Do I need a college degree to serve in the Peace Corps? (Part 1)

By Ashley Lenihan
Sept. 23, 2015

Since its founding in 1961, nearly 220,000 American men and women have responded to the call to serve in the Peace Corps. 

They have lived and worked side by side with people in more than 60 countries around the world. That same spirit of peace and friendship through service inspired nearly 23,000 individuals to apply for a Peace Corps assignment last year.

Applying to become a Peace Corps Volunteer is a competitive process, and many positions have minimum education, work/volunteer experience and/or language requirements to qualify for consideration. However, there are assignments that accept professionals with a wealth of work experience in place of a degree. 

Posted positions that are currently accepting applicants with significant work experience in place of a degree include: Business Advisor, NGO Advisor, Health Educator, Urban Youth Development Volunteer, Agribusiness Development Specialist, Agriculture Extension Volunteer, Water and Sanitation Extension Volunteer, Community Health Outreach Specialist, and more in Central Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central and South America. 

In order for your work experience to qualify, it should be specifically related to the position you are seeking. 

Did you build your own business from the ground up? You could be a great Business Advisor. 

Have you been counseling at-risk youth full-time for several years? Perhaps you could be an Urban Youth Development Volunteer. 

Are you a current RN with an associate's degree in nursing or a LPN/LVN with post-license experience and demonstrated interested in community health? You should look into several of our different Health openings. 

Many people ask why the Peace Corps requires a four-year college degree for most of its positions. As Peace Corps serves at the invitation of host country governments, host nations have the right to identify their own needs and may choose to set a degree requirement. A college degree may even be a requirement to obtain a work visa in some countries. 

In other cases, the need identified may be highly technical (such as Math and Science Teachers, Teacher Trainers and Natural Resources Conservation and Management), so Peace Corps Volunteers with technical education and qualifications are required to fill the need. Completing a four-year college degree program in good standing also gives applicants experience in areas essential to successful Peace Corps service: exposure to new ideas, problem analysis and solving, analytical writing, communication, creativity, critical thinking and how to break apart complex issues. 

Nonetheless, Peace Corps welcomes the wealth of work experience Americans bring with demonstrated skills in these areas in lieu of a degree. As such, many openings on our website for the two-year program permit applicants to qualify through their work experience. 

Another potential option for experienced adults without a four-year degree is Peace Corps Response. Peace Corps Response recruits U.S. citizens with significant work experience, as well as returned Peace Corps Volunteers, for short-term, high-impact assignments. Peace Corps Response positions are streamlined and designed for Volunteers to hit the ground running. Many of these positions may have an education requirement, but several each year do not. In the past year, Peace Corps Response has had openings for a Small Business Specialist, a Water and Sanitation Specialist, an Agriculture Technical Advisor, a Technology Transfer Specialist, an Organizational Development Specialist and more which did not have a degree requirement. These positions are posted and filled on a rolling basis, so it’s important to review the open positions on our website regularly. 

Read part 2: How to apply to the Peace Corps without a degree

Explore current openings and connect with a recruiter to get started.

Co-authored by Nanayaa Kumi. Nanayaa joined Peace Corps Response in January 2009.  She has been committed to public service since serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer in D.C. public schools. Nanayaa has been recruiting for public service programs for the last 8 years and prior to working at Peace Corps encouraged students and professionals alike to serve as educators at WorldTeach and Building Excellent Schools. She has seen firsthand the power of Peace Corps Volunteers to make a difference in the lives of those they serve as her parents were both taught by Volunteers in Ghana when the program first started in 1961. She is honored to now serve returned Peace Corps Volunteers and other experienced professionals as a Recruitment and Placement Specialist with Peace Corps Response.

Nanayaa has a B.A. from Georgetown University and a master’s in education policy and management from Harvard University.  In her free time she loves to travel, hike, read and explore all the cultural richness D.C. has to offer.

Ashley Lenihan

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