Counselor Blog

February 22, 2012

According to Jeffrey Leiken, MA, after the first day at camp, you'll be able to tell which campers will be your challenging ones and which campers will be everyone's favorites.

The key to being a truly great counselor, though, is to be able to recognize "the masses in the middle."

Leiken writes:

"[Truly great counselors] are careful to ensure that they focus their attention, time, and energy on these kids too. They do this even though these kids are not necessarily as easy to connect with (you'll often have to do more work to engage them) and even though it is easy to justify not putting the extra 'over and above' time in with them because they seem to be doing fine."

Make sure ALL your campers feel special this summer, and you will be that special counselor for them!

Learn about other smart techniques you can use from day one in Jeffrey's article "Heightened Awareness Camp Counseling: Going Beyond Great."


February 16, 2012

Hanging out with kids all day as a camp counselor can be pretty amazing. But doing your job well means you need to be prepared!

In ACA's Entry-Level Program Staff Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) course, you will learn the foundation of being a great counselor. Topics covered include:

  • What is youth development?
  • How do you develop a program plan?
  • Why is evaluation important?
  • How do you prevent bullying?
  • How can you best handle emergencies?
  • What can you do to form strong bonds with coworkers and participants?
  • And more

If you have more experience in a camp setting, check out the Experienced Program Staff or Middle Manager courses.

Show your boss that you want to be a great employee! You earn 15 continuing education credits for participation in the course, and it's online, so you can complete it at your own pace BEFORE camp even starts!

All CAQs are based on ACA's 13 core competencies, which are the guideposts of great camp experiences — so you know you're getting the best in education. Learn more about all of the CAQ courses.

February 10, 2012

Lots of us have a great time working at camp as a summer job, and then we go on to become teachers, journalists, nurses . . . you name it!

But what if you realized that you wanted to have camp as a career?

Cass Morgan, an ACA research assistant and current PhD candidate at the University of Utah, explains the path she has taken to get a career in camp. Cass’ early experience was probably a lot like yours — she started out as a camper and then became a counselor.

Watch this video to learn what inspired Cass to pursue a career in camp, what you should expect if you’re interested in being a camp professional, and the opportunities you can take advantage of to help you get there.

Top 5 Tips from Cass

  1. Stay current on necessary certifications, and take advantage of professional development and networking opportunities.
  2. In college, take courses that will help you learn administration and marketing skills. Also, take recreation-specific courses that will teach you program planning, leadership, and camp management.
  3. Get experience at different camps to gain a better understanding of the profession. Work with varying camp models, types of campers, types of staff, and settings. 
  4. Research shows just how important the camp experience is to the development of children and youth, so be proud of the work you are doing.
  5. If you are passionate about working with kids through a camp experience, you CAN have a career in camp!
February 7, 2012

Guest post contributed by Karen Parson

It may be the middle of winter, but it’s not too early to begin thinking about which summer camp is best for you. There are a lot of camps out there and each has different goals and activities. Choosing which summer camp is right for you is more than a matter of selecting the summer camp closest to you.

Here are ten steps to follow to make sure that you find the right summer camp:

  1. Decide what your expectations are. You likely have some expectations for what you expect the camp experience to be like. Does the camp focus on outdoor skills? Making friends? Having fun? Consider if you’d like to work at a camp with a certain philosophy or world view. If you are a past summer camper yourself, think about the aspects of camp that you enjoyed and what you didn’t like.
  2. Talk with your family and friends about what they want. While your ideas are generally the most accurate, it’s good to talk with others as well. This will help you focus on what’s most important, and additional concerns or ideas might surface as you talk with other people. 
  3. Make a list of potential camps. Once you have a good idea about where you want to work, go out and scour the Web for a list of camps and application materials. At this point, don’t rule anything out, just make a list of all the possibilities. For example just because you live on the West Coast of the United States doesn’t mean you can’t consider a summer camp in Texas or a summer camp in New York. After you make a list, try and categorize the camps into areas of interest. For example, outdoor camps or camps that focus on art, science, or music. If you have a particular interest or a certain skill, place those types of camps at the top of your list in those categories.
  4. Compare the activities that each camp offers. Will there be crafts? Horseback riding? Interpretive dance? What steps does the camp take to ensure that you and the kids you counsel will be able to participate in activities? Look at what each camp offers carefully.
  5. Research other camp features. Activities are not the only thing that can make or break a camp experience, however. You should also look at each camp’s size, location, ratio of counselors to campers, safety features, average age of campers and counselors, and accommodations. At this point, you can start narrowing down your options to the camps that suit you best.
  6. Ask for reviews from past counselors. If you know other counselors who attended the camp recently, that’s great. Ask a lot of questions, and make sure that they tell you about what they liked and didn’t like about the camp. If you don’t know anyone who personally attended the camp, ask for references directly from the camp itself and read online reviews to get a full picture about what you can expect.
  7. Take a tour of the camp. If possible, arrange to take a tour of the camp before you commit to work for them. The winter months are great for planning trips like this.
  8. Look at wages. Wages do, of course, matter, but keep in mind that wage is not always an indication of which camp is best. Consider the price in context of what the camp actually offers — activities, number of days, meals, benefits, and working atmosphere.
  9. Make a decision with loved ones about which camp is best. With all of these considerations in mind, and in consultation with your friends, mentors, and family, decide which camp is right for you.
  10. Apply to the camps you like most. Many camps have open application periods for most of the year. Now that you have decided on the perfect camp, don’t lose your opportunity by waiting too long to apply. Go ahead and sign up through the camp’s Web site or by calling them directly.

If you follow all these steps, you can feel good knowing that you have carefully weighed all the options and that your decision is a good one when applying to work as a summer camp counselor.

Karen Parson has worked at many Texas summer camps in her career and currently works with Camp Cho-Yeh in Livingston, Texas.

February 3, 2012

Here are the top 5 reasons why you should attend the *free* webinar, “Developing Your Personal Brand,” next Wednesday, 2/8 at 7:30 p.m. EST:

5. You will learn the secrets behind what makes companies like Google and Apple so strong.
4. You will learn how to inspire potential employers by crafting a compelling story of your past experiences and interests.
3. You will create a unique brand identity that sets you apart from other job candidates.
2. You will understand how to be your authentic self while tailoring your personal “pitch” and brand to specific career opportunities.
1. You could be the next Oprah or Bill Gates!

Register Now!

January 23, 2012

Resumes, cover letters, and interviews . . . oh my!

Just like Dorothy and Toto, you too can find out more about the “man behind the curtain” — your hiring manager, the Wizard of Jobs!

On Wednesday, January 25th, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. ET, join us for an insider’s look into the mind of a hiring manager.

Lauren Moxey, a director on Teach For America’s admissions team, will share from her extensive firsthand experience reviewing and interviewing thousands of applicants to Teach For America over the past few years (in fact, Teach For America had more than 48,000 applicants to their program last year alone!). Specifically, she will discuss best practices for excellent resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

Join us on Wednesday and, like the scarecrow, you too can become the wisest of them all in the land of Jobs!

View the other upcoming free career development webinars in this series.

Guest post contributed by Teach for America's Molly Ellenberg

January 19, 2012

Take the time this month to thank your mentors from school, sports, and camp!

While the spirit of mentoring is being celebrated all month long, January 26 has been officially designated "Thank Your Mentor Day."

Find out how to honor your mentors in creative ways.

Finally, ACA would like to offer a BIG THANK YOU to you, for the difference you make in the lives of your campers! Because of Camp…® stories, favorite summer memories, and a liftetime of skills learned at camp would not be possible without CAMP COUNSELORS!

January 12, 2012

What makes a good resume?

How can you be a more effective leader?

What is your "brand," and how can you market yourself to others?

The job world can be tough these days, but luckily, you've got experience from a camp job on your side!

Learn how to get the job you want from the skills you learned at camp in a new webinar series presented by ACA and Teach for America. Designed specifically for frontline staff and young adults, this series will show you your potential as a 21st century worker — and how to maximize it!

Resume and Interview Workshop
January 25, 2012, 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. ET

Developing Your Leadership Potential
February 1, 2012, 7:30 – 8:45 p.m. ET

Developing Your Brand Identity
February 8, 2012, Time TBA
(Registration and description coming soon)

These webinars are FREE for ACA members; so if you haven't yet, take advantage of ACA's free year-long membership offer. There are no strings attached, just a year of professional development resources and perks.

Make this the year you focus on your career goals. Register today!

Check out all the upcoming webinars in ACA's e-Institute, part of ACA's Professional Development Center.

January 4, 2012

Peg recently wrote in her blog about “Quiet Space” and giving kids a chance to reflect on their own thoughts — especially at camp.

In a recent opinion article in The New York Times, author Pico Iyer reflected that:

The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow [. . .] will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos, and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.

What does this say about the value of a camp experience?

At camp, children are allowed to disconnect from the digital world and soak up the wonder of nature. They are given “the luxury” of quiet space to feel a genuine connection with what’s inside them — not the external (or is that “eternal”?) buzzing from an iPhone.

What do you think? Does going to (or working at) camp —“roughing it” without technology — actually provide you with a valuable luxury?

December 19, 2011

In this guest blog by Sarah Horner Fish, executive director at Tom Sawyer Camps in Pasadena, California, you'll learn how to make a lasting impression when applying and interviewing for summer jobs. Visit ACA's Job site for more information about working at camp or to find job postings!

The word is out. A job at a summer camp is one of the best ways to spend your summer! You will learn excellent real life skills and make a significant difference in the lives of others. It most likely will be one of the hardest jobs you have ever had, but at the same time, it will help you grow in so many ways. Many of our past camp counselors say their job at camp was hands down the best job they have ever had. And with the unemployment rate where it is, hiring managers at summer camps get to be even more selective than ever . . .

Here are some tips to help you stand out through the interview process and get hired for one of the best jobs ever.

#5 Make a Great First Impression!

Believe it or not, the first impression you make can really help (or hurt) your chances in getting hired. Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure you make a great first impression.

Arrive on time . . . and that means at least ten minutes prior to your interview start time. Arriving early for an interview shows the hiring manager that you will also be on time for your job. (And planning to arrive early will help you if you run into some unexpected traffic on the way.)

Smile! Shake the interviewer’s hand! Use eye contact and use their name when greeting them. We expect you to be a little nervous (that’s actually a good thing), so take a deep breath and take these easy steps to help yourself stand out. 

#4 Be Creative!

We once had an applicant who sent in a plastic bag filled with “Magic Pixie Dust” with her application, to emphasize her imagination and creativity. We were so impressed before we ever even met her, and her story about the Magic Pixie Dust during the interview sealed the deal. She thought outside of the box and took a unique risk that paid off. Going above and beyond, whether it is with your application or during your interview, will leave a lasting impression that will give you the edge in a close decision.

#3 Be Professional!

It’s easy to give you a list of what NOT to do in your interview, but instead I am going to tell you what to do.

Turn your cell phone off (and then double check that it is off . . . again).

Spit out your chewing gum. (It’s silly I even have to say this, but I bet one in five applicants is chewing gum when he or she arrives to their interview. Ugh.)

Dress professionally. Yes, you are applying to work outside with kids, but looking professional and sporty is different than looking like you just threw on your old t-shirt and shorts. Look at yourself in a mirror. Brush your hair, and yes, guys, you need to shave.

Be excited about the job! Your genuine enthusiasm for this position is critical. An experienced interviewer can sense when an applicant isn’t overly thrilled about the job. (“My parents are making me get a job this summer” is not the answer your potential boss is looking for.) Make sure you really want the position and that you really, really like children. Your sincere interest will come through your answers and body language, and will once again help you stand out against the other applicants.

#2 Be Prepared!

This seems simple, but I am often surprised how some applicants seem unprepared for their actual interview. Our “warm up” questions are pretty standard, so when we get an applicant who is stumped by the question “so why would you make a great camp counselor?” it tells us that the applicant has not done any preparation for the interview (and perhaps has not even thought about the job they are applying for). Take a guess at what some of the questions might be, and think of your answers beforehand. Make a list of what your strengths are and why the camp should hire you. Talk about kids in the interview, and why you are motivated to work with them. Ask a friend to do a mock interview with you to get practice.

Check out the camp’s Web site before the interview; this is a great way to learn about the program, their philosophy, and the goals of their program. Use this information in your interview, whether you are asking a question about the program or commenting on how the camp matches your goals for working with kids.

And make sure to have your own list of questions for the interviewer . . . by doing so, it shows you have done a little homework about the job and the camp. Not all applicants do this, so by doing your own research, it will help you stand out.

#1 Be Confident!

It’s time to put away the modesty and talk confidently about yourself. It is a competitive market right now, so you need to find a way to stand out! It’s okay to say that you are hard working and that you work well with others (or whatever your strengths may be). Let the interviewer know how you will bring value to the job (read #2 again . . . be prepared). 

Thank the interviewer at the end of the interview (again, shake their hand, make eye contact and use their name) . . . and it’s not too old fashioned to pull out a piece of stationary and send a follow-up thank you note. 

About the Author

Sarah Horner Fish is the executive director of Tom Sawyer Camps (TSC) in Pasadena, California. She is responsible for all of TSC’s programs and oversees the staff, training, and operations. Sarah has been a camper, junior counselor, precamp counselor, summer day camp counselor, and assistant day camp director during her more than thirty-five years at TSC! Sarah works year round at camp doing many different jobs, including the hiring, enrolling and training of staff. 

December 12, 2011

Now is the time to look for that summer job!

Check out this link on ACA's Job site: Summer Job Search Tips.

Explore available summer job opportunities at ACA's Summer Jobs @ Camp site.

Do you have questions related to your job search? Send your job question to, and we'll work on posting something helpful from the experts right here on the Counselor Blog.

December 8, 2011

Because of Camp . . . ® so much is possible!

I have you seen ACA's Because of Camp . . . ® video yet?

Check it out today and think about how camp has impacted your life! And look for the video clip to play in theaters this holiday season. Let us know if you see it!


November 21, 2011


Professional Development and Networking at ACA’s 2012 National Conference

Special Opportunities

Student Camp Leadership Academy — Southeast (SCLA — Southeast)
Feb. 21–23
Learn about camp as a profession, and connect with college students and camp professionals.

Emerging Professionals in Camping (EPIC)
Feb. 21, 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Christopher Thurber and Steve Maguire will lead a discussion on the challenge of developing camp's leadership through the years. Don’t miss the social event Tuesday night!

Atlanta Attractions

November 17, 2011

Recently, Matt MacPherson, a Recreation and Sports Management major at Indiana State University, had the opportunity to attend SCLA Midwest. Read about Matt's experiences at SCLA, what he learned about the importance of networking and professional development, his reaction to SCLA, and why he would recommend the experience to others. If you live in the West or Southeast, be on the lookout for more information about YOUR chance to attend SCLA.

Camping is a beautiful part of this life and it is going to take motivated and interactive people to take camping into a bright and effective future.

A Career in Camp

Leaves, trees, and changing weather. Those are just some of the attributes that people most likely think about when illustrating the outdoors. An outdoor setting provides a beautiful scenic landscape at certain times (depending on where you may be) and also brings about many external senses all together for a complete satisfaction of the mind. Who would ever imagine that this beautiful landscape that we are all imagining is the same type of environment that people can have a career in? Let’s go even further — how about a career in outdoor camping?

This is what a group of college students, camp professionals, and I experienced this past weekend at Camp Henry Horner, located in Ingleside, Illinois. Gordie Kaplan, the field office executive of ACA, Illinois, was the leader of the Student Camp Leadership Academy (more commonly known as SCLA). As I was personally preparing for the weekend, I did not know exactly what to expect. I was thinking I’d share a weekend with a lot of people from different states and that we were going to be in large groups having speed networking opportunities with many camp professionals that were available.

My Experience

Well, I was close with my thoughts. There were people from different states that came together and there were camp professionals. There was just one huge difference from my first initial reactions: this was not a large group. Nine potential camp professionals (including myself) attended for this extensive weekend, and there were also a various amount of current camp directors that ranged in different ages and experience. Although I was caught off guard by the small group of people, my first encounter with another participant — Justin, who attends the University of Northern Iowa — helped me feel at home. After my first general conversation with him, I realized that although this was not going to be a large group, this was going to be a rich, informative weekend.

Gordie Kaplan, who had recently arrived back from China from the International Camping Fellowship Conference, was leading this opportunity to grow, connect, and learn more about the camping community. Thanks to the organized leadership of Gordie, we had a great opportunity to learn more about things like the realities of the camp market, networking, sources that deal with camp related material, and how to organize an effective resume and professional portfolio. These workshops, along with many other growing opportunities provided for a safe, fun, and learning weekend that was full of growth and potential.

Realities and Some Good Advice

My personal reaction with the SCLA weekend was different from a lot of the other participants. I remember sitting down with the group in a circle, and we were talking about how we were feeling about the weekend on a scale from one to five. Most of the people were saying four or five for the most part, but I personally said a two or three. I was having a weekend that was similar to a roller coaster ride. The weekend had its high points, but it also gave me a real look at the difficult task of resume building and the hard work that must go into running a successful camp.

Gordie provided a piece of advice that I will hold onto for the rest of my camp career: "Take this information only with a grain of salt." Do not take everything as fact for the market as a whole, but take it as a piece of advice that a person can either take or leave behind. We all have to find our own way in the camp market, and we’ll do this by making connections and gathering experience. My weekend after looking at this was so much better. I enjoyed connecting with all of the college students as well as the camp professionals. I enjoyed developing new relationships with people, especially with Dale Adkins from the University of Western Illinois — who I consider a great mentor and role model.

SCLA and Camp in the Future

Would I want to attend another SCLA? Although it just happened last weekend, I would love to return to SCLA next year and learn even more about the camp market. I am currently looking for a camp to work at for my final summer while in college that could potentially form a networking relationship for the future, and possibly a relationship with that camp for the long run. From this SCLA, I am looking forward to connecting more with my new mentor and role model Dale, as well as Gordie and the other camp professionals and college students. I would personally recommend SCLA to any of my friends that would like to learn more about camp and grow as a professional. Camping is a beautiful part of this life and it is going to take motivated and interactive people to take camping into a bright and effective future.


Thanks, Matt, for your sharing your SCLA experience!

Connect with camp professionals on Facebook.

November 14, 2011

Interviews are way to showcase your personality and skills. Before any interview, it’s important to take some time to think about yourself and how you handle responsibilities (both on and off the job). Prepare yourself to answer questions in a clear, concise, and confident way.

Here’s an insider’s look at what camp directors consider when they are preparing for your interview: what questions they might ask, and what they are looking for in your responses.

Answering Unexpected Questions

In Stephen Maguire’s November/December 2010 Camping Magazine article, “Recruiting, Interviewing, and Hiring to Ensure the Best of the Best,” he offers these two “must-ask,” non-typical questions. It's important to have a good idea of who you are, what you like, and what you know in order to answer unexpected questions.

How would you respond to the following?

  1. Always start with this question: "So, what do you think of kids?" I know it seems super simple, but you can begin to eliminate people immediately with this one simple question. If they don't come up with answers like: "Kids are awesome. They do something different every day. I love being a role model for them. They're funny," and so on, you know you have your answer. I have legitimately interviewed candidates and gotten responses to this question like: "They're OK," or, "I hadn't really thought about it before." Really? You hadn't really thought about it? You want to work with kids and spend eight weeks in the woods with them and you "haven't really thought about it"? Simple question; big results.
  2. Always finish with this question: "If you could build a house out of totally edible products, what you build it out of and why?" Great question. What are you asking this for? I've found it to be a great test of creativity and reflective thought. I've also found it to be a great test of flexibility. I've had some candidates who can't come up with an answer. They are simply stumped. And one time I had a gentleman who I hired on the spot, when in less than five seconds he blurted out, "Bamboo." I'm thinking to myself: "Bamboo? What the heck?" So I asked: "Why Bamboo?" His response: "It's an edible product, although not very tasty to humans, and it's incredibly strong." He was interviewing for my camp wilderness adventure leader position. Hired!

Think about Past Experiences

Bob Ditter shares his expert advice on interviewing in the September/October 2011 article, “Truth and Consequences: Interviewing Skills for Camp Professionals.” Ditter explains that “the best predictor of future performance is past performance.”

With that in mind, think about your responses to the following:

  1. Tell me about a time when you put the needs of another or others ahead of your own. Probing Questions: What was the situation? What was the relationship between you and the person/people? How did you handle the situation? What did you learn? How did it go?
  2. Tell me about a time when you took a stand for (or stood up for) something you believed in, but that was an unpopular position. Probing Questions: What was the stand you took? What was the principle or who was the person you stood up for? What did you do and say? What resistance or negative feedback did you encounter and how did you handle it? What was the outcome? Looking back on it, what is your thought about what you did or didn't do? What did you learn about yourself from this situation?
  3. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a friend or an employer or an authority of some kind (teacher, parent, coach). Probing Questions: What was the conflict? Who was involved? What did you do? What was the outcome? What did you learn from the situation?
  4. Tell me about a project in school or something you've had to do around the house / some job you've had / volunteer position where it took much more effort than you originally thought it would. Probing Questions: What was the situation? How did you deal with it? What things did you actually do or say that helped you through? What was the outcome?

Start looking for your dream summer job now at ACA’s Jobs site! Click here to find year-round job postings.

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