I know when I was in the middle of the long, sometimes frustrating Peace Corps application process, I wondered if I was the only one who was running into issues, waiting around forever for medical pre-clearance, etc.
So I thought I would post about how my Peace Corps application process went, so that those currently applying (or thinking about applying) to the Peace Corps can have a sense of what to expect (although I can’t say my process was typical). And although the Peace Corps seems to change the application process around occasionally (they changed it right before I applied, and they’re apparently changing it a bit now), I think the general process is the same. (Note: this is a long post, appropriate for my long application process.)
- Late September, 2012: Started working on the online application. You may notice that this is pretty early considering I’m not actually leaving until late May 2014, but there’s a reason for that. I’m a Master’s International student, and the MI program at my school strongly encouraged us to apply ASAP (i.e., our first semester), so I did. The plan was to be finished with the classes for my degree program by December 2013, so on the application I put my earliest departure date as January 1, 2014. But for reasons I will mention later, that obviously got pushed way back.
- October 5, 2012: Submitted my application and completed the Health History Form online.
- October 16, 2012: Received an email stating that the Peace Corps was prioritizing applicants who would be departing for programs in April, May, and June of 2013, so to expect delays in the next steps of my application process. Apparently this is fairly common in the Peace Corps, and because at that time I was still well over a year from my earliest departure date, I wasn’t really worried.
- Late October/early November, 2012: All 3 of my references submitted their recommendation forms.
- January 11, 2013: Received a call from a recruiter to set up my phone interview. Because the closest Peace Corps Regional Office was in Dallas, and I was in New Orleans, my interview was over the phone, but applicants who live near one of the Regional Offices would have their interview in person.
- January 23, 2013: Had my phone interview. And killed it! Of course, I had prepared ahead of time with the handy-dandy list of possible interview questions on the Peace Corps Wiki.
- January 25, 2013: Received my official nomination for Peace Corps service “for assignments departing in the January 2014 to March 2014 timeframe”! Now on to the legal and medical pre-clearance!
- Later in the day on January 25, 2013: So, the same day I receive my nomination, the Medical Office sends me an email telling me I have a request for documentation on my Medical Applicant Portal and 30 days to send in the requested documentation or else my medical review would be put in an inactive status. It was a request for my doctor to fill out a form about a chronic medical condition that I was taking a prescription medication for. I had been expecting the Medical Office to ask for more documentation on that medical condition, so I wasn’t surprised and got the form filled out and uploaded to my portal in a couple weeks.
- Early February, 2013: Received my legal kit in the mail, containing the forms to complete a background check and get fingerprints done within 30 days. Most police departments will do fingerprints for free, but (of course) the New Orleans police department did not, so I had to get mine done at a place that charged me like $20 each (you have to get 2 sets of prints done). And then I found out later that one of the hospitals nearby does fingerprinting for free. Just my luck.
- March through May, 2013: A whole lot of nothing happened during this time period. No contact from the Peace Corps at all except to say that they had received the requested documentation and were reviewing it.
- June 18, 2013: Still no word, and while browsing my Medical Applicant Portal to make sure I hadn’t missed anything on it, I read something about how an applicant’s status changes from “Nominated” to “Medically Pre-Cleared” once the Medical Office had reviewed all their info and given them pre-clearance. Well, my status was still listed as “Nominated,” when I had assumed that I’d been medically pre-cleared given that the Medical Office hadn’t asked for any more information from me. I wouldn’t have been so worried, except for the fact that most of the other people in the MI program at my school who had been nominated around the same time as me had already received their medical pre-clearance months ago. So I send the Medical Office a message through the portal asking what was taking so long.
- June 19, 2013: A pre-service nurse messages me back saying that “due to an extremely large number of applicants who had to be cleared for overseas departure in May, June and July a decision was made to hold off on pre-clearing applicants” such as myself. She then proceeds to tell me that, in fact, my file had not been reviewed at all, and to keep waiting. Ok then…
- July 26, 2013: Well, I kept waiting, and finally received…another request for documentation. The Medical Office now wanted an updated form regarding my medical condition, because the one I had submitted back in February was apparently not current enough (of course it’s not gonna be current if you wait 5 months to look at it!). So I get that filled out by my doctor and uploaded to my portal within a week, expecting things to finally start moving along.
- August 18, 2013: I had not heard from the Medical Office for a few weeks, so I send them another message asking if there was any more documentation they needed to move me along (and hinted that I was kind of frustrated that I still hadn’t received my medical pre-clearance after almost 7 months and my concern that I wouldn’t be able to leave during the January-March 2014 timeframe that I had been nominated for). A pre-service nurse again responds that there’s a back-log of applicants waiting to be reviewed and that there are many people in the same situation as myself. But the nurse tells me that she is “quite sure that this department will have an answer for [me] this week.” Meanwhile, several people in my MI program who were scheduled to leave around the same time as me have already gotten their placements!
- August 30, 2013: Obviously the week had passed without any word from the Medical Office, so I send them another message (by this point, I’m sure they’ve black-listed me or something for sending them so many messages), asking if any progress had been made. A couple days later, a nurse responds that she does “not believe [I was] told [I] would have an answer in a week. ” You know, despite that the record of all my previous conversations with the Medical Office was right there in my portal saying otherwise.
- September 9, 2013: I receive an email saying there’s another task in my Medical Applicant Portal. I won’t go into too much detail here, as things got pretty complicated at this point, but apparently the Medical Officer who finally read the document I had uploaded back at the end of July misinterpreted something my doctor had wrote regarding my prescription medication, and the Medical Officer thought that I was stopping that medication. So the new task was for me to wait 3 months and have my doctor evaluate me again in December to make sure that I was doing fine without the medication. Except, of course, that I was NOT stopping my medication and had no plans to do so, which I told the nurse after I finally figured out what the confusion was about. The nurse said she would tell the advisor about that.
- September 30, 2013: No word from the Medical Office, so I send another message asking what the deal is. The nurse says she will send the advisor another note about my case…
- October 1, 2013: …And the very next day the federal government shuts down. Awesome. As if I hadn’t already had enough set-backs.
- October 23, 2013: The federal government started back up and I waited a week before contacting the Medical Office again, knowing that they would be trying to make up for the lost time during the shut-down. The nurse again tells me she will contact the advisor regarding my case.
- October 29, 2013: Two more tasks show up in my Medical Applicant Portal. Apparently the advisor didn’t believe me when I said I was still taking my medication, as the new tasks are to upload a copy of my pharmacy records for the past 6 months showing that I’ve still been taking it, and a signed note from my doctor explaining that I’m still taking the medication and that his plan for me is to continue taking it throughout my Peace Corps service. I obtain these and upload them within a week. By this point, I’ve long-since given up hope that I would be departing during my original timeframe, while almost everyone else in my MI class has gotten their placements and started getting excited about their departures.
- November, 2013: I send a couple more messages to the nurse asking for any updates, and even give the Medical Office a call. No one answers, so I leave a message.
- November 19, 2013: I finally receive my medical pre-clearance! Only took 10 months!
- December 3, 2013: I call the Placement Office to make sure that they had received my file from the Medical Office and that there wasn’t anything else I needed to do. Again, no one answered, so I left a message. This time, someone called me back within the hour and said he was planning to send me another form to fill out in a few days, but that since I had called he would go ahead and send it to me then. I received the email detailing what else I needed to do before I could get a placement (namely, upload an updated resume, a new transcript, and complete a question sheet regarding the requirements of my MI program and my expectations for Peace Corps service). Of course, this is right before I have tons of final papers and projects due in my classes, so I’m swamped enough as it is.
- December 9, 2013: I submit the requested documentation and email the Health Desk of the Placement Office to see if they can give me an estimate of how long it should take to receive a placement. They tell me that I’m now being considered for departures between April and June of 2014 (they try to give you your placement at least 4 months before your departure, so obviously my initial departure timeframe was out of the question at this point), and tell me that I should hear from them with a placement “in the near future.”
- December 15, 2013: I had finished all my classes for my master’s degree program, and so had no more reason to stay in New Orleans. I move back home to Atlanta to await my placement and eventual departure. As the holidays were approaching, I was not expecting to hear from the Peace Corps about a placement until after the start of the new year.
- December 20, 2013: I almost have a heart attack when I check my email and see a note titled “Peace Corps – Invitation!” Could it be?! Yes, it is! “Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Mongolia for Peace Corps service as a Health Extension Volunteer.” Halle-freakin’-lujah!!!
So, this would be how I ended up applying 15 months prior to my earliest possible departure date but not being scheduled to depart until 5 months after that date. In summary:
- Application submitted to nomination received: < 4 months
- Nomination received to medically pre-cleared: almost 10 months
- Medically pre-cleared to invitation received: 1 month
And this is why the Peace Corps application process can suck for people who have even one minor medical issue (or maybe I seriously was black-listed for contacting them so much).