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How does peacecorps look on an application?

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I begin my "service" in the "corps" on feb 8, wherein I'll be teaching math to secondary students in Iganda. I applied because I wanted to do Peace-corps for its own sake, not even considering how it would look on my resume. But browsing law school forums I got the impression that their admission committees look favorably on it. So how about in the sciences? I'm not a terrible applicant as is (High gpa from a State School and one good letter but zero research experience). My tentative plan is be applying for master's/phd programs in Physics and Math when I get back.

P.S. Specifically I'm interested in applying to Master's programs in Canada (at Waterloo, UofT, and UBC) so anyone who has experience with Canadian institutions should also chime in.

P.P.S. I know lots of people will mention that I'll forget everything I've ever learned in 2 years but I'm bringing essentially an undergraduates degree worth of textbooks (textbooks I haven't already worked through) with me. I'm expecting to get a lot of work done because there won't be any distractions.
 

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  • #2
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What exactly do you want us to do? We can't read the minds of whoever is on your committee, and besides, you're already committed to this course of action. What could we tell you?
 
  • #3
Different committee members will probably look at it differently. It won't fill any holes in your application, and some might view the "gap" unfavorably, but showing you have experience teaching is usually a minor good point -- as many accepted students will probably begin graduate school for the first term or year with teaching assistance stipends (teaching labs, leading recitations or doing minor grading) rather than research assistance stipends (beginning their thesis research).
 
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  • #4
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As Vanadium says: we can't read the minds of the committee. But I'm guessing that it won't look bad on an application...

P.P.S. I know lots of people will mention that I'll forget everything I've ever learned in 2 years but I'm bringing essentially an undergraduates degree worth of textbooks (textbooks I haven't already worked through) with me. I'm expecting to get a lot of work done because there won't be any distractions.
Be sure to mention this on your application. Saying that you read a lot of textbooks in the meanwhile will give the committee the impression that you're serious about your education. It's a good thing!
 
  • #5
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What exactly do you want us to do? We can't read the minds of whoever is on your committee, and besides, you're already committed to this course of action. What could we tell you?
just participate in a discussion. i didn't think that was too much to ask.
 
  • #6
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Suppose we told you "nobody cares"? What would you do differently?
Suppose we told you "they would love it?" What would you do differently?

You've told us the answer to this is "nothing" - you still plan to join. So even if we knew the reaction from the committee - which we don't and can't - nothing would change. This is the Academic Guidance forum. What guidance are you looking for?
 
  • #7
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Probably nothing. It won't hurt you (the lack of research hurts more) but it won't help. It's like an extracurricular and committees don't give a damn about those. All they want to know is that you are good and science and math and you can produce good research once you're there.
 
  • #8
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Suppose we told you "nobody cares"? What would you do differently?
Suppose we told you "they would love it?" What would you do differently?

You've told us the answer to this is "nothing" - you still plan to join. So even if we knew the reaction from the committee - which we don't and can't - nothing would change. This is the Academic Guidance forum. What guidance are you looking for?
isn't the answer obvious? if someone posted in this thread "such and such adcom is really receptive to peacecorps volunteers" i would research that school more closely.
 
  • #9
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If someone posted that, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

First, to first order, the admission committees are looking at just one thing - how likely is it that you will be successful in graduate school. They are not looking for breadth, or diversity, or "campus leaders". They are trying to pick people who won't wash out.

Second, and more importantly, the admissions committee is an admissions committee. Every year, the department chair appoints a handful of people to do this. Because of this turnover, even if it were a known fact that Institution X just loves peace corps alums, it would not necessarily be true two years later.
 
  • #10
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When applying to grad school I was told the following: If you're going to take a year off school, make sure you can show you did something useful during that time. In this respect, you're fine.

In the Humanities, I'm told that graduate committees tend to look favorably on applicants who have done some type of work with people out in the real world. Sciences, on the other hand, seem pretty neutral in regards to the matter.

I don't think the peace core will help or hurt you when applying for a science graduate degree. It won't make up for a bad GRE or GPA or a lack of research experience, but I doubt is going to think "This guy isn't serious about science since he went into the peace corp instead of going straight to grad school." Other than possibly being rusty on the science when you get back, I don't think the peace corp will hurt your future academic career.
 
  • #11
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OP- I am strongly considering doing what you are doing (I am a junior now). Just one thing is bugging me...I have very little formal community service hours! I am in a lot of extracurriculars like Nourish International and STAND, so I spend plenty of time "working" with human rights violations (like hunger and poverty, pertinent to Peace Corps). However I don't spend much time volunteering in my community, and hours spent on extracurriculars is not documented as community service. Any idea how bad this hurts my chances?

Vanadium- I do think this is a useful thread. For example, one could see it more of a "should I go to graduate school" thread. If Peace Corps was highly frowned upon as a waste of two years and a signal that a student is not serious about research, then it could be worthy guidance for OP (and me) in which case we would have to consider paths other than graduate school more strongly.
 
  • #12
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I would echo the sentiments that it likely won't be a major factor for admission to a gradute program. Teaching experience is a plus though. Don't expect any points to be given for "reading textbooks" because there is no way of differentiating between someone who has worked through every problem in the book from someone who glanced at the pictures. I'm not saying don't do it though, brushing up is always a good idea.

If you will have time on your hands, you may also want to read some papers in the field you're interested in and come up with your own ideas for a graduate project. While it may not help with admissions, it will be handy once you're in.
 
  • #13
lisab
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I begin my "service" in the "corps" on feb 8, wherein I'll be teaching math to secondary students in Iganda. I applied because I wanted to do Peace-corps for its own sake, not even considering how it would look on my resume. But browsing law school forums I got the impression that their admission committees look favorably on it. So how about in the sciences? I'm not a terrible applicant as is (High gpa from a State School and one good letter but zero research experience). My tentative plan is be applying for master's/phd programs in Physics and Math when I get back.

P.S. Specifically I'm interested in applying to Master's programs in Canada (at Waterloo, UofT, and UBC) so anyone who has experience with Canadian institutions should also chime in.

P.P.S. I know lots of people will mention that I'll forget everything I've ever learned in 2 years but I'm bringing essentially an undergraduates degree worth of textbooks (textbooks I haven't already worked through) with me. I'm expecting to get a lot of work done because there won't be any distractions.
Good for you, I had dreams of going into the PeaceCorps at one point but life had other plans for me.

I think what others have said here is probably correct, that the effect will be neutral or very small. But really, everyone is just making a guess, there's no telling what the effect will be. So, it's a little risk...should it matter? I know this sounds a bit sappy, but you're more than just an aspiring grad student. I bet your experiences in the Corps willl have a profound impact on developing your character and world view. Also it will be a rich source of memories for the rest of your life. Maybe I'm projecting a bit, but I doubt you will regret it.

Best of luck to you!
 
  • #14
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OP- I am strongly considering doing what you are doing (I am a junior now). Just one thing is bugging me...I have very little formal community service hours! I am in a lot of extracurriculars like Nourish International and STAND, so I spend plenty of time "working" with human rights violations (like hunger and poverty, pertinent to Peace Corps). However I don't spend much time volunteering in my community, and hours spent on extracurriculars is not documented as community service. Any idea how bad this hurts my chances?

Vanadium- I do think this is a useful thread. For example, one could see it more of a "should I go to graduate school" thread. If Peace Corps was highly frowned upon as a waste of two years and a signal that a student is not serious about research, then it could be worthy guidance for OP (and me) in which case we would have to consider paths other than graduate school more strongly.
are you a STEM major? do you have good grades? Then you're in. I had zero volunteer, community, leadership, whatever experience and I got in. I'll say I did make them believe I had teaching experience (which I did just informal) without verifying though I don't know how much that helped. I got the impression that there are not many STEM major applicants.
 
  • #15
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are you a STEM major? do you have good grades? Then you're in. I had zero volunteer, community, leadership, whatever experience and I got in. I'll say I did make them believe I had teaching experience (which I did just informal) without verifying though I don't know how much that helped. I got the impression that there are not many STEM major applicants.
Yeah I'm physics. Not sure if I have "good" grades, I'll probably end up with around a 3.6 . Maybe I'll try to grab some tutoring experience then.
 
  • #16
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Yeah I'm physics. Not sure if I have "good" grades, I'll probably end up with around a 3.6 . Maybe I'll try to grab some tutoring experience then.
i have a ~3.7 so that's good enough and like i said i didn't prove to them in anyway that i had tutoring experience except just telling them that i did.
 
  • #17
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i have a ~3.7 so that's good enough and like i said i didn't prove to them in anyway that i had tutoring experience except just telling them that i did.
They don't ask for hours or time sheets? That's interesting.
 
  • #18
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Any idea how bad this hurts my chances?
Chances of what?

I'm going to put on my "grumpy old man" hat, and say that the fact that you've asked the question in the way that you have makes me wonder if society has just made a bad left turn somewhere. Everything seems to be this game in which the goal is to get some prize at the end.

If you want to spend your time feeding the hungry, then that's great. If it turns out that no one knows that you fed the hungry, or if feeding the hungry actually hurts you career-wise, personally, I have even more respect for you.

If Peace Corps was highly frowned upon as a waste of two years and a signal that a student is not serious about research, then it could be worthy guidance for OP (and me) in which case we would have to consider paths other than graduate school more strongly.
OK, the answer is it's impossible to tell. The reaction from an admissions committee to you going into the Peace Corp could be anything from wildly negative to extremely positive. The one bit of good news is that if you apply to eight schools, you are likely to find that several of the schools have admission committees which view going into the Peace Corps to be anywhere from neutral to positive, so the odds are that you aren't killing your chances for going into grad school. So as long as you aren't picky about what grad school that you go into, it's not likely to kill you.

If you are picky, then that's another issue.

Also if you are the type of person that wants to go into the Peace Corps, and some admission committee rejects you because they think it's a waste of time, they are doing you a favor, since you'd hate going their anyway.
 
  • #19
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I knew someone from the Peace Corp once, and he said that the Peace Corps actually hates letting people in that want to do good. The problem is that a lot of the countries that the Peace Corps operates in are so messed up that you find that you can't do good, so people that try too hard to do good, just burn out. They are looking for people that 1) are interested in learning about other societies and 2) are willing and able to by their actions improve the image of the United States. If you manage to do some good, that's nice, but don't expect that you'll be able to.
 
  • #20
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I knew someone from the Peace Corp once, and he said that the Peace Corps actually hates letting people in that want to do good. The problem is that a lot of the countries that the Peace Corps operates in are so messed up that you find that you can't do good, so people that try too hard to do good, just burn out. They are looking for people that 1) are interested in learning about other societies and 2) are willing and able to by their actions improve the image of the United States. If you manage to do some good, that's nice, but don't expect that you'll be able to.
I really, really hope that's not true.

I believe in the value of education, and I know how badly people want it and can't get it.
 
  • #21
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I really, really hope that's not true.
It is. According to my friend, part of the the Peace Corps interviewers are looking for is to figure out how you will react when you find yourself half way around the world, and you figure out that you can't do a damn thing to improve the situation that people around you are in.

This is also very useful training for life.

I believe in the value of education, and I know how badly people want it and can't get it.
You'll find that a lot of people really don't want to be educated, and a lot of people have very good reasons not to want to be educated. If you are like me, you grew up in an environment in which education was the most important thing in the world, but what you'll find is that for most people this isn't true.

Also people often have good reasons to want to be *not* educated. For example, in the United States, there is a belief that education will lead to higher social status. This isn't true in a lot of other places. In some places, it doesn't matter how smart you are, if you aren't the in the right family or you don't know the right people, you are going to be a janitor for the rest of your life. In some situations, it's a big disadvantage to be smart, because it's the smart people that get shot.

People often deal with these sorts of situations, by running off to the United States as quickly as they can.

Finally, even when people do want an education, putting together a social system that can deliver it is not going to be easy. You'll find that in a lot of places, the political and economic systems are so broken that they can't provide schools at all, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.
 
  • #22
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@twofish-quant: Do you mean that peace corps folk generally do no good, or that the good they do is not visible by immediate measures?

btw, yes I have heard that general sentiment from people who have been in the peace corps (that it's difficult to do anything at all, though I haven't heard that people don't want education)
 
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  • #23
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A lot of what you say is true twofish but my country of origin is also very poor and pretty much everyone is obsessed with education as the only means to a better life.

I know about and mostly agree with the arguments that you can't really change a system in two years, but then again I think there is value in that kind of work not only because of the work itself but because of the formational effect that kind of experience would have on the volunteer. Like grad school for do gooders...
 
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  • #24
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They don't ask for hours or time sheets? That's interesting.
no they don't.
Chances of what?

I'm going to put on my "grumpy old man" hat, and say that the fact that you've asked the question in the way that you have makes me wonder if society has just made a bad left turn somewhere. Everything seems to be this game in which the goal is to get some prize at the end.

If you want to spend your time feeding the hungry, then that's great. If it turns out that no one knows that you fed the hungry, or if feeding the hungry actually hurts you career-wise, personally, I have even more respect for you.
i would think that in me saying that the response to this question would have no effect on me going would keep you from putting on your grumpy old man hat? but anyway i'm not feeding the poor nor do i have a messiah complex - i'm just traveling. so the concern is moot.


It is. According to my friend, part of the the Peace Corps interviewers are looking for is to figure out how you will react when you find yourself half way around the world, and you figure out that you can't do a damn thing to improve the situation that people around you are in.
no such thing happens. i was never asked questions that would lead me to believe they were probing how well i would deal with impotency or something like that.
I knew someone from the Peace Corp once, and he said that the Peace Corps actually hates letting people in that want to do good. The problem is that a lot of the countries that the Peace Corps operates in are so messed up that you find that you can't do good, so people that try too hard to do good, just burn out.
this is complete bunk (no offense). at no point did it seem like they were screening for people who "wanted to do good." the interviewers eat the do-gooder thing up as you'd expect. they do say they have no problem with selfish drives as well (the desire to travel).
They are looking for people that 1) are interested in learning about other societies and 2) are willing and able to by their actions improve the image of the United States. If you manage to do some good, that's nice, but don't expect that you'll be able to.
this on the other hand is true. one is wise to recall that the peacecorps was started to "win hearts and minds" in countries that were on the verge of becoming communist. so they do want to make sure that you won't besmirch the image of the united states with heavy drinking(they stress this that alcohol consumption should be kept to a minimum), xenophobia, or anything like that.


the two things they were concerned most about is how one is able to assimilate the local culture and how sensitive one is capable of being to local sensibilities and how desirous one is of going. i had that last part repeated to me several times eg "we want to make sure you really want to do this." i imagine this is because they want to get a good return on their investment.
 
  • #25
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It says nothing about how you will do academically and is therefore irrelevent to an admissions decision. Now people on the comittee may value this ethically, but the former sentence still stands.

You should still do it if you feel like it; I think that's great. Just don't pin your hopes of riding through admissions on it.
 

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