more competitive than it has in the past,” Hessler-Radelet said.
About 7,200 Peace Corps volunteers are currently in the field, and Hessler-Radelet estimates that about 3,500 volunteers join the Peace Corps each year.
“We have room to grow and, in the future, there may be more slots available,” she said.
In 2012, William and Mary News stated that 576 alumni had served in the Peace Corps since the Kennedy Administration established the program in 1961.