Tackle Your Camp Counselor Job with an Internship Mindset

Louise Fritts Johnson
May 2016
Staffer and camper

The young women and men who join us as camp counselors are interested in occupations that range from elementary and high school education to the medical field, the environmental sciences, and more. And as it happens, a camp counselor enjoys experiences that complement many areas of study and the pursuit of a myriad of future career paths.

More and more employers look for real-world experience in their hires, and an internship can be a real advantage during a job search. And many colleges and universities sponsor internships for college credit. (Hint: Some colleges even allow students to create their own internships through a formal proposal process outlining the intended area of study, including vision, goals, expectations, and timeline). Taking into consideration the many aspects of camp that parallel internships, what if you could use your summer camp counselor job equally to your advantage?

If you are interested in making your camp counseling experience double as an internship of sorts, the first step is deciding what it is you want to get out of camp beyond the fun and the other well-recognized benefits of camp counseling. These include developing leadership, management, and organizational skills, along with making wonderful and often long-lasting connections with other counselors, campers, and administrative staff.

Brainstorming ideas with your camp director or other staff before you begin the summer may lead you to an experience that suits you and what you want to get out of your time at camp.

For example, if you have an interest in early childhood education, being responsible for young children in a camp setting enhances your knowledge and skill set in what a career in early childhood education entails. But you might want to add to that easily obtained experience by being proactive. For example, you might assist in the coordination of a tutoring program, act as a tutor, or ask to work with campers for whom English is a second language.

Setting up a book club for interested campers is another great idea for those with an elementary education focus. Choosing an age-appropriate book, developing a lesson plan, and engaging and interacting with campers in reading and thinking in this way is wonderful experience if you have a desire to teach at some point in the future.

All of our counselors love the out-of-doors, and many have ended up working in outdoor programs or in related scientific fields. At camp you could plan and lead hikes or other camping trips of varying degrees of difficulty and length. You could take that a step further by tracking the progress and reactions of campers to aspects of these excursions and analyzing them in a report at the end of the summer.

You might even choose to engage in conservation projects. At Camp Arcadia, interested counselors are charged with our gardening and composting program. Planning and caring for a garden and instructing and involving our campers in composting kitchen materials has been a wonderful project for our campers and the environment. This can be particularly enriching to someone interested in pursuing the environmental sciences. As we like to say: “Make the world a better place because you have been in it.”

Camp counseling also can build management and business skills. The dynamic camp environment naturally enables the development of leadership skills every business school student and many others need to hone, including:

  • Public speaking
  • Handling tense interactions
  • Teamwork
  • Humility and patience
  • Staying and keeping others informed
  • Time management

Running a camp is a business in and of itself. Interning directly with the camp director or staff on the actual day-to-day administration of a camp is a route toward figuring out if you have an interest in running a small business. It might be surprising — and enlightening — to know how much goes into making a camp run smoothly and efficiently.

If you are interested in business management, you might consider an analysis of camp operating systems ranging from insurance compliance and human resources to ordering food for the kitchen. The concept of camper and counselor recruitment might also be of interest. Understanding that camp operations are typically run year-round, not just for the weeks that camp is in session, is also eye-opening and might engender questions worth pursuing.

If you are contemplating a communications career, you might work with your director to create a blog for a specific stakeholder group (counselors, parents of campers, alumni) or analyze the camp’s website and use of social media with an eye toward designing for improvement. Those with a love for words might offer to write a newsletter or develop marketing materials for the camp. These kinds of final documents would be wonderful to include with a resume for a potential employer.

Psychology majors might organize and co-lead a group that discusses challenging behavior of campers and works together to develop positive interventions. Or, you could research and develop handouts on developmental issues that impact the camp environment.

Suggesting solutions to challenges is always useful, so putting together a report detailing ideas about how to identify and manage issues that arise in young men and women at residential and overnight camp might be welcome by the camp administration and further your experience in considering these kinds of issues.

Camper and counselor homesickness could be a focus for a social work major. Developing a concrete plan or protocol for handling homesick campers — or counselors — would be a stimulating focus if you are considering pursuing this field of interest.
Those of you who are thinking of pursuing medical and health care occupations could ask to be matched with the nursing staff. With administration permission, you might work with a particular camper who has a medical need and develop a plan of care. If you are interested in health care administration, you might study the camp’s health care system and propose changes to improve efficiency, taking into account current health care best practices.

If nutrition is an interest, you might want to analyze a week’s menu to determine how close it is to optimal nutritional intake, considering:

  • Basic nutrition information
  • Level of activity in the camp environment
  • Cost and time needed to prepare the food
  • Likelihood that the food served will be accepted by the campers

Create a report of your findings and make a recommendation to the camp’s administration.

There are many ways to apply what you do at camp to build a resume that will show relevant experience to a prospective employer. Be creative, think outside of the box, and talk to the camp administration about what you would like to do. Make your summer experience a building block for your career — and have a lot of fun while doing it!

Photo courtesy of Camp Tanadoona, Excelsior, Minnesota.

Louise Fritts Johnson is camp director at Camp Arcadia, a summer overnight camp for girls in Casco, Maine, now in its 101st season.

 

 

Topics