Graduate School Options for RPCVs
By Danielle Hoekwater (Mekelle 2009–11)
It is hard to believe that just over a year and a half ago I completed my Peace Corps service.
I served as a Health-HIV/AIDS Volunteer in Mekelle, Ethiopia from 2009 to 2011. Just a few short weeks from now I will begin my second year as a Peace Corps Fellow at Western Illinois University as I pursue my Master’s in Community Health Education. My time as a PCV has contributed greatly to my graduate school experience. During my first year as a Fellow I worked as a graduate assistant for WIU Health Center’s Health Education. I was able to assist with on campus HIV testing events, World AIDS Day, as well as a number of health screening and awareness programs that I wouldn’t have had the experience with or confidence to do if it had not been for my time in Peace Corps and the new skills learned through my program. This fall I will begin my second year as a Fellow and I look forward to starting my internship as an Employee Wellness Coordinator at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, IL. I am halfway through my fellowship and I can say that so far it has been a great opportunity for me to enhance my knowledge, use my skills and to help others. I am thankful that after I have completed this program I will have some great experiences behind me and much less student loan debt than many others who are finishing graduate school.
With all the great things that have come about because of my participation in the Fellows program, I find it surprising that not all PCVs/RPCVs are aware of the education benefits that are available to them. I would like to share some basic information on the programs to get you started in the right direction for your graduate school search. If you’ve completed your Peace Corps service or are close to COS, you may be trying to decide between going back to school and getting a job. If you’re thinking about graduate school, there are some great options for RPCVs. The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows and Masters International programs are offered through various universities in a many academic fields.
Paul D. Coverdell Fellows
Through the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, fellows use the skills and knowledge they have acquired during service to help others in their universities and/or communities at home through participation in academic programs and internships. According to the Peace Corps website, seventy universities are currently participating in the Fellows Program. Fellows are required to participate in an internship, typically in an under-served community in the USA, before completion of their program. Benefits of the fellows program depend on the school and program, but may include tuition waivers and stipends. RPCVs are eligible to participate in the fellows program any time after completing service.
If you are currently a PCV or RPCV, the Master’s International program is not you for as it requires that you begin coursework before starting your Peace Corps service — but it may be perfect for a friend who is considering the Peace Corps. Master’s International is a program that allows PCVs to use their service to satisfy internship requirements or program credit. There are over eighty universities that participate in the Master’s International Program. If you are interested in a Master’s International program you should apply to both the Peace Corps and a participating academic program separately. Once accepted to both, students typically complete one year of classes before beginning their Peace Corps service. Master’s International students may have the opportunity to receive tuition waivers, assistantships, or other benefits depending on the program.
If you are currently serving, I suggest starting with the information about graduate school that you may have received from Peace Corps during one of the conferences or training sessions. If you are an RCPV, the official Peace Corps website has extensive information and links to specific programs at various universities. You can search for programs on the Peace Corps website at “Universities and Programs.”
If these programs don’t match up with your career path, remember that universities love RPCVs and there may be other options, such as graduate assistantships, that may be available for you. Contact the desired program for more information. It’s important to start early and be aware of deadlines, especially if you plan to apply during service, because we all know how unreliable internet and mail can be in host countries.
It’s important to note that attending graduate school may extend your non-competitive eligibility (NCE). RPCVs who successfully complete their service and COS are given one year of non-competitive eligibility. If you begin graduate school before your NCE expires, you will have the opportunity to use the remaining time after completing your degree. Please contact Peace Corps for additional information.