How to work at an American summer camp

Dreaming of the picture-perfect American summer? You’ve decided you want to spend your days looking after kids, swimming in lakes and hiking mountains, but don’t know where to begin?

Applying to summer camps can be a long and complicated process so there are several companies to make this (slightly) easier for you. The main two companies are Camp America and CCUSA. They cover different things and will cost different amounts depending on your country so it’s worth doing some research and weighing up your options.

I ended up going with Camp America so I can only really offer advice on applying through this particular company. Throughout my application process, I found myself writing and rewriting this post. At one point it was even titled Dreaming of the picture-perfect summer well that’s all it was for me, a dream.  The process can be both costly and time-consuming so I’m going to lay it all out on the table so you can decide for yourself if you still want to apply as you really do need to be committed.

A few things to consider before applying to camp America

Before you even start to apply I would spend a lot of time thinking about why you actually want to apply. Is it just to make friends and travel the US? Is it to work abroad in a different country? Or is it to work with children either to progress your career or because you enjoy it? If it’s any reason other than the last one you may be better looking at some other options.

If your main aim is to make friends and travel America you might be better off just doing a package tour, several companies offer these like STA and G adventures

If it’s to work abroad in the USA there are a lot of options you can do other than Camp America.

Your still want to apply to camp America? Your okay spending 24/7 with kids? Great, because the application process can be a long and expensive commitment, you need to be sure your ready and genuinely doing it for the right reasons.

Applying to Camp America has become incredibly popular in the last few years meaning it has also become very competitive. You are competing against people all around the world for a limited number of spots. Getting accepted at a camp was harder than getting into uni. It’s also slightly more tricky if you are female as more women tend to apply then men but they usually have an equal number of male and female places. It comes down to a game of statistics, so the earlier you apply the more chance you have of getting a place. I would recommend applying as soon as applications open, but definitely before the end of January.

How much money do I need to apply to camp America?

The current full cost is £778. This price will also include flights to and from the US. You will probably be paid back a fair amount of this money while working at camp, but you will still need spending money while at camp. Camps should cover your accommodation and food, however, you will still need money for any days off and if you’re wanting to travel after. I would recommend saving and taking about £1,700.

How do I apply to camp America?

So how do I actually apply? Most of the application process can be done online.

Camp placements fall into two categories specialists and counsellors. To be a specialist to you need to be qualified in a specific area, e.g to teach dance, be a qualified lifeguard, or even a hobby you excel at like mountain biking. This can be a double edge sword as the more common areas like dance, arts and crafts and lifeguards get filled very fast. However, the more obscure areas like teaching archery will put you in a better position. I would try to get something like this before if you can the more obscure the better chance you have I would say archery, yoga

If you don’t fancy being a specialist or have any unique hobbies you can go for general councillor roles. While specialists will only teach their chosen subject general councillors will usually be responsible for the children’s day to day activities. It’s important to keep in mind which you would like to go for while applying.

The first stage of the application costs £35 and mostly involves filling out your personal details along with several questions around why you want to apply and your previous experience of working with children. Make sure you really highlight your experience working with children, this is where you can gain a competitive edge. Many camps also prefer you to have a valid driving license / be over the age of 21 can also give you an edge.

The dreaded camp Video, everyone has to make a short video. It’s embarrassing and painful but it’s also a great chance for camps to see your personality. It only needs to be 2 or 3 minutes showing off yourself and your hobbies. Make sure it’s enthusiastic and engaging.

You will then be asked questions about the type of camps you would be interested in working at. Don’t limit yourself too much here try and be as open-minded as possible. If you eliminate any religious, low income or disability camps you are eliminating a large portion of camps.

They will then review your application and see if you make it through to the next stage, the majority of people will make it through the first stage. They are so confident they offer a refund at this stage if you’re unsuccessful.

So you made it through the first part yay! The next stage you will need to provide two references and pay for a DBS check. Make sure they are strong references and try to get them completed quickly, as this stage can hold you up.

The next stage is usually a camp America fair. I would really avoid this step! Camp America fairs are honestly such a waste of time, overcrowded with limited camps actually showing up. Yes, a few people do get hired at them but only the ones who get their first thing and get seen first, by the middle of the day it’s pointless and disheartening. The only redeeming factor is that they do allocate time for your next stage of the process which is an interview. You will have face to face interview with a member of the Camp America team, this can be done either online via skype or at the fair.

The interviewer will talk through your application accessing your suitability and likelihood of getting a placement. They will also ask some standard interview questions so it helps to be a little prepared for this.

You then will need to get a medical check from your doctor. This just involves them filling out a form, most doctors will ask you to pay for this.

After passing this stage the waiting game begins, this is where I started to struggle with my Camp America experience. After the disheartening job fair, it was now months since I originally applied and you just have to wait for a camp to see your application and decide they want to interview you.

This wanting game went on for a month when I finally received an offer from a camp in Missouri. I first applied in December and didn’t hear anything until March. I mulled the offer over for while, Missouri hadn’t exactly been what I had in mind, I literally knew nothing about it. I met a few American from different parts of the USA and asked all of them if I should go to a camp in Missouri and every single one of them said no. I took a risk and rejected my only camp offer.

I was forced to put all my summer plans on hold as I waited to see if another camp would want me. It took until May to hear from another camp, they wanted to interview me. It sounded great a girls camp based in Maine, it all sounded much better than the one in Missouri. Unfortunately, after my interview, it turned out that they needed someone with a driver license so they had to go with someone else.

It was the middle of May when I got an email from Camp America asking if I wanted to take part in the ready steady go option. I had no idea what this was and had all but given up on camp America as an oversubscribed scam. It turns out the ready steady go option is offered if they believe there is a strong chance you will be placed. It means you go down to London and get your working holiday visa even though you don’t have a camp yet. This makes you more appealing to camps as it means you can leave on short notice.

I weighed up my options and the amount going down to London would cost for the day, I decided that after getting this far in the process I might as well give it a go. I went all the way to London had to queue up for a few hours, for a visa with no idea if I was even going anywhere.

Two weeks later I got a skype interview with a camp, I got the job and the asked me to fly out within the week. After a lot of waiting and frustration Camp America did come through I had a placement, yes it was very short notice but they sorted out all my flights. I got my dream camp in the middle of North Carolina not that I could point to it on a map. Overall the camp America application process can be long but if you want an amazing summer keep an open mind and stick it out.

Top 5 Tips for applying to Camp America

  1. Apply as early as possible, ideally as soon as applications open.
  2. Don’t bother spending time travelling to camp America fairs, it’s a waste of time and money.
  3. Be open-minded, don’t eliminate any types of camp from your application, unless it’s a real deal-breaker.
  4. If you get offered the ready steady go option, take it! It can be frustrating not knowing what you’re doing with your summer, but you’ve got this far might as well make all the effort worth it.
  5. In the end, expect a little rejection but stick with it and you will have an incredible summer and the adventure of a lifetime.

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