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Do You Need a College Degree to Serve in the Peace Corps?

by Barbara Bean-Mellinger

Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, its mission has been to promote world peace and friendship while helping people build better lives for themselves. Peace Corps volunteers have worked in over 139 countries through the years. Although most volunteer positions require a college degree, a small number of people are hired without degrees when they have direct experience that will enable them to provide valuable contributions in the position.

A Matter of Degrees

Acceptance into the Peace Corps is competitive. Approximately 90 percent of Peace Corps volunteer positions require a bachelor's degree. Applicants with associate's degrees or no degree compete for the other 10 percent of volunteer positions. Those with an associate's degree should have relevant work experience that makes them good candidates to help in youth development, health and HIV/AIDS, business/information/communication technology, agriculture and environment, and skilled trades. People with no degree should have three to five years' of full-time work experience in one of these areas or in construction or nonprofit organizations.

Speak the Language

Speaking another language is not a requirement for the Peace Corps; however, fluency or at least significant study of a foreign language enhances an applicant's chances of being selected as a volunteer. Spanish and French are the languages needed most often. Significant study of a different language also shows an ability to learn languages. The Peace Corps does have language training for those who haven't studied the language in a few years and need a refresher course.

Specialized Skills

Through the years, Peace Corps recruiters have come to know the types of experience volunteers need to successfully perform each volunteer job. They encourage interested applicants to get the experience they need before applying or even during the application process to become more competitive candidates. For example, teachers are needed to teach English in many areas, so someone with a teaching degree and teaching experience would be competitive. An applicant without a teaching degree could gain experience by tutoring in an established community program. For agricultural positions, volunteering at a family farm or nursery would be good experience, while volunteering at a health clinic would help candidates qualify for health information positions.

The Wisdom of the Ages

At a minimum, Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old. No upper age limit exists, however, and in fact, the Peace Corps welcomes retirees for the wisdom and experience they've gained through years of living. The regular Peace Corps assignment lasts 27 months. The Peace Corps Response program needs seasoned professionals -- those with at least 10 years of experience -- to serve after disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. These assignments typically last three months to one year.

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