Whether you're leading outdoor adventures as an activity instructor or guiding campers through educational activities as a counsellor, you'll gain valuable transferable skills that will prepare you for your career

What is an American summer camp?

Deeply rooted in American tradition, summer camps provide a fun and educational experience for over 26 million children and teenagers in the USA each year. Nestled in scenic locations like forests and lakes, these camps offer a fun-filled summer escape with activities like swimming, hiking, canoeing, arts and crafts, sports, and campfire evenings.

Why work at a summer camp?

Summer camps offer several career benefits, especially for aspiring teachers. As a campsite leader, taking responsibility for groups of children aged 6-16 years old provides an opportunity to develop transferable skills in leadership and communication - skills highly valued by employers across industries.

Beyond the classroom, summer camp work provides you with the chance to build lasting friendships with peers from diverse backgrounds, support your independence, and develop skills that boost your CV, making your gap year both fun and fulfilling.

What types of camps are there?

  • Day camps - like a school day, staff stay on-site or at nearby host families facilitating activities such as arts and crafts, sports or swimming lessons, depending on the focus of the camp.
  • Private camps - often sports-focused, these independent camps require experienced instructors to guide children of all skill levels.
  • Religious camps - affiliated with faith groups like Jewish or Christian organisations, these camps cater to students with strong religious values. Camp counsellors typically share these beliefs and create a faith-based environment.
  • Not-for-profit camps - reliant on donations and fundraising, these camps may have more basic facilities, but they're still situated in beautiful locations across the USA. They offer a unique and affordable summer experience.
  • Girl scout camps - focused on outdoor activities and learning basic survival skills, these camps provide a chance for girls to connect with nature and build self-reliance.
  • Inclusive needs camps - catering to children with a variety of special needs including learning difficulties, physical disabilities, and mental disabilities, these camps provide a safe and supportive environment where children can participate in activities alongside their peers.

Some camps cater to a specific activity, for example:

  • Adventure camps - prioritise a 'digital detox' and reconnect campers with nature through outdoor activities.
  • Creative camps - campers get to explore different art and craft materials and learn new techniques.
  • Science, technology, engineering and maths camps - focus on coding, robotics, and virtual reality.

What summer camp jobs are available?

It takes many people to ensure the safe running of a camp, with cooks, maintenance workers and nurses all forming part of the recruitment each year. Roles for UK gap year students typically fall into three categories:

  • Activity instructor - you'll coach campers and lead group activities such as tennis, swimming or rock climbing.
  • Camp counsellor/cabin leader - your day starts when the campers wake up and ends when they fall asleep, ensuring every moment is fun and fulfilling.
  • Support staff - often the unsung heroes, the support staff keep the camp running. Unlike other positions, you'll also need full-time education status to acquire a visa.

Where can I find a camp job?

Several specialist summer camp providers in America offer work-based gap year programmes for UK students, where your visa will be sponsored.

Top providers include:

These organisations will help you plan your trip, from finding the perfect camp location to matching you with the best programme based on your interests.

Most camps run for 10 weeks between June and August, with some starting as early as mid-May, so it's important to make sure you're available for the full duration.

Am I eligible?

To apply for BUNAC's Summer Camp USA programme, you'll need to have some experience of working with children which you can gain by volunteering with children at a local school or youth club. Applicants must be 18-30 years old with prior experience working with children, and a clean criminal record is also mandatory.

For Camp America, the minimum age requirement is 18. While the counsellor role doesn't require full-time student status, the Campower position does. If you have at least two summers of camp experience and recruitment expertise, you can also apply to be an interviewer.

How much does the summer camp programme cost?

Camp programmes typically offer two options - non-flight and flight-inclusive. The non-flight option is ideal if you'd prefer to arrange your own plane ticket. Flight-inclusive packages cost around £200 more, but handle everything travel-related for you.

For example, at Camp America, the total cost and your potential earnings depend on whether you're a first-time camper and your choice of package. The non-flight option is £459, and first-timers can earn up to $1,950 (£1,580). Choosing the flight-inclusive package (£659) lowers your potential earnings to $1,350 (£1,082). Returning campers can negotiate their camp pay directly with the camp.

BUNAC offers a comprehensive American summer camp package that includes:

  • a pre-arranged job placement
  • assistance with securing your J-1 counsellor visa
  • one-on-one interview support
  • payment of SEVIS fees to the US government
  • medical insurance
  • food and accommodation throughout your stay
  • ongoing support during your time in the USA
  • a guaranteed final summer salary of $2,000 (£1,620)
  • a pre-departure orientation day in the UK

There are also additional costs to consider depending on the specific camp and programme you choose. These may include:

  • US Embassy J-1 Visa: $160 (£130)
  • a mandatory ACRO police UK background check: £65
  • proof of support funds
  • return flights and additional travel insurance (variable costs)
  • a medical examination (required by some camps, variable costs)

To get started, register online and pay a deposit of £49 with BUNAC. Once you successfully complete your interview, you'll need to pay an additional £185. Finally, you'll pay £145 for your placement confirmation.

How do I apply?

Summer camp interviews for the following summer season are typically held between October and December at various locations across the UK, including London, Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Cardiff.

When attending your interview, dress professionally and make a positive impression. It's also important to ensure your social media accounts are clean and appropriate.

Many summer camp providers participate in information sessions at universities throughout the year and host virtual job fairs. You can also contact them directly to ask any specific questions you may have.

How can I travel around America on a budget?

After the season ends, you'll usually have 30 days left on your visa to explore. You'll be able to travel the US during this post-season window and enjoy pleasant weather alongside potentially lower travel costs.

To maximise your sightseeing, explore America by road. The most budget-friendly option is to use buses such as the Greyhound, or share fuel costs by splitting a car rental with friends. You could also opt for the ultimate freedom with a campervan rental.

Don't forget to do your research online before your road trip. Rough Guides offers helpful articles with the best routes for a road trip in California and USA travel essentials

Find out more

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