Is Summer Camp Good for My Résumé?
Working as a camp counselor teaches you important skills that could jump-start your career
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I have gone to the same summer camp every summer since I was nine years old. When I outgrew being a camper, I was a counselor in training, and now I’ve been a counselor for two summers and I love it. Recently I was talking to my mom and mentioned that I was excited to go back next summer, especially because last summer was weird because of COVID. She said she thought I should do something else for the summer this coming year, because I’m getting older and should start thinking about my résumé and preparing for my future career. Is it wrong for me to go back to camp? For reference, I’m a college sophomore. I am still choosing between two majors, so I haven’t really chosen a career. I don’t think my mom will stop me from going back to camp, but now I worry that maybe she’s right and I should be more forward-thinking.
Working at summer camp is one of those rare, cool opportunities where you actually get to watch yourself grow up—to take on adult responsibilities while also honoring the stuff you loved as a kid. You were a camper, looking up to your counselors; now you’re a counselor, with campers looking up to you. As a counselor, you get to shape the culture of a community that helped raise you. And you get to see it from another perspective—and maybe even see yourself, and your childhood, from another perspective too.
I went to camp for years, and loved it, and the summer after I turned 18, I was ecstatic to be a counselor. I got to be co-counselors with my close friend, who was a former bunkmate. I got to do all the things I’d loved so much—swimming, hiking, campfires, arts and crafts—but this time in a position of leadership. And, as it turned out, being a counselor was also really hard work: tending to the emotions of groups of kids and teenagers, being on-duty all day and night, and deciding whether to sleep or do things during my scant hours off. By the end of the summer, I knew I wouldn’t come back; the job was intense for an introvert like me. But I was also deeply grateful for the experience. Sometimes I even have passing whims about going back—hey, I’m only in my thirties, right? That’s not too weird for a counselor. It’s not gonna happen. But it’s fun, sometimes, to think that it might.
Which is to say that I have two answers to your question, and they both point toward you going back to camp.
The first is that your time at camp, in this community you love so much, is precious. I’m sure you can feel that. I suspect you’re acutely aware of the ways you’re leaving childhood behind, and both the excitement and the loss that entails. There’s a cliché, of course, that you can’t step in the same river twice. But at least right now you can go back to the same river. That’s not an option you’ll have forever. The more time you spend in these beloved places now, the more they become part of you, and the better you’ll be able to carry them with you for your whole life. There may come a time when you’re ready to leave—when there’s something else you’ll want to do with your summers, or a different job you’ll have to take to pay the bills. You’ll have new passions, new circumstances, new responsibilities. But if you’re not there yet, you don’t need to rush it.
Now let’s talk about your career. Your future. What is it? You don’t know. That’s OK. You have plenty of time, and even when we do everything we can to shape our futures, they tend to take on lives of their own anyway.
The thing is, working at camp actually will prepare you for a future career—whatever that ends up being. It’s certainly not “wasted” time in that regard. You’ll learn about yourself: Do you like working individually, or on a team? Might you like teaching? An outdoor job? The nonprofit world? As a counselor, you’re managing a bunch of personalities, keeping things on schedule, maintaining a good attitude even when it rains. You’re answering to supervisors, and supervising counselors in training. These are real career skills, and your next employer should recognize that working for several years at the same job is actually quite impressive for someone your age.
But even if you couldn’t put camp on your résumé at all, it would still be good for your future. Not because it will or won’t look impressive on your résumé, but because it’s good for you. As a person, not a worker. As a human being. Those skills that look so great to an employer? They’re also skills that will help you in life—wherever your life takes you. And sometimes the best thing you can do for your future self is honor the person you are now.