Some people say it is the best job you will ever have – a summer camp USA job, that is. America’s camping tradition began in 1861 and boasts over 12,000 summer camps, catering to some 10 million children aged between 6-16 years annually. You may have even seen movies about summer camps including the movie with the Jonas Brothers in Camp Rock. With around 12,000 camps this tradition requires people of varying ages, mostly 18-35 year olds to join the camps for the summer doing a variety of jobs. If this is something that interests you and are looking for a legal way to work and travel the USA, then read on and find out how you could get a job in a USA summer camp.
First Written March 2019, Updated June 2022
Why Work at a Summer Camp?
Working in a summer camp is the ultimate American summer job. It provides you the opportunity to spend the American summer living and working at one of America’s summer camps. And best of all – being paid to do so.
Types of Summer Camps
There are 3 main types of summer camp.
- Private camps which can be quite exclusive and may be specific such as a music camp.
- Traditional Residential Camps which are long established and cater to children from middle to high income families. And which are situated in scenic places and offer a wide variety of water and land activities.
- Agency Camps which are run by organisations such as the YMCA, scout organisations and church groups. Campers are usually from a wide variety of backgrounds at these camps.
No matter which camp you find yourself at they need staff to help them run smoothly and to ensure the kids enjoy their summer.
Where are Summer Camps found?
Camps are found in many places across the USA. Mostly in very scenic locations like beside a lake or in the mountains allowing for many outdoor activities.
When do USA Summer Camps Start?
American summer camps start in either May or June time and run for varying times. Some go for 3-5 weeks with some being longer, 7-9 weeks. Then you can travel around America!
Types of jobs in USA Summer Camps
Most find a position as a camp counsellor or in a service job such as cleaner or cook.
Camp Counsellers will be assigned a cabin full (usually 8-10) kids to look after. It will be up to you to ensure they do the right things at the right times and you will be responsible for your group 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It will be your responsibility for planning and leading all the experiences and activities plus general safety of your charges. You eat with them, spend all your time with them and even sleep in the same cabin as them.
You may also be in charge of certain activities. So if you have specialist skills in karate, sewing, hiking, windsurfing, sailing, horse riding, playing a musical instrument, etc. these skills will stand you in good stead for a specialist counsellor position.
If you would like to work in a camp but not as a camp counsellor there are other opportunities. There are positions in catering (cooking, serving the food) and maintenance (gardening, laundry assistant, cleaning).
What does a typical day as a Camp Counsellor look like?
Wake up early and have breakfast
Do a morning activity
Quiet time, then Dinner
After dinner activity
Is being a Camp Counsellor for you?
Being a counsellor isn’t for everyone. There are long hours, living conditions are basic and looking after kids may not be your thing! I had one friend who just loved being a counsellor and has spent a number of summers being a camp counsellor. Then another friend hated it, and left after only 2 days. Check with the program you sign up for what happens if you leave the camp early?
Can Foreigners be Camp Counsellors?
Yes, foreigners from outside of the USA are welcome to work in a summer camp. There is a specific visa currently available, the J-1 Visa, which allows you to do so.
What’s in it for you?
Apart from being offered a great experience you will get:
- J1 visa allowing you to work in a summer camp for 3-4 months + 4 weeks (30 days) of travel after completing your stay at camp (if you are non-American citizen)
- Weekly wage (around $250)
- Accommodation and meals
- Allowed 4-6 weeks to travel around the USA after the camp concludes on the J1 visa.
After you finish working on the summer camp ensure you have your travel sorted. You will definitely need accommodation. My two go-to sites are HostelWorld for a bed in a hostel and Booking.com if I am feeling I want something more upmarket. If you don’t want to travel independently on trains and buses you may consider taking a tour with a tour company such as Contiki.
How do you find a job in a summer camp in the USA?
There are a number of organisations that can arrange a job in a USA summer camp for you. They help with all the paperwork, applying for the J-1 visa, find you a position and most importantly, will offer support the whole time you are at camp. So if you have any sort of problem, they are there to help you through it.
Have a look at the following organisations who offer USA summer camp programs for American citizens and also foreigners. They are in alphabetical order and not in any order of preference. As you can see, there are a number of organisations offering you the chance to work and travel the USA by going on a summer camp program.
Enjoy your time working in a Summer Camp in the USA
Hopefully your time in a USA summer camp job will provide you with the time of your life. I’d love to hear in the comments following about your experience.