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Being a Camp Counselor

Could you be a summer camp counselor?

Camp counselor Katie Engdahl and her campers on a walk during camp at Si View Metro Parks in North Bend, WA, in August 2019. Katie was a camp counselor for five years and she says it’s the most fun she’s ever had at a job. // Photo courtesy of Katie Engdahl

As the weather warms and thoughts of summer break begin, students are starting to also look for jobs to fill extra time in the summer.

During the season, summer camp counselors' jobs are in high demand and are a common seasonal job for students between the ages of 17 to 30. 

Katie Engdahl is a student at Western Washington University and was hired as a summer camp counselor at age 16sixteen  and continued for five years. 

Engdahl said campers are very aware, and counselors always need to be kind and professional, which unprepared counselors can forget in such a fun workplace.

While being a camp counselor, a person has to be ready to be patient and flexible to meet campers' needs.

"You can't really know what to expect every day working with kids because kids are just unpredictable," Engdahl said. "But I loved it, and sometimes it didn't even feel like a job."

Terrylin Mollinet attended overnight summer camps from 2016 to 2017 and noticed not every counselor does that. She said at certain times it felt like counselors weren't there to be leaders but for their own personal relationships and fun.

"I think some younger camp counselors were there to kind of have their own experience." Terrylin Mollinet said.

However, Mollinet also said that she noticed leaders and counselors went out of their way to make campers comfortable. 

She said that counselors were often other people seeking their own experiences, and it put campers at ease to know that they had someone to go to.

Typical camp counselor job listings include that applicants must have leadership skills and be creative with a positive attitude. 

Hope Thompson, Assistant Director of, B A S E and Teen Programs at Whatcom Family YMCA, leads the hiring process of their camp counselor positions.

"We look for folks who are genuine," Thompson said.

Thompson said the ideal counselor will be present and energetic as well as someone who has the ability to grow and be self reflective.

"It can be brutal if you have a group that's not vibing,” Thompson said. “It can make camp feel really long," Thompson said. "But the ability to reflect on that and seek guidance and the desire to want to make sure this camp experience is special for these kids is huge."

When people apply to be a camp counselor, she urges them to take into account the types of camp. 

Thompson said working at resident camps usually provides a short amount of set work days where you live and work at camp, versus working at day camps where counselors and campers return home after the day. 

Thompson said that she comes from the resident camp world, and she loved it, but it can make a big difference to a counselor's work experience. 

Camp counselors are expected to have fun, but they also need to be prepared to have campers be their main focus.

According to the ACA, most camps wait for summer to start looking for counselors, and about 50% of staffers return to the same camp each year.

According to IBISWorld, there are over 25,000 summer camp employees currently working in the U.S. for 2022 already.


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