Peace Corps applications from UT hit all-time high

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kristi Stillwell

Applications from UT students to join the Peace Corps surged to an all-time high for the 2015 fiscal year, according to UT Peace Corps recruiter Kristi Stillwell. 

More than 120 UT students applied to join the international service organization during the time period, reflecting a larger national trend of increasing applications, Stillwell said. During the fiscal year, Peace Corps received a record-setting 23,000 applications, marking the highest amount of applications received since 1975. The 23,000 applicants in 2015 are vying for approximately 3,500 positions, according to Stillwell. Currently there are 6,818 Peace Corps volunteers and trainees in 64 host countries worldwide.

UT has consistently ranked in the top 20 Peace Corps volunteer producing universities with an average of 70 Peace Corps volunteers from UT serving each year. Stillwell said the increase in applicants is partially due to the downturn in the economy and millennials looking for a different experience, but is mostly an affect of changes in the application process itself.

“Now in Peace Corps … we give applicants choice in what they want to do and where they want to go,” Stillwell said. “It’s a lot shorter and a lot easier to the application now. Now, if you apply, you are going to know in 60 days — yes or no — if you got in, which is a really short time period, and that’s really attractive to people.”

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said in an October press release that these high application numbers indicate Americans are interested in serving diverse communities around the world. 

“Today’s Americans, from all walks of life, are ready to put their skills to work making a difference, and when given the opportunity to make their mark on the world, they will raise their hands to serve in record numbers,” Hessler-Radelet said.

Linguistics junior Becka Law, who works in the UT Peace Corps office as a student assistant to Stillwell, said she is starting a new club which will focus on making future applicants more competitive for the Peace Corps. Law said she plans to apply to serve in the Corps after graduation.

“One of our main goals is to facilitate opportunities, particularly volunteer-oriented ones, for students who are interested in joining the Peace Corps to hone skills that not only make them a more competitive applicant, but also better prepared for a more globalized world and workforce,” Law said. 

Stillwell served in Burkina Faso, West Africa, from 1999 to 2001 as a health volunteer after she attended the University of New Mexico for an undergraduate degree in nutrition and masters in public administration. 

“I worked on all kinds of different health projects related to HIV/AIDS, malaria, hygiene and sanitation,” Stillwell said. “[I assisted with] lots of different projects to try to keep the community healthy where I served.”

While Stillwell acknowledges that serving in the Peace Corps is not for everyone, she said she is excited that more people are taking an interest and applying to serve. 

“It’s a life changing experience, it’s life-defining for most people,” Stillwell said. “It sets your path in terms of career or other choices that you make down the road. We have never claimed that Peace Corps is easy. It’s not, it’s very challenging, but of course, it’s also very rewarding.”