So you want to apply to public health programs…Post Peace Corps…

Apologies for not posting the past few months. I wanted to post more about my journey into the world of public health during my application process but given how easily google-able my blog is, I wanted to wait until I decided on a program and to give some general advice. I’m going to break things down into: What you should do during your Peace Corps service if you want to apply, what you should do after, and general tips in terms of applying. This is geared towards public health but could apply to other grad school programs as well.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert, I’m just sharing my general experiences that may help current PCVs in their journey.

A brief timeline

March 2013 – COS conference, applied/registered for classes at Wayne State University to satisfy prerequisites. Asked CD for letters of recommendation

August 22nd 2013 – COS date

August 28th 2013 – begin post-baccalaureate classes (Nutrition, Epidemiology I and Biostatistics I ) part-time at Wayne State University, in Detroit, while living at my parents’ house.

Septemberish – start applications, ask for references

End of November – submit applications

Responses from institutions arrived from the beginning of December 2013 up until the middle of March, 2014.

June 30th 2014 – start MPH program at The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

What you should do during your Peace Corps service if you want to apply to public health schools.

  1. Find out how your COS date relates to the application due dates and the start of the program that you are interested in.
  2. Does it start in June? Does it start in August/September? When is your application due?
  3. Is this the right time for me to apply?
  4. If you do not have reliable internet access or it requires you to make multiple trips to your regional capital, you may want to wait until you get home to apply. I waited until after my COS (Aug 22nd, 2013) to apply. I had reliable internet in my regional capital and in Ouagadougou, but I didn’t want my second year of service to solely be applying to grad school. Many PCVs have applied to public health programs successfully while in country.
  5. Do I have the prerequisites for these programs?
  6. Many of the elite programs are looking for a biology/science/math background. You may or may not have these requirements. I did not take any life science courses during undergrad and took Nutrition, Biology, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics I at a local state university to fulfill prerequisites.
  7. Ask for recommendation letters from in-country staff early. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOUR COS WEEK.
  8. The American and HCN staff at the Peace Corps Office are very busy and usually have specific policies about recommendation letters. If possible, find out their policy before your COS conference and prepare your resume and personal statement so that your references can write you the best letter possible. Then make sure that everything is signed and scanned before you leave the country. Also, ask them if they are able to fill out online reference forms in country, SOPHAS (the public health application) is electronic and asks references to fill out forms online.
  9. Talk to current PCVs, RPCVs, or staff who have an MPH or other public health degree. Find out how their transition was and where they went to school. I was lucky enough that our DMO’s wife did an MPH right after her Peace Corps service and could give me a lot of info about her program.
  10. Don’t worry about taking the GRE unless you cannot send the computerized version scores less than six weeks before the application is due.

When you are applying

  1. Promote your relevant Peace Corps experiences in your personal statement. Even if you were not a health volunteer, talk about your health activities, monitoring and evaluation, and other relevant health topics.
  2. Ask for recommendation letters early, it’s okay to remind your recommenders often.
  3. Apply to a wide variety of schools. I applied to 4 public, 6 private, and one overseas. Cast a wide net so you have lots of options.
  4. See if your school has any important requirements. (Some schools do not consider MPH candidates unless they have an RN, BSN, MD, or DO degree).
  5. Check out the Peace Corps Fellows program or any possible Peace Corps scholarships at various institutions before applying.
  6. Talk to RPCVs at the institutions you applied to and ask them for advice.
  7. Talk to current students at the institutions you applied to. They are generally not there to sell you the school and will give you truthful answers.
  8. Follow the directions on the application website. Sometimes you have to send test scores and transcripts to specific places individually and not just the single application.

Good Luck! If you have any questions, feel free to email me (


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