How to Write a Fantastic Peace Corps Application Essay

PC Essay

Your best source for help with your Peace Corps essay is your local PC recruiter. They will give you one-on-one feedback that’s directly applicable to your country of service. Before you meet with them, I (Christina) have put together a few tips to help you start thinking about how to write a strong application statement. I worked for my university as a writing tutor, and I love helping people become stronger writers. The advice in this post is based on trends I’ve noticed after spending far too much time on Peace Corps forums and reading essays posted by hopeful applicants. I hope you find it helpful!

The Peace Corps Essay Prompt

Peace Corps service presents major physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges. In the space below, please provide a few paragraphs explaining your reasons for wanting to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer and how you plan to overcome the various challenges associated with Peace Corps service (less than 500 words).

Note: You may have seen other prompts or references to writing two essays in other PC blogs. In mid-2014, PC changed their overall application process. Today, applicants use the above prompt and only write one essay. Congratulations!

Answer the Prompt

This prompt is asking you to do two things: a) explain why you want to join the Peace Corps and b) explain how you plan to deal with the challenges of serving. After you’ve written your essay, ask someone to read it then quickly summarize why you want to join PC and what coping skills you’ll use. If your reader can’t understand your motivations and potential strategies, you need to revise.

Strong: “I want to join the Peace Corps to continue my lifetime dedication to community service and build skills to use throughout my non-profit career.”

Needs Improvement: “It was Gandhi who said ‘We must be the change we wish to see in the world.’ These words have inspired me through a lifetime of service. Volunteering is an important part of my life. Ever since I was a young child, I helped my community.”

Don’t Summarize Your Resume

The Placement Officer will read your resume, so don’t waste space rehashing it. You’re not writing a cover letter. You can briefly cover your most relevant experience if you’re explaining how it’s motivated you to join PC.

Strong: “Working at a local clinic made me realize my passion for health education and led me to the Peace Corps.”

Needs Improvement: “I worked at a clinic for six months and educated patients on hand-washing hygiene. I also updated records and won Employee of the Month twice.”

Keep It Simple

This essay is not an evaluation of your writing skills. I understand why so many applicants fall into this trap. You’re used to writing in an academic style and trying to impress your professors. Now you want to impress the Peace Corps and make sure you get accepted. That means using ten-dollar words, compound sentences, and important quotes, right? No. This essay is only an evaluation of why you want to join PC and how you plan to cope with the challenges. That’s it. Your content is much more important than your presentation.

Strong: “I look forward to meeting the challenges of Peace Corps service just as I have met other challenges.”

Needs Improvement: “Throughout my existence I have striven to overcome any and every challenge I have encountered; it is only through struggle that our souls are refined into their strongest form.”

Don’t Skip the Challenges

Many essays I’ve read skip over the “how you plan to overcome the various challenges associated with PC” section of the prompt. Don’t do this! At least 30% of your essay should show that you understand some potential issues you might face as a PCV and you’ve thought about how to handle them. Here are a few potential challenges to help you start brainstorming:

  • What gender roles does your potential country of service have? How are they different from your culture’s values?
  • Will you be bothered by street harassment like catcalling, begging, or namecalling?
  • “Why don’t you have children? Why aren’t you married?” Are you ready to answer these questions every single day for 2 years?
  • Have you ever lived alone and managed your own household? Will this be hard for you?
  • Will you miss your friends and family? How can you handle being isolated from them?
  • How will you live without electricity or running water?
  • Can you adjust to a culture with a different sense of time? Are you a Type-A person?
  • If you have a different racial background than your potential country of service, how might this impact your experience?
  • Many countries view Americans as primarily white. If you’re a volunteer of color, how can you navigate this situation?
  • How will you deal with living in a country where your sexual orientation is illegal or socially taboo?
  • Can you thrive in a work environment with limited structure where you have to initiate your own projects?
  • Will your socioeconomic background impact your service?

Why Peace Corps?

Show that you understand why Peace Corps is unique. If you’re applying for an education position, why Peace Corps instead of WorldTeach or professional ESL teaching? If you’re applying for health, why Peace Corps instead of volunteering at a clinic? Ag applicants, why not just WWOOF your way across Europe? You get the point.

Strong: “I admire the Peace Corps’ commitment to sustainable development on a community level”

Needs Improvement: “I want to help people live better lives so Peace Corps is a great fit for me!”

Remember that Placement Officers (POs) love the Peace Corps! They are all former volunteers who chose to work for the agency after finishing their service. If you show strong passion for joining the PC, you will get major brownie points with your PO.

Peace Corps Isn’t a Travel Agency

Don’t talk about travel extensively. Yes, PC gives you opportunities to see a new part of the world through a new lens, but you aren’t going to be spending every weekend in a new country. You’ll mostly be in one quiet village.

It’s okay to mention that soul-finding trip to India or your study abroad trip to Ghana IF you reflect on how that travel led you to PC.

Strong: “I want to learn to see the world in a different way, and that means meeting people from different backgrounds and exploring their perspectives. My first experience doing so was when I lived in Thailand for six months, where I discovered my passion for education… ”

Needs Improvement: “I love to travel and Peace Corps Tanzania will make it easy to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, relax on the beaches of Zanzibar, and visit the DRC.”

Skip the Quotes

Think carefully before quoting anyone. You only have 500 words; is a quote the best way to help you answer the two questions PC is asking you? What does it tell the reader about you specifically?

Edit Out Generic Statements

If you have space in your essay for generic comments like “Service is important in every community” or “I believe everyone deserves basic human rights,” you haven’t fully answered the 2 prompts. Replace these platitudes with stronger evidence for why you’ll be an amazing volunteer. It can be hard to find vague sentences on your own, so ask a friend or professor to help analyze your essay.

Even if you’re using these statements as topic sentences (aka the first sentence in a paragraph), you can polish them up. Try adding personal details or interpretations. Instead of “everyone deserves human rights,” consider “I have a commitment to seeing everyone access the human rights they enjoy. My undergraduate degree in Political Science taught me the complexities of human rights work around the world. My three months in Ghana inspired my passion for working with young girls. The Peace Corps will provide a platform to empower girls through education.” You’re still discussing human rights, but you’re letting the reader know why human rights are important to your PC hopes.

Your essay is a vital part of your application, but don’t be anxious. Take a few days to think critically about your reasons for wanting to join Peace Corps, follow the tips in this post, and ask a colleague or recruiter to review your essay with you. Just remember: your Peace Corps application essay is a chance to convince the Placement Officer that you’ll be a great volunteer — not that you’re a great writer. If you have good reasons for wanting to join and have done your research into the Peace Corps, I know you can write a great essay for your application.

Christopher and I have posted our own essays  so you can see some of these tips in use — and also see that you can become a Peace Corps volunteer even if your essay isn’t perfect.

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