MATADOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR JoAnna Haugen served in the Peace Corps. For those interested in applying to the Peace Corps, she gives insider advice about how to make the most of the application process.

Serving in the Peace Corps is a two-year commitment on the part of both the volunteer and the U.S. government. It requires time, finances, and a sincere interest to embark on a long-term volunteer career, and in order for a volunteer to be most effective, it is important the application process be taken seriously.

According to the Peace Corps website, the application process generally takes six months to a year, but it can take much longer in some instances. Regardless of how long the process takes, realize that going through the paperwork, interviews, and appointments while applying for the Peace Corps is good practice in patience and flexibility—both of which you will need to perfect before beginning your service.

Here is what you can expect if you apply:

The Research

Before you begin the application process for the Peace Corps, do your research. Read the Peace Corps website thoroughly, follow blogs of current Peace Corps volunteers, attend informational meetings, and ask questions of returned volunteers and recruiters.

Peace Corps Connect is an online community of future, current, and returned volunteers who are interested in sharing information and providing support.

The Application

You’ll have to fill out an application, which details education, employment, and volunteer history and will likely take several sessions to complete. Two essays and three references are required. You also need to submit a copy of your college transcripts, information about relevant financial history such as student loans and mortgage obligations, and basic information about your medical history (both physical and psychological).

The Interview

After the Peace Corps has received and reviewed your completed application, you’ll be contacted for an interview if recruiters feel you could be qualified to volunteer. You will interview with a recruiter who is most likely a returned Peace Corps volunteer, so feel free to ask tough questions about the experience.

During the interview, the recruiter will ask you about your educational and volunteer background. The recruiter will want to know about your language and technical skills and interests. You’ll touch on your ability to handle changing circumstances and stressful situations.

“It is unbelievably important for you to be completely honest during this interview.”

It is unbelievably important for you to be completely honest during this interview. Though it is true that flexibility and the ability to adapt easily are good characteristics to have as a volunteer, if you aren’t completely honest and upfront about your interests, abilities, fears, and motivations for applying, you may be setting yourself up for unsuccessful service before you’ve even left the country.

Many people think they can go anywhere and do anything and be completely happy, but this just isn’t the case. Be honest about how you might respond to different situations such as loneliness, unclean conditions, and unusual public transportation.

The Nomination

You need a US passport. Photo: Tom Purves

After your interview, your recruiter will determine if you’re fit to be a volunteer. You’ll receive a vague assignment with a general geographical region and area of work, as well as a tentative departure date. This is by no means final—my location and job were changed three times before I received a definite assignment.

The Medical, Legal, Suitability, and Competitive Reviews

At this point you’ll receive paperwork for medical and legal clearance. The medical review requires a full physical examination, a dental exam with x-rays, and an eye exam. You may also be asked to complete a psychological evaluation. Try to complete the medical review within 45 days, and, if for any reason your medical status changes (for example, I had an emergency surgery after being medically cleared), contact Peace Corps immediately to update your clearance forms.

The legal review requires you to disclose any financial obligations, previous arrests and convictions, and obligations you have to dependents.

Once these are complete, a placement officer will contact you regarding placement matches that coincide with any medical needs you have and your ability to leave for service on specific dates.

The Invitation

The day will come when you finally receive the coveted invitation in the mail with a solidified country of service, job title, and date of departure. If you accept, you’ve just made it through the first laborious step of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer.

That said, you don’t have to accept the invitation.

There is an unwritten rule about declining invitations.

Photo: LizMarie

You can decline an invitation once with a sound reason about why you don’t want to serve in that location or in that job capacity. Once you receive a second invitation, you should consider long and hard about declining. Though you need to commit 100% to the Peace Corps, you should have had enough conversations and provided enough background information that an invitation should fit you well on the first or second try.

If you decline too many invitations, there is a possibility that you’ll be tossed back into the application pool.

The Pre-Departure

You’ll have approximately two or three months between invitation to departure. In that time, you’ll receive a packet of information about your country of service and a tentative packing list. You’ll also receive your e-ticket to your stateside staging site, where you’ll spend three days getting information and immunizations necessary for departure.

From there, you will finally depart for your service as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Community Connection:

JoAnna provides more advice in 5 Things You Should Know Before Joining the Peace Corps. And don’t think you’re ineligible if you’re a senior citizen. Read about 84 year old Peace Corps volunteer Muriel Johnston in Seniors in the Peace Corps.

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