Peace Corps revamps application

The group hopes its shorter, more flexible application will broaden its applicant pool.

Kevin Karner

When Corey Poland applied to the Peace Corps a few years ago, he asked to volunteer in Latin America so he could improve his Spanish-speaking skills.

But instead, the recent environmental science graduate was offered an assignment across the Atlantic Ocean in Sierra Leone.

Now, this kind of situation could be a thing of the past.

The Peace Corps, a federal service program that has sent Americans abroad for half a century, announced this summer that applicants can now choose which country and type of volunteer work they’d like — and apply in under an hour.

The goal is to attract more volunteers, especially before the upcoming Sept. 30 deadline, which would allow seniors to serve this summer. But some are concerned the new process could diminish the quality of the average applicant and create a disparity in where volunteers serve.

“The application process was really long, but I personally think it was good to make sure people were really committed,” Poland said.

The University of Minnesota has consistently led the nation in graduates who serve in the Peace Corps. Currently, 57 University graduates are serving abroad as part of the program, putting the institution at No. 10 among large universities with the most serving alumni.

While the Peace Corps actively seeks to recruit college students, the average age of a volunteer was about 29 this year.

The previous application process could take nearly eight hours to finish, in part because of its detailed essay questions, said Cadence Peterson, a returned volunteer and Humphrey School of Public Affairs graduate.

In addition to the expedited process, admissions officers will notify applicants by a set date.

Recruiters say the move is part of an effort to broaden the applicant pool and to promote diversity.

“I think [the long process] was one of the barriers to getting a representative group,” Peace Corps campus representative Frieda Von Qualen said.

Currently, 8 percent of volunteers are over the age of 50, and 24 percent self-report as minorities.

Von Qualen said the streamlined admissions process will make acceptance tougher.

“I do think it will be more competitive because it’s simpler, but also because you can match things with your career goals,” Von Qualen said.

Some alumni have concerns with the ability to choose between countries, while others are ambivalent about the changes.

Peterson said some countries, like those in Latin America, are being flooded with applicants. Meanwhile, she said, technical projects are still receiving fewer volunteers than general community development assignments.

Poland, who originally applied with Latin America specifically in mind, ultimately rejected the offer to volunteer in Sierra Leone.

“I got offered a good job and didn’t really have a way to deal with my student loans while doing service,” Poland said.

Also, he said his project was related to farming when he wanted to work in water quality.

“You ultimately want to place people in places where they’re going to be effective,” Peterson said.

Youth Development Leadership graduate student Amanda Eskelson said she didn’t finish her application the first time, adding that she appreciates the recent change.

“The old process was annoying,” she said. “Now, you just click ‘yes’ or click ‘no.’”