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Summer Camp Jobs: What To Expect For Compensation

Being a summer camp counselor can be a very rewarding experience for young adults which pays off numerous intangible dividends on many fronts for both counselors and campers alike; however, the question of what form and level of compensation one should expect from a summer camp job can vary tremendously across different situations and circumstances.

At one end of the spectrum, some camps – such as some special needs programs – may rely entirely upon volunteers or interns to comprise the bulk of their staff and perhaps only provide “room and board”.   On the other side of the coin, a year round camp director position at a large private facility may require a substantial and full time investment along with a very high level of responsibility; which might entail signficant monetary compensation along with a full benefits package.

While the above extremes do exist, the compensation levels for the majority of camp jobs fall somewhere in the middle and typically depend upon several factors such as:

  • Type of Position
  • Level of Authority
  • Number of Years at a Camp
  • Level of Prior Experience:  Qualifications, Certifications, Past Experience
  • Demand for particular positions
  • Length of Camp Session(s)
  • Profile of Camp Program

As a general activity counselor, one’s pay scale is typically determined by one’s prior experience or number of years at a given camp.   While it might be viewed as a “entry level position”, general camp counselors are the backbone of any given camp’s operations in so far as direct interactions with campers.

Kitchen staff, office, and facility maintenance positions are all necessary components of many camp operations and are essential to allowing the overall system to function smoothly in many respects.   It is important to distinguish levels of responsibility among such positions in so far as compensation expectations.  For example, an individual who’s duties are confined to washing dishes and tables in the mess hall should expect to receive less pay vs. the head cook/chef who’s responsibilities might include selecting, ordering, and preparing food for the entire camp.  There can be similar distinctions within both office and maintenance departments of a camp.  By the same token, if you have acquired a great deal of experience regarding any particular facet, you might be rewarded with a higher level of compensation.

Many residential camps will have a registered nurse on the premises and some will have a doctor.   Since the level of experience and qualifications for either of these positions is relatively high compared to most other positions, the relative pay scale will typically reflect such a distinction.  With respect to doctors, some camps may try to offer individuals the ability to bring their families up to camp for an extended amount of time as part of a compensation package.

In a similar light, other qualified speciality positions such as certified Lifeguards, Horseback Riding Instructors, Musicians, Sailing Instructors, Computer Instructors, etc. also have specific areas of expertise and unique qualifications which might be in high demand for a particular summer camp situation.   Some camps offer certification training; however, it is important to learn whether or not you will be responbible for payment for any given course you might elect to take … as some camps will foot the bill and others will not necessarily.

Laundry facilities are often made available as well, but it is important to inquire about particulars.

Room and board are also typically factored into the overall compensation package.   Residential camps typically provide staff with some form of sleeping arrangements as well as three meals a day.  While day camps normally do not provide housing for counselors, they often provide at least lunch.

The use of camp facilities can also be considered a benefit.   Some camps might allow counselors the ability to water-ski, sail, and participate in other camp related activities on their days off if it does not interfere with the regular day-to-day operations of camp and campers.

Transportation to and from camp depends a lot upon the particular nature of the camp.   Day camps require counselors and staff to commute to and from camp on a daily basis.  Depending upon one’s particular position, one might be able (or required) to ride the bus and assist with supervision of children who are being picked up and dropped off to and from camp.  On the other hand, you might need to arrange for transportation independently.

Time off is another factor to consider.   It is important to understand the allocation of time off – especially at a residential camp – prior to committing to a full summer.  Some camps might offer a single day per week, while others might not have any time available beyond an hour here or there during the days/nights.

Pre-camp is often a required training period prior to camp as well as post camp – the period directly after camp sessions end where facilities and equipment are “broken down” and put away – might also be factored into the equation.  If you are expected to appear at camp for duties prior to or after the primary camp session, your compensation may or may not reflect your time investment during these periods.

So, at this point you might be wondering about the actual wages you might be able to earn at a summer camp?  It is difficult to answer this question with any sort of consistency or authority given the great number of different camp job situations which exist.  However, to give you a very broad and general idea about what to possibly expect regarding direct wages, we’ve compiled some data from the Camp Channel Job Board with respect to reported direct monetary wages for the summer of 2013:

  • the average (mean) range was $1443 – $2207
  • the highest wage offered was $6,000

It is important to note the data regarding wages above were solicited by asking camp directors to report the lowest and highest wages for “an entire camp season”.  Since the length of a season can vary greatly among camps (typically from one to eight weeks), the average range does not reflect a consistent unit of time and should be interpreted as only a very loose approximation to give you an idea of direct monetary compensation.  Along the same lines, it is also difficult to flush out the various other forms of non-monetary benefits (as noted above) which might also be included in a compensation package in so far as being able to compare “apples to apples” of an overall compensation package.

Bonuses are always possible, but unless explicitly detailed in your work agreement should always be looked upon as an unexpected additional income.

Given the wide variety of different types of summer camp jobs, it is important to inquire with the camp director as to the particulars of your situation.