Are you dreaming of the picture-perfect American summer? Do 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, but there are several companies that can make this (slightly) easier for you. The main two companies are Camp America and CCUSA. They each cover different things and cost different amounts depending on your country, so it’s worth weighing up your options.
I ended up going with Camp America, so I can only really offer advice on applying through them. 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 application 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. You really do need to be committed.
A few things to consider before applying to camp America
Before you even start applying, I would spend a lot of time thinking about why you actually want to go. Is it just to make friends and travel the US? Is it to have the experience of working abroad? 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 alternatives.
Applying to Camp America has become incredibly popular in the last few years; because of this, it’s also become incredibly competitive. You are competing against people worldwide for a limited number of spots. Getting accepted at a summer camp was harder than getting into uni. It’s also slightly more tricky if you are a woman as they tend to get more women applying than men but have an equal number of places. It comes down to a game of statistics. The earlier you apply, the more chance you have of securing 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 to think about spending money. Camps should cover your accommodation and food. However, you will still need money for any days off and money for travel after. I would recommend saving and taking about £1,700 if you want to travel for a full 30 days.
How do I apply to camp America?
So how do I actually apply? Most of the application process can be done online.
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, you need to be qualified in a specific area, e.g to teach dance, being a qualified lifeguard, or even a hobby you excel at like mountain biking. This can be a double-edged sword as the more common areas like dance, arts and crafts, and lifeguards get filled quickly. However, the more obscure areas like teaching archery or yoga 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. You can go for general councillor roles if you don’t fancy being a specialist or have any unique hobbies. 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 £45. It mostly involves filling out your details and several questions about why you want to apply and your previous experience working with children. Make sure you 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, so this will also give you an edge.
Next up is the dreaded camp Video. Everyone has to make a short video basically selling themselves to the camps. 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 refuse any religious, low income or disability camps, you are eliminating a huge number of places.
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! You will need to provide two references in the next stage 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. It’s advertised as an opportunity to meet with camps and try to secure a place. I would really avoid this step! Camp America fairs are a waste of time, overcrowded with limited camps showing up. Yes, a few lucky 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 allocate time for your next stage of the process: an interview. You will have face to face interview with a member of the Camp America team, and this can be done either online or at a 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 prepare a little for this.
You then will need to get a medical check from your doctor. This involves the doctors filling out a form, and most surgery’s will ask you to pay for it.
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.
The wait for an interview can take a very long time. I first applied in December and didn’t hear anything until March, when a camp in Missouri contacted me. I mulled the offer over for a while. Missouri hadn’t exactly been what I had in mind, and I knew nothing about the place. I was on holiday at the time and met a few Americans 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. So 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, and they wanted to interview me. It sounded great a girl’s camp based in Maine; it all sounded much better than the opportunity in Missouri.
A camp interview is basically like any other job interview, and it’s worth preparing in the same way; think of situations you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them and also do some research about the camp itself.
I did all my interview prep, but unfortunately, it turned out that they needed someone with a driver’s 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, and they want you to be ready for a last-minute offer. You need to go to London and get your working holiday visa even though you don’t have a camp yet. It also helps make you more appealing to camps as it means you can leave on short notice.
I weighed up my options, and the amount going to London would cost for the day. After getting this far in the process, I decided that 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 they 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 camp America sorted out all your flights, so the only thing left to do is pack. I’ve put together a Camp America packing list here for anyone who ends up going at the last minute like me.
In the end, I got my dream camp in the middle of North Carolina (not that I could point to the state on a map). Overall, the camp America application process can be long, but keep an open mind and stick it out. You could get the amazing summer of your dreams!
Top 5 Tips for applying to Camp America
- Apply as early as possible, ideally as soon as applications open.
- Don’t bother spending time travelling to camp America fairs. It’s a waste of time and money.
- Be open-minded, don’t eliminate any types of camp from your application unless it’s a real deal-breaker.
- 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.
- In the end, expect a little rejection but stick with it, and you will have an incredible summer and the adventure of a lifetime.