We’ve worked with a lot of students and parents and the following questions have come up a lot: can my child go to camp? On that note, what about working at camp? Does that look bad for college? The short answers are no and no. Let us expand on that.
Oftentimes people consider this question between junior and senior year because it’s the time when students and parents begin to overanalyze every single thing that a student is doing. They’re in “the beginning” of college application—even though colleges look at all four years, not just the last two—and all of a sudden parents are looking at everything that is going to go on the application under a magnifying glass. What’s important to note is that no one thing is going to prevent you from being admitted to any school, especially how you spend four weeks in the summer. It’s how your application comes together and your profile as a whole as opposed to one particular thing that you can do to “mess it up.” So take a breath, relax, and let’s think about this question practically.
Ultimately, colleges want to see you doing something and contributing in some way. It doesn’t matter what you do as much as how you use your free time. We are pretty clear that by high school, or at least junior year, your child shouldn’t be attending camp as a camper. Rather, if they are participating in programs they should be academically-focused. Paying to do water sports all summer doesn’t show that a student is committed to anything except having fun. While fun is certainly important and we feel that every summer should have some component of relaxation so that students can recharge, we discourage our students from attending camp as a camper. It’s not as mature of a decision and we’d like for our students to display for colleges.
Working at a camp is an entirely different beast. We and colleges alike are less concerned with what you specifically do with your summertime as long as it is something that is substantial and thoughtful. Getting a job over the summer is a necessity for many students, but it’s also a preference for a number of students. Thus, working at a camp (perhaps where you used to be a camper) is a logical first or second job (it also secretly checks off the fun box in a way that’s acceptable). Colleges want you to commit to something and that includes taking advantage of an opportunity that is more time-intense of an experience. Colleges also want to see that you commit to something and really give it your all, as well as use your time off effectively. We’d recommend working at a camp for 6-8 weeks full time vs. having an internship 2 days a week that you think looks good on your resume when you have nothing to show for the other 5 days of the week.
So yes, work at the camp. Work at the restaurant. But there’s a caveat. If you’re working at a camp or have another paid job over the summer, then it’s even more important that you use your free time effectively. Think about it like interval training for your interests. Intense periods of work followed by intense, shorter periods of time that you are investing in your interests by reading books, completing online courses, and perhaps even working on a long-term project that you slowly chip away at throughout the summer. Alternatively, if you can’t see yourself reading in your free time at camp, consider using the 2 weeks that you have between camp ending and school starting to really commit to reading 3 books, completing 1 online course, and completing 1 creative writing piece. Doing a few things intensely for shorter periods of time puts your ability to manage your time effectively on display, as well as your ability to self-start, and determination to complete a task at hand. Ultimately, working at a camp and then taking 2-3 weeks to complete a few items that expand your interest on a topic will speak volumes. Splitting your summer up also decreases your chance of getting bored of something, because you basically only have time to immerse yourself in it. That immersion experience can be exciting, inspiring, and incredibly productive.
Overall, don’t sweat what that the “right” thing to do over the summer is, because there is no right thing. The best thing that you can do is something that takes up time, produces a new awareness and set of skills, and is anything but absolutely nothing. Colleges will be more concerned if there is nothing on your resume at all for the summer than if you worked at a camp that has little to do with your other interests. Taking an active role in a community and participating in any way is better than sitting at home daydreaming. It means that your brain is on, you’re out in the world contributing, and you’re taking action
Need help planning your summer? Reach out.