In the wake of declining application numbers, the Peace Corps announced substantial changes to its application process Tuesday.
In a press release, the organization, a government run program which gives students the chance to volunteer abroad for periods typically lasting two years, stated the changes are intended to give applicants more choices and make the application process faster and more straightforward.
Instead of expressing preferences without a guarantee of receiving them, applicants can now choose the specific countries and programs in which they would like to serve. Applicants can apply for one to three programs at a time or allow the Peace Corps to choose their assignment, according to the release.
Each specific program listing now also includes clear “Apply By,” “Know By” and “Depart By” dates. The new application can be completed in less than an hour, in contrast to the old sixty-page application that typically took over eight hours to complete.
The number of completed applications has declined 34 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to the Peace Corps. In the past nine months, more than 30,000 prospective volunteers did not complete their application.
“I think our application was a barrier for some people for a long time,” said Jessica Mayle, Peace Corps’ Public Affairs Coordinator for the Midwest region. “Now we’re hoping that with a shortened application and giving applicants the opportunity to choose where they go, it’ll really just make Peace Corps more attractive to a new group of people, in addition to the people who were already interested in Peace Corps and interested in service.”
Michael Gall, a Peace Corps field-based recruiter for east Michigan, was also optimistic that a larger number of young people will start applying.
“I suspect that we will have an increasing and growing number of applicants because of the easier application, but just also because Millennials have such a strong sense of service and community and wanting to give back,” Gall said. “I believe that that’s also going to drive a continued interest.”
The University has a particularly strong connection to the Peace Corps. On October 14, 1960, then-Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to over 5,000 students and challenged them to serve their country and further peace efforts by volunteering in developing countries. This impromptu speech eventually led to the creation of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961.
Since its establishment, 2,556 University graduates have served in the Peace Corps, according to Gall. Eighty-one University graduates are currently serving in 39 countries — including Albania, Madagascar, Peru, Mongolia and the Philippines — and are working in the Education, Health, Environment, Community and Economic Development and Youth Development sectors, among others.
In a statement, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet praised the University’s contributions to the Peace Corps.
“The University of Michigan plays a special role in Peace Corps’ history, and every year, scores of Michigan graduates apply to serve as Peace Corps volunteers and make a difference in the lives of others around the world,” Hessler-Radelet said. “Our new streamlined application process means Michigan students can now apply directly to countries and programs related to their skills and interests and chart a path that fits their personal and professional goals.”