Summer Time

10 Questions to Ask When Shopping For Summer Camp to Make Sure Your Camp is Not Closing
By []Kat Fitzgerald

So… did you jump on that early bird special and register your child for summer camp back in January?

The economy is tough on summer camps. Not only can they be a “luxury” expense for many families, but with so many parents out of work and staying home we also know that summer camps no longer have the same role in child-care.

Since camps are in a yearly revenue cycle with huge dry spells and just a few peak sale months (March – May), it can take until June (for summer camps who are on the edge) to figure out if they can make payroll or pay for facilities through the summer. What? Really? Yep. Summer camp payroll is a huge expense for camps that do not run off volunteers, as are facility costs for any camp that doesn’t own its own site. And keep in mind, those that run off volunteers are generally non-profits relying on fundraising and donations; contributions that also dry up in slow economies.

What happens when a summer camp is in the red?

That depends on the summer camp company. Many summer camps are part of a bigger organization, and the camp can be a loss leader. To stay a float some summer camps will renegotiate terms or payment plans with venders or facilities. Some camps will turn to volunteer staff or cut staff ratios. And a few will run to the bank and hope they can get that loan to cover payroll. When those attempts are successful they squeak by. But it happens every year…. some summer camps will close mid-summer or just before they are due to run.

Will you get your money back if a summer camp closes?

That depends on the summer camp company. Most summer camps that are associated with a youth organization, to protect the reputation of the umbrella company or the facility they work for, will be covered by the latter. A summer camp run by a multi-program agency has other budget to draw on and can’t afford the legal entanglement from a Chapter 7 that leaves customer damages. But companies that only run camp… well, these are the ones that can fold up on you. (Don’t get me wrong, these are also some of the best camps because they devote full time to just running camps. But as a possible indicator of stability in tough economic times – a diversified company may be more resilient.)

Back in 2001 ACE computer camps, a nationally run chain of computer camps with over 60 locations nationwide stopped running mid-session. With estimated numbers at 10, 000 campers per summer – this was a big upset.

When campers came back from lunch some happened to search out the ACE website, they found this message: “American Computer Experience is going out of business immediately. All ACE computer camp locations are cancelled effective immediately.” So, the campers and staff went home. None of the families of that week or subsequent weeks were refunded. Camp staff who had worked at camp several weeks were not paid. The rented camp facilities also did not get paid. Lawsuits went on for years and financial restitution is still incomplete.

How can a summer camp customer protect themselves?

It can be hard to find out if a summer camp company has solid financial footing. In the 2009 camp season, you should assume all camps are struggling a bit so don’t be afraid to ask some pointed questions:

1) Assume your summer camp might have to close slow weeks and move everyone together to reduce the cost and maximize the profits. Ask your summer camp which weeks might they close if they have to consolidate?

2) If your summer camp is using a rented facility; ask if the camp has paid upfront (or are they past the point of canceling) where the camp would have really committed to the week? (In rental contracts there are dates by which payments become committed, if it’s past that point (or if they paid in full upfront), then they will run the week even if it’s lower in numbers.)

3) How many campers are registered in the summer camp? Ask for totals for each class as well as over-all camper registration numbers and ask what they had expected. Ask what happens to classes or registration numbers that are low? What is considered low? You are looking for a reasonable answer and a plan for how they will serve lower number. Do some simple math based on what you are paying for the camp and how many kids they say each staff will cover. And if you think because you pay $600 or $1000/week that they must have a ton of profit to play with… think again, summer camps just don’t operate on huge margins until they really have volume, it’s the “economy of scale” that work in this business – which is why every summer camp may be hurting right now.

4) If you hate your plans to change… avoid registering early for the first week of the camp season and the last week of summer too and the weeks on either side of the holiday. These are the most frequently closed summer camp weeks. The bookend camp weeks close to consolidate the numbers. The weeks on either side of the holiday close because families are taking more trips and enrollment is low. (If you wait and buy these weeks late you may find good deals, call the week before and make an offer … this may work especially well if you are paid in-full for weeks later in the summer as well.)

5) Know your summer camp leadership. Find out all you can about the camp owner. Are they from a summer camp back ground? Is this a passion that they will not give up on, even in bad times? Would they sell their summer camp today if they could? Also, if you have been at this summer camp for a while, do you sense any change in their approach to camp customers? Are they emailing you more or less? Are the notifications on time, is paperwork late, are they cutting back any services? In this economy, they should be making some adjustments but a “camp” committed owner will be guarding the customer experience from those cuts. Ask what adjustments they are making.

6) How long your summer camp has been around can be a good indicator, but only IF they have a great return rate. (A topic for another day… there are MANY ways that camps can compute a return rate). The summer camps with strong return rates tend to be camps that have either a strong “traditions-based” programming and/or an excellent progression for kids to follow as they age and/or develop in skills. Summer camps that offer a single topic can be fine, if they offer a strong progression. But keep in mind that trendy topics always come and go, so even in good economic years you will see ebb and flow in the numbers at any specialty summer camp. If you hear about some new cool summer camp focused on a topic that is ripped from the TV prime time… it might be fun, call early, but don’t drop your cash until just before it runs – and do your best to stop by and visit the program their first week, before you pay up in full… to avoid an unhappy camper.

7) You can check on them. If you are thinking of going to a summer camp that rents their space, call the facility and ask if the summer camp always pays on time. Verify they have been paid all appropriate fees for 2009. This can be very very informative.

8. Take “Fire Sales” as a warning sign. If your summer camp company is running “Fire Sales” (dropping prices like crazy) in the month of June, they are scrabbling for revenue. They have figured out that they have lost money and they are trying to fill all the seats as a tourniquet for the bleeding. They will likely try to up-sell to people already registered for weeks… “Since you bought early we’re offering you this amazing discount on your added weeks”. This can be a great deal… and using Fire Sales to get a great deal is wonderful… but if your week is in August, and Fire Sales start happening… it’s a warning that your camp company is already worried and is likely tightening its belt and scrabbling for last minute camp sales. This could mean reductions in staff ratio, tightening on supplies, or other cost saving measures, including cancelling weeks. It’s time to call and ask to make sure your week is still 100% a go. (Ok, in all honesty, if they are doing this at least they are doing something… some businesses can get so busy in summer they don’t even try to save themselves and end up folding post season).

9) Have key people in the camp company left? No, I’m not talking about the counselors – though they are “key” since your kids will be with them (but a % of summer staff always go before the season is out). But check into the company leadership, have they had any major turn-over, this can be a sign of financial troubles or major shifts in the company direction. Don’t just ask how long the company has been around, ask how long the main Camp Leadership has been in place.

10) Do they have a fall back position? A strong summer camp knows its numbers and knows what it will do based on those numbers along the way. If you can have a frank discussion with someone about the contingency plans you will likely get a gut feel for their business sense; of course that is if you get to speak with a leader in the company not just a sales person. Asking a sales person who is not trained handling these types of questions, may give you your first clues about how the numbers are. If you’re worried after that, as to speak to the director or business manager and go ahead and ask questions. Start form the basic assumption that sales must be low and let them know you plan to have a frank discussion.

The point is… Ask some direct questions and make yourself an insider. Your camp company should welcome your partnership!

Kat “Toes” Fitzgerald has been a leader in the summer camp industry for over 20 years. She currently is the founder of an educational summer enrichment camp at multiple locations that focuses on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math.) You can read more tips for parents, counselors, administrators and campers at []

Article Source: [] 10 Questions to Ask When Shopping For Summer Camp to Make Sure Your Camp is Not Closing

How To Maximize Your Summer Experience
By Chioma Isiadinso

As a student, summer becomes a treasured time of year, a time to relax, indulge, explore, and grow. A summer vacation can also become an experience that can shape who you are and how you view the world.

What you do with your summer can also add an interesting caveat to your college admissions applications, giving the admissions officer further insight into who you are or what you are passionate about. With these three months of opportunity looming ahead, now is the time to consider how you can use this summer to challenge yourself, indulge a favorite passion, and have whole lot fun.

There is no specific formula for creating a summer that will automatically get you admitted to any Ivy League college.

Lisa Sohmer, the Director of College Counseling at the Garden School in New York and a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, emphasizes, “Doing something just for how it will look is foolish”.

Instead, Sohmer said, students that “do things that they really care about and do them well are the ones that have the best experiences to tell”.

This advice ties in with the idea of developing a personal brand. Know what you are truly passionate about and actively look for ways that you can indulge that passion this summer. There are so many options out there but there is not one right way to approach a summer- look for something that you love, something that you think will be fun, and something that can challenge you.

Academic Programs

Most elite universities offer on-campus programs for high schools students, and these programs can be an excellent way to get to know a specific university while also broadening your academic horizons. Megan Isenhock, a coordinator for the John Hopkins Summer University program for high school students, said that summer programs at specific universities help students to “experience the college world before they get there”.

Johns Hopkins offers a five-week program that can earn students 6 college credits. These credits are transferrable to other colleges and universities, and constitute about half a semester of college classes. Students in the summer program can choose from over 100 freshman and sophomore level classes in subjects ranging from Arabic to Neuroscience. While in the program, students live in on-campus dorms and eat at the on-campus dining hall.

Most universities, Ivy League, and otherwise, offer programs based on a similar model- allowing students to mirror the college experience as closely as possible by living in college dorms, taking college classes, and using campus libraries, gyms, and other facilities. On-campus programs also give high school students the opportunity to speak with college professors about fields they are interested in, something Isenhock said she always encourages students to do.

Harvard offers a similar program for high school students, the Harvard Secondary School Program. Linda Cross, the public affairs director for the program, pointed out that “comprehensive college prep” is an important part of the Harvard summer program. Students can attend talks on what to expect during the application process, how to make their essays stand out, how to prepare for an admissions interview, and how to handle the challenges of college life. The program also offers students the opportunity to visit other New England colleges.

When considering programs on college campuses, it is not necessary to choose a program at your top choice school, but it might be helpful. Spending a summer at your top-choice university could give you an opportunity to simultaneously become better acquainted with the school and to impress admissions officers at that school with your high level of interest.

However, if you do not have a clear top choice, or if it is not feasible to attend a summer program at your top-choice school, attending a summer program at any school can help you get a better idea of what college will be like.

Either way, Harvard Program Director William Holinger points out that summer program students “experience all the responsibilities and challenges of college first-hand during a summer at Harvard, while the courses they take can help them to decide on a future major or career.” Many college summer programs have a rolling admissions process, so consider applying as early as you can.

Another option for using your summer to explore an academic interest is to take a class at your local community college. This option would tend to be more cost effective than the pre-college programs mentioned above, which can cost thousands of dollars in tuition. If at first you cannot get into a class at your local community college, try contacting the professor. More often than not, they will be happy to let you sit in on their lectures.

Whether you spend your summer at a community college or an Ivy League university, Sohmer pointed out that it is important to remember to take a class outside of what you would normally encounter in high school- study something you have never had the opportunity to study before.

Sohmer recalled one student who took a class on New York City comedy, and another who chose to study the history of baseball. Look for a class that is tailored to a particular interest that you have, or study a foreign language that you have always been interested in. If you choose classes that are more narrowly focused on your own interests, they will be more fun for you and more eye-catching for college admissions officers.

Outside the Classroom

If taking classes does not sound like your ideal summer, there are many other opportunities for a fun and rewarding summer experience.

Jill Tipograph, the owner of a business called Everything Summer, emphasized, “What colleges really want to see the kids do is grow. They want to see them push themselves out of their comfort zone.” What activity helps achieve this is different for different people, Tipograph said.

Everything Summer provides independent guidance to assist families in finding summer experiences that will help their child or teenager grow. The company helps students find programs ranging from overnight camps to cultural immersion programs to internships.

The company recently completed a survey of colleges across the country. The results, Tipograph said, indicate that colleges are looking for “kids to come to college who can weather the experiences that are going to be thrown in front of them.” Tipograph’s company, she said, tries to help students look at their abilities and passions to find areas where they can delve deeper, and to find a summer program that fits in with those areas.

“Summer is the time when kids get the opportunity to grow the most in the shortest amount of time,” Tipograph said. What colleges don’t want to see are students who are wasting their time.

So, this summer, do your best to dive into something that you could not do during the regular school year. Consider enrolling in a summer program like those offered through Everything Summer. Look around in your local community for programs or opportunities that fit what you are interested. Most of all, do not take your summer for granted- use it to learn, to explore, and to grow.

Summer on a Budget

It is important to keep in mind that a memorable summer experience does not have to break the bank.

Volunteering costs nothing and can be a valuable contribution to your community and an excellent opportunity for personal growth. Look around your community for charitable organizations that support something you love.

If you love animals, consider volunteering with your local animal shelter. If you are a voracious reader, many libraries recruit young volunteers to help with cataloguing and public programming. If you are passionate about politics, volunteer to help out at a local campaign office. These experiences are entirely free, allow you to explore a favorite interest, and can help showcase that interest to prospective colleges.

Another option, Tipograph said, is finding someone in your community that you could shadow. If you are interested in a particular career field, approach someone in that field and ask about shadowing or internship opportunities. If you are willing to donate your time, many companies are happy to let you experience the field and bring your own talents to the company. You might not get paid, but the experience in itself could be invaluable.

Having a full or part time job in the summer can also provide valuable experience, along with a tidy profit. Sohmer said that she speaks with many college applicants who feel like having to work a summer job is in some way a detriment their chances, since they cannot afford to pay for summer camps or college programs. However, Sohmer said that, in reality, “Students having jobs is as valuable if not more valuable in terms of experiences or what they are able to learn”.

Additionally, Tipograph said that students should look into financial aid for the pricier summer programs. If a student demonstrates a desire and a need, many companies and programs will come up with some sort of funding for that student.

Regardless of what you do with your summer, Sohmer stressed that it is important to be able to say that you learned something, whether it is about a subject, a political issue, your community, or yourself. She recalls one example of a student who felt like he was limited because his family went to Italy every summer to visit relatives. She suggested that he make a project out of the trip by reading books written by authors in the region.

Whatever direction your summer leads you in, take as much initiative as you can- make a reading list for yourself, or a list of local museums that you would like to visit. If possible, keep a journal or blog about your experiences. Such supplemental projects can create excellent memories and provide valuable topics for a college admissions essay.

Great Summer. Now What?

So, once you have found a summer experience that fits your personality and lifestyle, how do you showcase that experience in your college application?

Sohmer said that the essay is the most common space for conveying a summer experience. Adding personal stories or experiences into your essay can give the reader insight into you as a person- what you value, what you are passionate about, how you process your experiences.

Use your summer experience to remind the reader of what makes you unique- what passion will you bring to their university? What are some experiences that have shaped who you are and how you can contribute to the school of your choice?

Consistency in summer experiences can be a good thing, even if it is just a consistent spirit of adventure. Sohmer explains that it can look good if students return to the same job year after or year, or develop their interests in a leadership position. However, she also said that there is no need to be locked into one summer activity year after year: “Quality experiences are quality experiences even if they are varied”.

Though summer experiences do not have near as much weight as test scores and transcripts, the way you spend your summers can reinforce the overall image of your personality that is conveyed in your application.

William Holinger, the director of Harvard’s Secondary Summer Program, stated, “We advise students to emphasize in their college applications the relationship between their summer academic endeavors and their expectations for their undergraduate education, and life beyond college-if possible.

How did a summer course relate to what they want to study in college? What did they learn over the summer that has changed their sense of why they want to attend a particular college, or what they wish to study there?”

Most importantly of all, be genuine. Both in choosing your summer experience, and in conveying it in your essay, think more about who you are and what you have to offer than whatever it is you think colleges are looking for.

Sohmer pointed out, “It is important that students and families look at the summer not just as a way to get some place else, not just what you do to go to college”.

Summer is a time to explore yourself and explore what you love, and any route that you take to do that will give you ample material for your college application.

Next Steps

Make a list of your interests and do research on local organizations that could serve as outlets for those interests.

If you are planning on applying to a summer program, begin as soon as possible, as many of them have a rolling admissions process.

Check out listings of summer classes at your local community college and contact the professor to discuss taking a class.

The author, Chioma Isiadinso, a former admissions board member at Harvard Business School and admissions officer at Carnegie Mellon University, provides tips, strategies and advice to MBA applicants on how to gain admission to top MBA programs. To get Chioma’s free college admissions report, “7 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Top US Colleges and Universities” visit

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