WASHINGTON — The Peace Corps launched a new online application Tuesday that allows applicants to choose the countries and programs where they want to serve and removes red tape that was dissuading people from completing the international service organization's application process.
Previously, applicants could only identify preferred countries, meaning they could be sent to a country of little interest to them. Being able to pick specific countries to serve in or programs in which they want to serve — such as education or health — will help align their service with personal and professional goals, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said in an interview. Applicants can also search for programs by a country's language, making it easier for them to use any additional languages they might speak.
"We really want to make Peace Corps the international service opportunity of choice and in order to do that it needed to be a modern, efficient process for our applicants," Hessler-Radelet said.
The updated online application will also reduce the time it takes to apply, from about eight hours to an estimated one hour, by removing repetitive information and only asking for the information needed by each specific program or country. Because of the length of the old application, more than 60 printed pages, many people who started the application never completed it — 30,000 people in the last nine months alone, according to the Peace Corps.
About one in three applicants get accepted into the Peace Corps for the typically two-year experience. The number of volunteers worldwide has been dropping over the last few years because of economic instability and subsequent budget cuts. Hessler-Radelet said they expect more applicants, enabling the program to be even more selective in filling spots in the 66 participating countries.
As of a month ago, there were more than 7,000 volunteers and trainees around the world, with the most, about 46 percent, serving in Africa.
The updated application is the most recent result of the Peace Corps' effort modernize, which began in 2010. The update to the application is largely possible because of the Peace Corps new website, Hessler-Radelet said.
To shorten the process, the new application only asks for one essay and is geared toward the specific country to which the person is applying. Some applications do not require transcripts or all information up front.
"We want to make sure that our application process doesn't become a barrier to Peace Corps service," Hessler-Radelet said.
The new application also gives applicants a definite date by when they will know if they were accepted into the Peace Corps, allowing them to better plan ahead. Hessler-Radelet said some applicants used to describe applying to the Peace Corps as a "black box," where they had no idea when they would hear back about their application or when they might be leaving.