Monday, December 12, 2011

My Peace Corps Applicaiton Experience

In this series, I'm going to explain my experience with the peace corps process. I'm sure that every experience is unique, but there's also likely much that is the same. My experience took about 2 years - from starting the application in June 2010, finishing in October 2010, hearing from them originally in January 2011, gaining placement status in December 2011 and finally, departing in April 2012.

So here it goes.

1. Filling out the application itself. The application is lengthy and will likely take you several weeks to get everything together to complete. Filling out the original forms is not so bad, and can be completed in about 4 to 6 hours.

A.  The first part of the application is basically personal demographics: Name, gender, DOB, SSN, occupation, emergency contacts, eligibility, education etc. This part doesn't take very long to complete. The length of the rest of the application depends on which of the following sections apply to you.

B.  The next part is in regards to spouse and dependents. This part is similar to the emergency contacts section.

C.  The next part asks about military service. Note, you have to have been discharged from military service in order to still qualify for the Peace Corps. For ethical and transparency, the PC also does not allow employment of those who worked in intelligence and espionage.

D. The next section is in regards to alcohol, drugs, and criminal offenses. The Peace Corps will not accept an applicant who has had a conviction within one year of applying. They are very extensive in their background checks, so if you have any previous charges, even if you weren't convicted, you will need to fill out an explanation of those charges. I did have some charges from back when I was much younger and these were brought up numerous times throughout the process, but other than needed to explain them extensively, they have not become a deterrent to serving, and for that I am thankful. It would be a shame if others did not give you a second chance, especially from something I had done as a teenager, still growing up - figuring out the kind of person I wanted to be and who I did not want to be.

E. Next is financial obligations, such as loans (including student loans). The peace corps prefers that you have settled your obligations prior to deployment, but further deferment is a possibility with student loans.

F. Intelligence affiliations: this part is similar to the military section. If you are applying for an intelligence position, you will have to withdraw from either the Peace Corps application or your other application.

G. Education -asking you to provide all of your post-secondary education, degrees, GPA's, and if you will be applying for Masters degree experience/reimbursement

H. Languages - provide fluency in second languages. You may need to pass a test or prove basic understanding to qualify for certain placements.

I. Professional Certifcations - list any professional certifications you have

J. Employment history - You will need to hand key this section of the application. You can also upload your resume at the bottom of this section, but you will still be required to hand key the top section.

K. Community and volunteer experience - If I remember correctly, the Peace Corps does require you to have at least a year of volunteering experience. I don't see it on the application, so I could be wrong. Later on, they have really pushed for having volunteer experience in your field. ESL seems to also be one that they typically encourage.

L. Practical experience: This section is basically your KSA's (knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) Determine what your top skills are and include them. (i.e. Customer Service, Sales, Computer Knowledge, Farming, et al.)

K. Regional Preference - This is the part where you can "request" a region. I recommend that you don't pigeonhole yourself to one area unless you just really must go there. However, part of the Peace Corps tenets is to learn about new cultures. I have heard from other volunteers that if you are too picky, it will be harder for you to be placed and will take longer, if at all. My process took nearly 2 years and I didn't choose a region and I have some skills that are in high demand, so I'd be wary of being strict with your region.

L. Essays: undoubtedly the longest part of the application experience. They will want two essays. One on the 10 Peace Corps Core expectations and why you want to serve. The other on how you have experienced other cultures or settings that were out of your comfort zone. Be sure to use proper spelling and grammar. Also, I was asked to rewrite my second essay because it wasn't exposed enough to a social/cultural environment that was different than my own (though I did choose to write about my transition from a beach setting to rural appalachia.)

K. Signature and Policies - this part is similar to any other application you would fill out. Certify that you are who you say you are, and read their policies and statements.

L. Recommendations - You will need three, the system is fairly user friendly from the applicant's side. I am not sure about the recommender side, I didn't ask, but none of them complained about it either. It would b good to get a recommendation from a previous/current boss, a volunteer coordinator from an organization that you volunteer with, and one from a friend or respected coworker.

2. Once you have submitted your long form application, you will need to start getting other things ready:

  • Transcripts - They do not need to be sealed and official, but have all of your transcripts ready to send.
  • Certifications and Licenses
  • Diplomas and Degrees

This process is much more convenient nowadays, since everything is electronic. I would recommend scanning them and saving them to your computer or in the cloud (such as Google Docs). You will need to mail your transcripts to the Peace Corps, but I would also email your Peace Corps representative with this information.

A bit about the representative. This person will be BUSY! They will not be as responsive as other people that will engage you in the process along the way. S/He will be the front lines of the Peace Corps and is inundated with applications, status updates, and people asking questions. On top of that, they will be the ones requesting any additional information from you. It will take time for this person to get back to you, and indeed, it will likely take months after you've submitted your application and recommendations before you even get contacted by this person. I spoke with my representative for 3 months before I had everything ready for the interviewer.

The Peace Corps kind of uses this lengthy process as an excuse - they are preparing you for the slow pace and red tape you will experience during your service. There may be some truth to that, and I'll know more about that once I come back, but I still do think that this process could be made more efficient. Though there seems to be some structure/algorithm to the process, I think that there are too many human hands in the process. It could be made more electronic and streamlined.


So just to sum it up -

  • Filling out the application likely take several weeks, but could be mostly completed within a few hours. Essays and recommendations will likely take up the most time. It took me about 3 months.
  • Gather certifications, transcripts, etc while you are waiting to hear from the representative. If you can, try to get even more licenses while you are waiting . This wait will likely be around 2 months.
  • Coordinate with the representative, gather any other necessary materials. This will take around 3 months.
  • Wait for the interviewer - this will take another few months - about 2 before I heard from mine.

Well that's it for now! In the next section, I will be talking about the interview and medical review process.

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