Thoughts on the new Peace Corps application process

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The new system appears to be dramatically shorter and more transparent, offering the applicant new criteria and key information such as the date they can expect to receive an invitation to serve. 

Recently, Peace Corps introduced a simpler, more transparent and speedier application. The application was previously 60 pages long, sometimes taking up to 8 hours to complete. Now, they say it will take you less than an hour! The applicant will also be offered unprecedented input over where they go and what they do, as well as key information such as the date they can expect to receive an invitation to serve.  

Waiting for the invitation, which can sometimes take up to a year, is a trial for many Peace Corps hopefuls. The former system made personal and professional decisions for the applicant challenging. Not knowing when you may be leaving for the Peace Corps, made decisions such as taking a new job, or committing to a new relationship that much more difficult.

Applicant anxiety is readily apparent in most Peace Corps forums and social media groups. The Washington Post article on the new changes calls this “restless applicant syndrome,” and its understandable considering that people embarking on a journey instinctively seek milestones. The new addition of a Know By deadline will be key to managing such practical and emotional life decisions.  

But how do RPCVs feel about the changes? 

On choosing a placement

Some Returned Volunteers fear that the new application process weakens the spirit of selfless public service. They feel that by offering new selection criteria, only prime locations will be chosen and the next generation will miss out on the experience of adapting to an unknown environment and job. After all, volunteering in this capacity is a job, not a vacation. Giving applicants a choice may also reinforce preconceived expectations, fostering illusions which won't hold up to the realities on the ground. However, the new application system should be more effective in placing volunteers in the right places for assured success. The world is indeed changing, and sometimes volunteers show up to sites without key experiences essential for the job. It doesn't help if you’re prepared to build a chicken coop when your community wants a website! 

On mystery and adventure

Many RPCVs also take pride in the emotional growth and resourcefulness that develops from full immersion in a unique culture and adjusting to changing circumstances. They also admit that they would have never chosen their host country if given the option, but now can’t imagine having served anywhere else. This reinforces the critical role that recruiters and Peace Corps staff play in guiding applicants to the projects and places that need them. Hopefully, by casting the net a little wider, Peace Corps can encourage new applicants to step forward, guaranteeing that no project will go unoccupied for long.

On patience and flexibility

Some point out that a slow, frustrating application process serves two functions: It weeds out those who are less committed and gives the applicant an early taste of everyday life in many parts of the developing world, where patience and follow-through are key to getting things done. We know adaptability and flexibility are the sole defining features of every successful Peace Corps volunteer, but it should be up to the recruiters to recognize and encourage those qualities in an applicant. Why waste time and money administering the world’s longest standardized test?

On practicality and modern workflow

From an operational perspective, revamping the online process should be a routine task for any company that depends on a web-based system to manage its workflow. Using basic data analytics, the agency can identify the weak points in its pipeline and quantify the resources being wasted on disengaged users. Granting applicants more information increases the likelihood that they will stay engaged with the process. A straightforward, more transparent process could also translate to increased application numbers and potentially greater support and funding from the White House and Congress.

The value of change

The Peace Corps is a great agency because it can respond to the needs of its community in ways unimaginable elsewhere in the federal government. Change and adaptability are part of its DNA. Though its goals may be timeless, its administration must look forward to its future, and that requires smart, thoughtful planning to best accommodate the next generation of volunteers.

What do you think? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section below.


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