Spending your summer as a camp counselor in the USA is an awesome way to meet new friends, act like a kid for three months and get some experiences that will prepare you for almost anything in life. I worked as a visual arts counselor at camp for two summers running and wrote a book about my adventures called Secret Diary of a Camp Counselor. It’s the only first hand account of life at camp. You’ll be pleased to know that it’s actually relatively easy to get a placement on camp, here’s how to do it in 10 easy steps…
1. See which agency you think is best
If you’re just planning on going to America from the UK to work on camp for the summer and not come from anywhere different before or fly on anywhere different afterwards you’re best off applying through an agency. If you plan to sandwich it in between other destinations you might be better off applying direct. There are generally five agencies to choose from, CCUSA, Camp Leaders, AmeriCamp, Camp America or Wildpacks. Do some research and talk to friends and ex-camp counselors and see which agency you think is best before you hand over any cash or sign up to anything.
2. Decide which talent you’d like to use at camp
Camp counselors can be lifeguards, art teachers, cyclists, dancers, circus gymnasts, skateboarders, musicians, actors, magicians, golfers, martial artists… as long as you’re good with children you’ll make a good camp counselor, but havinga unique skill will make you awesome. If you don’t have a specific talent or you actually just want to play ‘mum’ or ‘dad’, then many camps allow you to be a general counselor although these placements are harder to find. Think hard about what you want to spend your summer doing.
3. Time to apply!
If you’re going through an agency, you need to find out their deadline (usually in March) and sign up via their individual website. If you want to find your own camp then check out the thousands of ACA accredited camps throughout the US and make your decision. Applications will require some thought, and usually some references so have your referees on standby. You’ll be expected to make a YouTube video and to recall all your experiences that support you being a camp counselor. Send it in via the agency’s individual processes and pay the initial enquiry cash (in some cases), and sit back and relax.
If your application is accepted you’ll be invited to a camp counselor interview with your chosen agency. These are nothing to be scared of – I used to be a CCUSA interviewer and all I was checking for was that you were predominantly normal and that you knew what you were letting yourself in for. Prepare for this as you would a normal interview though and dress smartly. Have some answers prepared to questions like ‘What would you do if a child disrespected you?’, ‘Tell me about a time you were stressed?’, ‘Why do you want to be a camp counselor?’, and the like.
5. Wait for acceptance
You’ll soon find out if you’ve been provisionally accepted. How long this takes depends on when you apply, what skill you’re applying to teach, you and your agency. There is no confirmed length of time, which can be frustrating, but just be patient and have faith that your agency is trying their hardest to place you. It’s in their best interests too.
6. Get a CRB check
Once you’ve been accepted it’s time to get your CRB check. This is a statement that says you’ve never been in trouble with the law or been a danger to children.
7. You can skip ahead
There is a way to skip points 3,4 and 5 above. All the camp agencies have recruitment fairs in January and February every year in the UK where the camp directors come over from the USA and hire counselors on the spot, if you’re lucky. This is how I got hired. It’s a great opportunity for camp directors to meet potential counselors face to face and for both of you to understand each other better. You can also see for yourself the camp videos and get to chat to ex and current camp employees.
If you’ve applied after the Camp Directors Fair, don’t worry. Your agency will still have thousands of vacancies left to fill. From your application and the interviewer’s notes they will know enough about you to make sure you get placed at a camp in America that you’ll enjoy. It’s what most of the agencies have been doing for years – they know what they’re doing. It’s just a matter of time.
8. Get ready
Once you’ve been placed at a US summer camp it’s time to get prepared! Read my book Secret Diary of a Camp Counselor if you haven’t already so you’re ready, and read up on your camp. It’s also worth checking out your camp’s website to see if there are any pre camp events to get involved in. Read through your camp and agency information packs again and gather up everything you need for a summer in the USA.
You will be invited to another mandatory orientation meeting in your own country. Here you’ll find out more about the camp you’re going to and maybe also get the chance to meet other camp counselors who’ll be at the same camp as you, or at least get their email addresses so you can add them on Facebook or send them a quick email. You’ll also find out more about your flight details and get a kit list too. This is your chance to get any last minute questions off your chest and to join in workshops to suppress the culture shock when you get there.
10. Get going
Finally it’s time to go! Make sure you get yourself to the airport in plenty of time. Hopefully you’ve managed to arrange to meet someone from your camp to sit with on the journey, but if not, try and work out if anyone is going to camp in the airport. If you can’t, now’s the time to enjoy the peace and quiet. Things are about to get very, very busy…