Wouldn’t it be a dream to make summer camp your full-time job? Summer camp can be so fleeting, so how can you extend this experience over the remaining 8 months of the year? Maybe you succeeded in extending your summer camp experience to off-season, family camps. But this is only on the tail-end month or two of the main summer camp season.
Below are a few ways to hack the “real world” job force and turn summer camp into a full-time job.
Step 1: Become A Returning Camp Counselor
If you’ve nailed your summer camp interview, and have a great first summer experience, chances are you’ll be hired at your desired summer camp for years to come. Summer camps love returning staff because they can help train new staff and offer institutional knowledge. You’re considered a precious asset not only to year-around staff who trust you, but also to the campers who love being around you every summer.
Now that you’ve become a returning staff member, you need to figure out a way to keep, well, returning!
Often there are financial incentives to being a returning staff member. You’ll also be one of the first people to hear about year-round opportunities. So it pays to invest your time if working year-around at camp is an end goal.
Leadership roles at summer camp
Summer camps run typically from early June until mid-August. During the months of May or June, staff are typically on site during staff training. If you return for a semi-permanent role (say five months out of the year total, rather than the standard three), you may be asked to come even earlier and extend your stay even further back to April, in some cases.
These roles are reserved for summer camp leadership (equestrian staff, hiring staff, program managers, and other leadership roles). If you spend a summer or two as a counselor, these are the likely next steps if you want to pursue a number of years in the camp business.
Outdoor education, family camps & weddings … oh my!
There are often extra work opportunities before and after summer camp, such as wedding season, events, corporate retreats, school groups, and family camps. Every camp operates a diverse array of summer camp-ish activities during the tail ends of the summer season.
Often because summer staff know the in’s and out’s of camp, they’re asked to stay on and work. This can pay even more than summer camp salaries, and offer the same benefits such as room and board. Ask in your interview about what kinds of opportunities there are to extend your stay and make sure your director knows that you’re interested so you can transition easily.
Step 2: Make summer camp a full-time job … sort of
Say that you succeeded in extending your summer camp experience to off-season, family camps, etc. If your camp isn’t hiring full-time yet, or you need more skills under your belt, consider spending a few years with the “hybrid” model. In other words, work a summer, plus family camp, AND find about 6-8 months of work (late-August until May) elsewhere.
Below are a few adventurous (and lucrative!) ways to go with the hybrid model and piece together a summer camp career.
Find a job that enhances your favorite camp activity niche
There are a number of great ways to build on your skills that you learned throughout the summer and apply them in a more enhanced way during the next summer (i.e. taking on more responsibility and potentially getting hired in a leadership role).
Use the skills you’ve obtained during summer camp to your advantage and keep building out your resume and skills profile. Why not apply to be a woodworking shop hand, art studio specialist, or a ropes course manager? There are many pathways you can take to enhance skills you’ve already built as a summer camp counselor.
Fill in the gaps with remote work
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the concept of remote or work-from-home has become normalized. Use this to your benefit and search on websites that offer remote-friendly jobs: Flexjobs, AngelList, and Remote.Co. More and more companies are embracing the power of skilled contractors and freelancers to fill in the gaps on their staff roster.
Check out freelance websites like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr for contract opportunities (upload your profile, your skills, and bid on some jobs). It takes a bit of time to get in the flow and piece together work, but this is a great way to gain experience with divergent companies, nonprofits and organizations that could use your skills. Often you can piece together months-long or 8-month-long contracts to fill that time in between summer sessions.
Need more opportunities to build out your portfolio? Consider using your specialties alongside Catchafire and volunteer with nonprofits from around the United States.
After living and working at camp, maybe you stashed some money away for that epic backpacking trip through Europe.
Take some time to create space from the amazing work you’ve been doing and explore the world. Along the way, you may find different work, meet new friends, and build community in the most unexpected places. Consider the following work abroad resources: WWOOF, Workaway, and Worldpackers.
If you’re living abroad, there may be some work you can do remotely in support of camp, such as hiring, building staff training, re-writing staff manuals, or recruiting campers. Much of this work can be done remotely, so ask your camp director and go forth!
Step 3: *Actually* turn camp into a full-time job
As a full-time staff member, you need to have a firm grasp on working independently, living in isolation, and be willing to put on a number of hats to maintain the wellbeing of summer camp while the kids aren’t there.
You may be battling the weather, horses and cows running amok, or putting out kitchen fires from other staff that may not remember to turn the oven off (true story). You could be bailing hay, cleaning up glitter explosions at the Art Barn, or scrubbing the bottom of a swimming pool. While not glamorous, you’ll find that the “servant leadership” mentality runs deep in these communities.
*Important note: companies love when you talk about servant leadership in future interviews.
That said, working full-time at a summer camp can be truly wonderful. You may be asked to run other programs in the off-season, get certified as a ropes course practitioner, take a NOLS Wilderness Responder course, become a Red Cross CPR/Lifeguard Trainer, or go to other personal development workshops that your camp may pay for.
The more years you put in, the more skills you obtain, and the more valuable you become to the camp organization as a whole. Your director will see that, and you may take on more responsibility. Be willing to receive constructive feedback every year and make actionable steps to advance your career rather than stay stagnant. Plus, there are hundreds of transferable skills when you’re ready to move on from summer camp life.
Working Full-time at Camp is Challenging and Fulfilling
If you find yourself in the unique position of working full-time at camp, or have been able to stitch work together so you can keep going back each summer, by all means, enjoy the experience. You’ll learn a lot about yourself in a very short amount of time, and get to try on a multitude of hats.
While it can be isolating and challenging, there are ways to mitigate the shock of not living in the real world. Plus, living below your means for a few years is a great way to hit the financial reset button.
By strategically navigating the summer camp circuit, all while keeping an eye on your future career goals, you’ll be able to create a meaningful and joyous life/work balance for years to come.
Want to know more? Our Summer Camp experts are ready to answer any of your questions to help you find the perfect camp job. Get in touch today!