Peace Corps Sees Record Interest After Simplified Application Goes Online

Peace Corps volunteer Joshua Fuder, center, speaks with residents of Lolovoli village on the island of Ambae, part of the Vanuatu islands chain.

Peace Corps volunteer Joshua Fuder, center, speaks with residents of Lolovoli village on the island of Ambae, part of the Vanuatu islands chain. Rick Rycroft/AP File Photo

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Old application involved 60 printed pages and took as long as eight hours to complete.

Any holdouts thinking it doesn’t matter how government does its business in a digital age should consider this: The month Peace Corps put its simplified application online, the number of applicants rose 400 percent over the previous year.

After updating the application on July 15, the government volunteer program saw applications jump 70 percent in fiscal 2014 overall, with 17,336 applicants in total -- that’s the second highest number since 1979. (There were 17,438 in 1992.)

“What used to be more than 60 printed pages that took more than eight hours to complete is now a short online application that focuses solely but rigorously on the most relevant information to help the agency select the best candidates,” agency officials said in July.

The new process also gives applicants more say in their fate, allowing them to select specific countries and areas of work and providing apply-by and know-by dates for specific programs.

More than half (54 percent) of applicants still offer to serve anywhere and nearly half (49 percent) still offer take any assignment, the agency said Wednesday.

Peace Corps also has been focusing on outreach and recruitment -- efforts that certainly also played into the dramatic rise in applications. But the simplified online process also appears to have played a role in the signup surge.

Only 23 percent of applicants who started the process in 2013 ended up actually applying. “Now, approximately 95 percent of those who start the application are submitting it,” Peace Corps said Wednesday.

I don’t remember the timeline, but I do recall the piles of papers and pamphlets spread across my dining room table during the months it took me to apply to the Peace Corps. They sent back my dental X-rays and told me get all my wisdom teeth preemptively removed. I bargained them down to two.

I’m sure some of this stuff is just as demanding as it was back then -- or maybe even more so -- but then you get to go work some place you couldn’t have imagined and you may find yourself speaking a language you’d never considered.

It’s a great opportunity, and I’m glad paperwork is no longer such an obstacle.