Being a summer camp counselor will be one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of your life. As a counselor you will need to be outgoing, fun, reliable, trustworthy and flexible. You will also be required to be on call 24 hours a day and be aware of the location of the campers in your care at all times. In most cases you will be sharing the same accommodation. In many ways you and your campers will become a mini family. You will eat, sleep, and play together. There will most likely be some tears and tantrums, however, these will be outweighed by all the fun and laughter you will share. At the end of the day, if your best interests are not focused on enriching the lives of the campers, then being a camp counselor is probably not for you. If on the other hand you thrive on a challenge, you like to work just as hard as you like to play, and you have the camper’s best interest at heart, you will love the experience of being a counselor at camp.
Before selecting a camp to attend you must first ask yourself what type of counselor you want to be. Do you want to be a general counselor, a specialist counselor, or do you want to be a special needs counselor.
So you have taken the first step and decided to become a camp counselor. The next step is to find a camp which will fit your needs. There are several ways you can do this. The first option is to approach the camp directly. This can be done by searching Kampspire and directly contacting a camp through their page, or applying for a job they have posted. You could also visit the camp's website, email a camp with an accompanying CV, or visit the camp. (Make sure before arriving at your selected camp that you contact the camp to ensure a suitable time to visit and that there will be someone available to discuss the facilities). Most camps advertise well in advance for positions over summer and welcome applications directly.
A second option usually required for international counselors would be to go through a recruitment agency. There are camp recruitment agencies set up which will help you through the whole process, from finding a camp, organizing Visa’s, providing insurance, to ongoing support whilst at camp. Most agencies have built affiliations with certain camps and will be able to put you in contact with a camp to fulfill your job requirements. Some of these agencies also arrange “Job Fairs”. A job fair is a gathering of representatives from several different camps, gathered together in the hope of staffing their camps for the upcoming season. These job fairs can be held anywhere, so it would be beneficial to see if one will be held in your local area. Kampspire also lists agencies through which you can apply through, some example are: | CCUSA | Camp Leaders | AmeriCamp | Camp America | IEP
Resident camps or sleep away camps (as they are sometimes referred to) are camps at which the campers sleep at for the length of each program or session, generally between 3 and 8 weeks. Resident camps are usually found in remote areas in the wilderness close to rivers or lakes. Resident camps can vary in size from a very small number up into the thousands. Resident camps can be either just boys, girls or co-educational, with separate living arrangements. Counselors at resident camps are usually required to live with the campers and are placed so as male counselors are with male campers and female counselors with female campers. Although a counselor of the opposite sex may be placed at an all girl or boy camp their accommodation is generally separate from the main living quarters.
Day Camps have a tendency to attract younger campers and are usually situated closer to metropolitan areas. Day campers commute to camp each day where they participate in a full day of activities and return home to their families at night. Camp counselors run the activities during the day and at night return home to their host families or accommodation provided on the camp grounds. Being a day camp it allows camp counselors increased down time / free time than their resident counselor counterparts.
Traditional camps are best described as camps that operate purely as summer camp. Non Traditional camps are those whose primary focus is not that of a summer camp. Examples of this would be camps which are located at a YMCA, private recreation center, private residence, public or private school, or public park, where summer camp is secondary to other programs.
General camps do not have a primary focus on one particular activity or skill, but offer a large variety of activities and interests to campers. General camps offer a range of activities, team and individual sports and outdoor activities, whilst specialty camps exist to provide focus and training in particular sports and activities, developing the individual’s skill and performance.
To be classified as a not for profit camp the camp must meet certain criteria set by government financial institutions within their country. The majority of not for profit camps come under organizational banners such as, YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and different religious groups. Not for profit camps are also run by smaller lesser known organizations and foundations. The majority of these camps operate to provide the summer camp experience for the underprivileged. With many of these campers coming from lower socio economic backgrounds they are unable to afford the camp tuition. Through charitable donations and scholarships these organizations and foundations are able to operate these camps for the underprivileged.
Religious camps incorporate a certain amount of religious belief into their daily program. The extent of the focus on religion will depend on the individual camp. While others focus more heavily on religious studies. Many faith based camps are incorporated under a religious organization's banner and generally are not for profit camps.
Special Needs camps service those with a specific type of special need, common illness or physical or mental disability. These camps accommodate any age group and are extremely specialized to suit the needs of the individual. Counselors work in smaller groups and are provided with extensive training and ongoing support throughout the duration of the camp.
Once you have decided on the role and the camp to which you wish to apply, be sure that you check the availability of job opportunities. This can be found on the Kampspire job listings (hyperlink). If you know the name of the camp, you can use the search function on the Kampspire database and follow the links. However if you are after a recruitment agency then just search the Kampspire’s recruitment listings, i.e. CCUSA, Camp America, and many more.
There are numerous ways in which you can choose to apply. Some camps offer online applications which can be filled out via the website and which will then be directly passed on to your chosen camp. Alternatively, you can download and complete the application form to become a summer camp counselor and send it to the office of your desired camp. Staff applying for summertime work will be reviewed for approval in early January, although the selection process may continue up until April. Applicants who qualify for a position will be accepted into positions based in the order of which the applications are received. The average closing date and time for applications is usually at the beginning of March, but can be extended in certain circumstances.
Where the camp is situated will determine whether a visa is required. This will be a necessity for international applicants. Insure that you inquire about the sort of VISA you will require when you are at camp as some counselors are required to cross over borders on field trips and without the correct VISA it could become complicated on your return.
If your camp is located somewhere that requires you to take a flight or another means of transport, it is your responsibility to cover those costs. Some camps may offer bus transfers to and from camp which you can utilize if you are fortunate enough to live close to the camp. It is important to discuss the options of transportation with your camp directors prior to commencement.
Camp counselors play an integral role at camps. A camp counselor’s main duty is to mentor the campers and ensure their health and well being. You will be responsible for ensuring camp rules are followed, leading campers in fire drills and emergency procedures, assisting your campers at meal times, being a role model for the campers, providing discipline when needed, assisting senior counselors, and participating in activities, just to name a few.
In most cases counselors are expected to wake up between 7:00am and 8:00am. You will be required to not only get yourself up and ready, but assist the campers and get them to breakfast on time (with the exception of Day Camps). The campers may not always be willing to wake up, but persistence is the key.
Yes, free time is allocated. However the length of free time allocated is dependent on the camp’s policies, as some camps are more flexible than others. Generally residential counselors are allowed a full day and night off during the week to spend as they please. This could be spent enjoying a movie or going on a day trip, as long as individual camp policies are followed. It is important that counselors really make the most of this, to do something which makes them happy and allows them to let their hair down. There will be other times where you might have downtime, but this will differ from camp to camp.
Counselors will be supplied with all meals and generally they will eat with the children. Food quantities are prepared to cater for a large number of people. Menu choices therefore, can be minimal. Extremely health conscious counselors might struggle a little, for although camp food can be filling, it is generic to cater for the masses. In saying this, there has been a recent shift by some camps to move towards healthier food choices. If diet is something which will be detrimental to your experience at camp, be sure to inquire with your camp before accepting a position with them.
It is not uncommon for a counselor, for one reason or another, to find it hard at camp at some stage. There may be times where you won’t enjoy camp as much, but hopefully these brief periods will be outweighed by all the good times. If camp isn’t for you then it is important you discuss this with your camp director. If you leave camp and don’t fulfill your obligations as a counselor, the camp might choose to withhold payment. You may also be asked to return any pro rata payments which have been made to you while you were at camp, for time not yet earned. If you are an international counselor, leaving early may cause complications with your visa. It is important if you have used a recruitment company, that you contact them immediately to inform them of your departure. The costs associated with transport, accommodation and flights home, will sometimes be dependant on your reasons for leaving the camp facility. In some instances you may be able to be placed at another camp for the duration of your contract.
Every camp will have policies in place regarding mobile phones, computers, certain reading materials, certain clothing etc. so it is important to check with your camp before packing anything which could be considered distasteful, not child friendly, or in breach of camp policies. It is always recommended that you bring mementos from home to brighten up your living area. International counselors are encouraged to bring objects from their countries to show to the campers and educate them on their country and culture. It’s very common for international counselors to bring flags and artifacts to proudly show off their origins and heritage.
Alcohol is prohibited on camp grounds. If you are of legal drinking age, then you will be allowed to consume alcohol if you choose, on your time off, outside of camp facilities. However, for international counselors, it is worth checking the legal drinking age of the host country, as this could differ to your home country. By no means are you to be under the influence of alcohol when you return to camp. Any breach of these conditions could see your contract terminated.
Drinking and Driving. This is against the law in every country. Not only will your contract be terminated, the police will be notified and charges could possibly ensue.
Smoking is banned at summer camps in general. It is worthwhile consulting the camp. Some camps have a designated area for those who do smoke, which is usually out of the way and sight of the campers. At those camps which allow smoking, cigarettes may be stored securely out of the reach of campers and lighters or matches stored out of harms way.
Drug and substance abuse is not tolerated. All illegal substances are strictly prohibited at camp. If you should breach this condition not only will your contract be terminated, the police will be notified and charges could possibly ensue.
Sexual Harassment is not tolerated. Every camp should have a sexual harassment policy in place. The policy should identify everyone’s responsibilities in the event of an incident of sexual harassment. If you are proven to have breached this policy or sexually harassed anyone, your contract will be terminated, the police will be notified and charges could possibly ensue.