The Peace Corps' Shortage of Applicants

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The Peace Corps boasts that it receives a great many initial applications for Volunteer service. It’s recently announced, for example, that applications are up “70%.”

However, according to the most recent statistics released by the Peace Corps to Wiki under the Freedom of Information Act, the agency has no current surplus of applicants who are medically qualified to become Peace Corps Volunteers. Only medically fit applicants can become Volunteers, so emphasizing the size of the initial applicant pool can be irrelevant and misleading.

Indeed, for the Peace Corps to tout how many initial “applicants” they have before the medical screening process may be intentionally misleading. The Peace Corps knows that applicants might lose interest in joining if they hear that the agency is having trouble filling its slots.

What the Shortage of Applicants Means

The truth is that the selectivity of Volunteers is minimal – other than to determine if the applicant is medically fit. One hundred percent of the applicants who are medically fit are invited to training and service as a Volunteer.

This means that applicants who are medically fit could have virtually unlimited leverage with the Peace Corps to control the placement process. They could, for example, insist on being sent to a country with a low early quit rate and with the best survey responses from the Volunteers (these results are posted on the Wiki). The Peace Corps could then no longer say, “If you don’t accept this offer, there might not be another.” If no surplus exists, that warning is merely a ruse. The Peace Corps has no surplus of applicants it can turn to if one applicant become selective and refuses to adhere to the script of the bureaucrats.

Applicants should have no fear of insisting that they be placed in a country with a low early quit rate and strongly positive ratings from the annual survey of Volunteers. The potential power rests with the applicants. This is a case where the buyer is king. In the commercial market place, if sellers outnumber buyers, the buyers are usually king. That’s the situation with the Peace Corps application process.

The Peace Corps has tacitly acknowledged this situation with its recent statement that it will now – as it never has before – seek to honor the country and program requests of the applicants, seek to expedite the onerous medical screening process, and otherwise cater to the applicants. See

In addition to a shortage of applications, the number of Peace Corps Volunteers in the field seems to be declining in real terms. In 2009, 4,188 Volunteers entered service; in 2010, 4,338; in 2011, only 3,431; and in 2012, 2,871. This implies that the problem is more than the absence of a surplus; the Peace Corps is contracting.

Would an individual want to attend a college that could barely fill its freshman class and accepted 100% of the applicants? Or is not able to fill its Freshman class? What would this lack of selectivity mean in terms of the quality of their classmates and the value of the degree?

Background of the Data

Six years ago PC Wiki received data from the Peace Corps – via a FOIA request – that in FY 2007 the Peace Corps received 11,108 applications, but only 4,588 survived the medical and legal clearance process to become “qualified.” Of this pool, 4,408 were invited to training. This means that of this pool of “qualified” applicants, 96% or all but 180 were invited to training. The ratio of those who were medically and legally cleared to those who were invited to training was 1.04 to 1.

Pursuant to the same FOIA request, Wiki found that in FY 2008 the Peace Corps reported that it received 13,041 applications, but only 4,265 survived the medical and legal clearance process to become “qualified.” Of this pool, 4,123 were invited to training. This means that from this pool of “qualified” applicants, 96.7% or all but 142 were invited to training. The ratio of those who were medically cleared to those who were invited to training was 1.03 to 1.

When the Wiki filed a FOIA request to update this data, it was absolutely clear what we wanted. Indeed, PC Wiki cited the data it had previously received from the Peace Corps as the template for what it was asking in the new request. Nonetheless, the Peace Corps dissembled for six months – repeatedly misconstruing the request for what was being sought and forwarding the wrong data in an obvious attempt to hide the facts about the applicant pool shortage.

The Peace Corps finally complied with FOIA and provided current data that show that in 2009 89% of the applicants who were medically fit were invited to training and service; in 2010, 87%; in 2011, 90%; and in 2012, 99%. Indeed, in 2012, only 16 of the applicants who were found to be medically fit were not invited to training and service. Printed below is the table from which these percentages are derived.

A Shortage of Applicants Means Lack of Selectivity

The lack of selectivity at the Peace Corps compares unfavorably with the acceptance rate for Teach for America, which also involves a two-year service commitment. In 2011 it received a record number of 48,000 applications. The organization selected 5,200 applicants to be teachers — 77 percent graduated this spring, 6 percent of them graduate students and 17 percent professionals. In 2010 the organization received 46,000 applications and accepted 12 percent.

The fact that the Peace Corps is not selective – other than for medical fitness – means that it cannot select the applicants who have the greatest commitment to grassroots development assistance, those with the deepest experience of immersion in a foreign culture, or those with particularly useful skills. The absence of selectivity means that the Peace Corps is taking in many who will quit early – one explanation for the high and costly early quit rates.

The bottom line for applicants is clear. Applicants have power. They can insist that they be sent to a country with a low early quit rate and superior ratings from the annual surveys of Volunteers. PC Wiki recommends that applicants insist on their requests, and, if they are not honored, that their applications be placed on hold until they are honored.

The Peace Corps may complain that these statistics are not the most current, but it has the power to publish the most current statistics. It could admit that it has an application shortage. It could admit that it is unable to be selective, other than for medical fitness.


As for PC Wiki, we have found that securing data from the Peace Corps under the Freedom of Information Act to be so difficult that no additional FOIA requests for updates of the selectivity/application data will be filed. Wiki urges applicants to request the most current data from their recruitment officers. (Applicants should seek the percentage of applicants who have survived the medical screening process who are invited to training.) If the placement officer won’t provide the current statistics, applicants should put their applications on hold until the Peace Corps becomes transparent with applicants.

The reason that Wiki is publishing these data is to encourage the Peace Corps to intervene to reform the poorly managed programs. If applicants use the data to become selective and to employ their latent power arising from the shortage of applicants, the Peace Corps may have to reform the poorly managed programs. Wiki is attempting to use market forces – consumer demand – to drive reform. Applicants have power, both to secure an invitation to serve in a well managed country and also to encourage the Peace Corps to overhaul the poorly managed countries.

Applicant Pool Data: 2009 - 2012

Applicant Cohort Actions - FY 2009-2012

Follows a cohort of applicants that applied during a particular fiscal year through the application process

Fiscal Year Number of Applicants Applicants Who Were Nominated Applicants Who Were Medically and Legally Qualified Applicants Who Were Invited for Service Applicants with an Active Status (The number of applicants in each cohort that are active as of 4.7.2014 who may still advance through the application process) Applicants Who Entered on Duty
2009 14,647 8,109 4,735 4,201 2 4,188
2010 12,881 8,326 4,981 4,353 9 4,338
2011 11,847 6,616 3,940 3,549 14 3,431
2012 10,526 5,469 3,759 3,743 559 2,871