This summer, you could get a job like all your friends waiting tables or working on an assembly line. Or, you could be a part of a life-changing experience for a child.
Camps across the country create memorable experiences for kids of all ages each summer, and a significant factor in creating those experiences is camp staff.
What to Look For
Camps aren’t cookie-cutter experiences. Every facility has its own style. Here are a few items to consider when choosing which camp or camps you want to apply for:
- What kind of camp do you want to work at? There are day camps, sports camps, religious camps, adventure camps, music camps — the sky is the limit. Where do your specific talents fit into the mix?
- Where is the camp located? There are camps near the beach, in the mountains, in the desert, north, south, east and west. Do you want to be able to go home during your time off? Can you afford airfare at the beginning and end of summer?
- How long are the camp’s sessions? Sessions can run from three days to an entire summer, and this factor will affect time off and other responsibilities significantly.
- What ages does the camp serve? Camps can be all ages — even including families — or just children or youth. How well do you work with teenagers, or first graders?
- Is the camp ACA (American Camp Association) accredited? If a camp isn’t accredited, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a quality facility. Many top-rated camps are not ACA accredited for many reasons. However, if you see the ACA logo on the camp’s site, it’s a sure sign that they take their program seriously. The ACA has strict requirements to ensure camps are providing a safe environment for staff and campers alike.
What to Expect
Before you think, “I love babysitting, so I could be a counselor,” consider what it means to work at camp. Although many young people have found working on summer staff to be the most formative and meaningful experiences of their lives, it isn’t for everyone.
It almost always means long hours and little pay, and it always means a lot of responsibility. Even in a day camp setting, you will be responsible for the well-being of a number of children, and that’s a big task!
Depending on the camp’s setup, you could be on duty up to 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. All camps will provide staff with some time off, but the amount varies among facilities. (For camps with one-week sessions, most staff usually get an hour off per day and 24 hours on the weekend.)
Many camps have long histories and strong traditions, so many of the camp staff will have grown up going to camp. If you are applying to a camp you have no connection with, be aware that the other staff may already know one another from years of camping. If you are extroverted, it will come in handy as you get to know other staff and their traditions. It may take some time to become “one of them,” but with effort and patience you should find a new home quickly.
When You Apply
Applying for a camp job is a lot like applying for any other job. Small things still make a big difference on your application. Here are a few tips:
- Be sure your application is filled out completely. This seems like it should be a no-brainer, but turning in an application that isn’t complete is a sure way to say “I’m not responsible and shouldn’t be trusted with the lives of young children.”
- Notify your references that you put them on the application. It always helps them to give you a better recommendation if they are expecting a call from a camp about you. They will be able to prepare and provide a more thorough recommendation for you.
- Don’t apply for a job you don’t want or aren’t qualified for. When camp directors see that you are applying for the position of “Lifeguard,” they will also expect to see that you are already lifeguard certified. If you are intending to get the required certifications, make a note of that on your application.
- Be prepared to get required certifications. Almost every camp will require that its entire staff is at least First Aid and CPR certified. Some camps may require more advanced certifications (lifeguarding, Wilderness First Aid, etc.). Know if you will have to get those certifications on your own or if the camp will provide training.
- Know you can pass a drug test. This should also be a no-brainer, but many states require that anyone working with children be able to pass a drug test. In these cases, the camp director will not be able to hire you (no matter how qualified or desirable) without a clean drug test.
The Best Summer of Your Life
If you think you’ve got what it takes, check out some area camps and see what they’re all about. Most camps begin accepting applications in January or February, so don’t wait to get your research and application in as early as possible.
Long hours, little pay, and crazy children -– that’s what summer camp is all about. And oddly enough, that equation could mean the best summer of your life.