Q: I am a college senior, graduating in May, 2017 with a major in Exercise Science. For the past ten summers, I have been a camper, then a counselor at an overnight camp. Camp changed my life. I hope to one day be a camp director. What is the typical career path for camp directors? Are those roles seasonal or year-round? Is housing provided? What are the ideal qualifications? Does my degree work for this type of role?
A: A summer camp experience is often a life-changing experience. Many overnight camps are magical places, where campers experience incredible personal growth. Campers are exposed to new challenges almost every day. Maybe a camper tries horseback riding for their first time. Maybe it is the first time a camper lives in a cabin with 10 other kids. Or maybe it is the first time that they have been away from home, other than a sleepover at a friend’s house.
I consulted John Tilley, Executive Director for YMCA Camp Coniston in Grantham NH. Tilley and he explains that many camp directors are “homegrown,” meaning that their love of overnight camp began as a camper. Some campers are passionate about their camp experience and are promoted through different leadership roles, ultimately landing in a camp director role.
Other camp directors may begin in “multi-seasonal” positions, according to Tilley. During the school year they will work with conference and school groups visiting camp, often instructing nature lessons, group building activities, and general camp administration. Housing and food are typically provided for staff in these positions and they frequently lead to full-time employment. A candidate may think of this as a paid internship.
Tilley says that your degree would work fine for a camp director role. Camp directors hold undergraduate degrees but specific majors are less important than the totality of a candidate’s experiences. In short, your camp experience may be a more important qualification than your specific degree. Tilley offers “camping, by its very nature, is experiential.”
Directing a camp is running a small- to mid-sized business. Ultimately a camp director must understand all facets of business, including budgets, facilities management (e.g., maintenance and construction) and communication with almost every demographic, from a tearful eight-year old to an exuberant grandparent. The ability to work with others, as well as managing a diverse team, are both required skills.
A willingness to relocate can be important. Although the New England area offers many overnight camps if you are open to moving anywhere your opportunities for career growth may be enhanced.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.