Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Why 104 questions you ask? Well actually we 'only' came up with 103 questions, but that makes number 104, hah!
So here are our 103 bonafide questions that you can ask potential camps, camp alumni, and other parents to help you select the perfect summer program for your child.
Is it necessary to ask a prospective camp all 103 of these questions? Certainly not! Some questions will carry more weight for you than others - we all have our deal-breakers and deal-makers. For other questions the answers may already be clear from the camp’s website or FAQs section. If you are not yet sure which factors might really matter to you in a summer camp, consider this a primer to help you formulate your own set of essential criteria.
We’re oh-so-much-more certain than Heisenberg that our 103 questions have got everything covered, but if you think we’ve somehow missed an important caveat, please head over to the comments section and emptor your thoughts!
1. How long has the camp been in business?
Even the best camps started at year one, so don’t summarily dismiss camps that haven't been around since Model T Fords. That said, for both young and old summer programs alike you will want to take a look at their reviews and get a sense of their level of experience. And if the camp is relatively new, you'll want to investigate more thoroughly than you would a camp that has been around longer.
2. How many campers will attend?
Summer camp sizes can range from 30 to 3,000 campers, but ultimately it's up to you to decide what is the "right" answer. Obviously, a smaller camp may feel more personal, and may mean that the students may have more similar values, and therefore your child may be able to build friendships more easily. On the flip side, a bigger summer camp might allow for more choices and options in terms of courses, activities, and friends. Determine what environment would be ideal for your child, and then look for a summer program that best supports that experience.
3. Where is the camp's physical location?
Is the camp held at someone's house, a local park, school, or university campus? Is it located in a stimulating or exciting place? Different camp locations will create a different atmosphere and experience. Does it make the most sense to attend the camp in person or virtually?
4. What is the background and experience of the camp directors?
If you're looking for a summer camp with strong academics, it's probably important that the camp directors have a high level of academic achievement themselves and a strong background in education. Likewise, if you’re looking for a summer camp specializing in athletics, you'll probably want a camp that's run by full-time sports professionals. It's up to you to determine what level of relevant training and experience is acceptable. For some camps, a current undergraduate student or a high school tennis coach would be sufficient as an instructor. Whereas for others, only an Ivy League lecturer or former ATP tennis player would be an appropriate mentor.
5. What do reviews say?
This can be difficult to judge in terms of pure numbers, because unhappy customers are much more likely to post a review than a majority who had a wonderful experience. However, if the same complaints are being echoed repeatedly, this is an indication that the summer program has a genuine problem. Also note whether the summer camp constructively responds to negative feedback in the review's comments. Keep in mind that some sites are highly regulated, keeping bad reviews hidden (which means some of the reviews might be biased or even might not be legitimate), while others are more lenient and present all reviews. So do check out the camp's online reputation on review sites, but do so with a grain of salt and try to diversify your sources.
6. What is the camper return rate?
Nothing says satisfaction like repeat business, but what should be considered a “good” camper return rate? This will depend on the camp. For some camps such as those specializing in academic courses, students may only come back when they are old enough to take the next level of their favorite subject. Whereas other students may enjoy coming back to study multiple subjects, even during the same summer! On the other hand, a summer camp specializing in gap-year programs will obviously have a return rate of 0%, though a good comparable in this case might be whether siblings subsequently attend the same camp. Alternatively, a local adventure camp for kids might have a return rate upwards of 50%. Given that camper return rates can vary widely, it’s important to consider whether your prospective camp’s answer makes sense given the type of camp, camp cost, camp participants, and so on.
7. Why was the camp started in the first place?
Maybe it's just to make friends and offer an enjoyable and relaxing summer experience after a year of hard study. Or maybe the camp’s mission is to give students a valuable academic experience where they can learn useful skills and get a head start in their future careers. Regardless, the right answer is the one that matches your summer goals.
8. How trustworthy is the camp website?
One way to tell how committed a camp is to their craft is by how much care they put into their materials and branding. A camp that neglects to update their website with correct info, or has a site that contains obvious spelling or grammatical mistakes, might indicate that operators are also not taking care of the camp’s other important details.
9. What makes the camp unique?
If you're searching for a camp, you might be considering a number of different options, which at face value may appear to be similar. So, if you aren't really sure what sets a camp apart, ask. The camp itself will be the first to tell you what differentiates them and why (they think) they're a cut above the rest. Then compare their answers to determine which camp would be best for your child.
10. Is the camp active on social media?
Active social media can mean different things to different people, but you might note whether a camp actively posts pictures from camps, puts up student reviews, answers parent questions, has their own Youtube channel, or demonstrably engages with the local community. As a parent, it should give you an extra sense of calm knowing that the camp is real and tangible, and is one that other campers and parents have enjoyed.
11. Can the camp provide parent references?
It can be useful to request the contact details of parents with kids the same age as yours who have previously attended the camp. Be aware that all references provided will naturally be from those who had a positive experience. Even so, there are probably certain areas of the camp they felt could have been better, so you can still use this as an opportunity to get a more balanced account of what a camp’s summer program is really like.
SIGNING UP FOR CAMP
12. What is the camp's registration process like?
A camp registration process doesn’t have to be long and involved in order for the camp to be a good one. But, if registration only asks for parent and student names and just one form of contact, or if they purport to be selective but don’t collect any potentially distinguishing criteria, that should raise a red flag.
13. When can you register or sign up for camp?
If you're a bit of a summer planning procrastinator, you need to keep tabs on meeting application deadlines and the possibility that your desired program may sell out. However, if you plan ahead in an attempt to beat the rush and secure early-bird savings, you'll want to find out when camps first starting taking registrations. Some start as early as the preceding fall (and it's advised to register as early as possible).
14. Does the camp have a wait-list?
Drats, you signed up for camp too late, and now your desired summer program is sold out. Ask the camp if there is a wait-list you can join, and if so, how it works (first come first served, when you’ll be informed if spaces have opened up, etc). Maybe you can also inquire whether or not the camp might consider adding an additional course or session to accommodate your needs. If their wait-list is already long or if you can recruit some additional siblings and their friends, the camp may be open to the idea.
15. Once you register for camp, can you make a change?
Ideally you’ll plan ahead so as to secure your first choices in summer programs and dates. But if your circumstances change, having the flexibility to make changes to start dates or to cancel is valuable. So you need to take into consideration what the camps refund and change policies are, and what it might cost to do so should the need arise.
16. Can the camp make an age exception?
Summer courses generally segment their programs into age groups in order to better cater to differing ability levels and facilitate friendships. But if you feel your child would get more value out of a program outside their specified age range, ask if the camp would be willing to accommodate a change.
17. Are there prerequisites to enrollment?
For some summer programs you may have to prove a certain proficiency in the subject or to have taken some prerequisite courses. Does your child have the required skills to take this course and get the most out of it? If not, there is no use trying to convince the camp to make an exception as they will most likely have a frustrating experience. By asking this question at the start you’ll ensure that you choose a camp where your child will excel.
18. Do they offer online courses?
If you can’t travel to the summer camp, do they offer online classes? Are these classes live so that you can ask your instructor questions and interact with other students in real time (i.e. synchronous), or are they recordings where this is not possible (i.e. asynchronous)?
19. Are online classes recorded?
Does your summer program provide you with access to recordings of your online classes in case you missed a crucial point in the lecture or want to go back later and revise an important idea? If so, for how long will these recordings be made available to you?
20. Are in-person classes recorded?
For the same reasons, does your summer program provide you with access to recordings of your in-person classes? This is substantially less common than for online classes.
21. Are there grades?
If you are on an academic summer course it’s important to find out whether student performance will be assessed, and if so, how. Is this something both you and your child are comfortable with? If so, be sure your child is adequately prepared to perform to their best ability.
22. Will my course instructor provide a letter of recommendation?
Is it possible to receive a letter of recommendation after the course finishes? If so, is this drafted by the camp company or their administrators or by your actual instructor? A letter of recommendation written by your instructor is much more useful for college applications and work experience because they have gotten to know you personally in an academic context and have the relevant expertise to assess ability.
23. What is the staff to camper ratio?
Staff to camper ratios can have a big impact on the level of supervision a summer camp is able to provide and therefore camper safety and well-being. Moreover, smaller ratios may facilitate better relationship building between campers and counselors. In addition, if you have a younger child you might inquire whether there are there differences in the level of supervision provided for younger campers.
24. What are the class sizes?
Would you rather sign up your son or daughter to a summer course that has 30 students per instructor, or one with at most a handful? When asking about student-to-instructor ratios, inquire whether these are simply averages from the past season or guaranteed maximums. While some camps claim to have a certain student-to-instructor ratios on average, they may not guarantee these numbers on their programs. Also, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily want a very small class size as this may limit your child’s ability to interact with, gain insight from, and make friends with other fabulous students.
25. Is camp in session on the 4th of July?
If you are American, this is a question that you might not think about until it is too late. If you sign up for a camp during the 4th of July, be sure that both you and your child are fine with spending the holiday apart. Otherwise, you'll need to make alternative arrangements.
26. Can kids call home when they want?
This is another question that doesn't necessarily have a right or wrong answer, but depends on the intended experience. If you’d like to have multiple daily check-ins with your child at regular times, you'll want to make sure your prospective camp will allow for that.
27. Can and should students bring their cellphones to camp?
On a similar vein, are students allowed to bring phones to the camp at all? If not, will this be a problem? Many camps which focus on an outdoor experience or ‘digital detox’ limit the amount of phone and screen-time allowed. On academic summer programs, phone use will be prohibited during classes, but outside the classroom may be useful for playing games and communicating with new friends.
28. What should your son or daughter bring with them to camp?
If your child is attending a camp, you’ll need to find out what they need to bring in order to be both safe and comfortable, and to participate in all the activities they want to. If your son or daughter is travelling to a new location this might not be obvious, so request a list of what they will need to bring and purchase required items beforehand.
29. Is the camp available by phone at all times?
Even if you don’t intend to call your camp in the middle of the program it's always nice to know they are reachable whenever you might need them, just in case.
30. Is transportation provided to and from the airport?
We appreciate that travelling alone for the first time can be quite daunting, both for the child and their parents! So it can really make a big difference to your summer camp experience if you are picked up from and dropped off at the airport. That way all you have to do is get on and off your flight and your summer camp will take care of the rest. Even if you are not flying to your summer camp, it is convenient if your chosen program makes the arrival and departure process as easy as possible.
31. Will the camp be transporting kids to and from the camp location and external activities?
Do you know whether or not there will be off campus activities as part of the camp experience? And if so, are you okay with your child being transported and supervised off campus? Also make sure that the planned extracurricular activities are things you are comfortable with your child doing.
32. What is the policy about letters and packages from home?
Every camp has a different policy about sending items to your children. Some camps encourage parents to send letters and care packages, while others may forbid it. Make sure you know the camp's policy ahead of time to avoid any sanctions or embarrassing at-camp faux pas (Trust us, your teen doesn't want to be the only kid who got a massive package from Mom!).
33. Can campers make their own schedule?
To what extent can campers decide which activities they participate in? Is their schedule set in stone upon arrival or is there choice about what campers do from day to day? Are there some activities which are optional and others which are mandatory? If you do have some choice, be sure to find out in advance what activities you can choose from.
34. What is the camp's cancellation policy?
Summer plans can change and it is important that you know what the financial implications are should you have to cancel, including cancellation deadlines, and the fraction of your financial commitment that may be returnable. Alternatively, if you have already passed the refund deadline, you can ask whether or not you can defer your course to a later date.
35. Does the camp offer insurance?
Unexpected life events are unavoidable. In the event that you must cancel your camp past the stated deadline, or if your property was damaged, or your child was injured or gets sick, does the camp assist with those costs? Although some camps may insure campers against such losses, most require their campers to take out medical, property, and travel insurance. In which case, you may ask them to recommend a trustworthy organization who can insure your child's stay at camp.
36. How does the camp handle discipline?
If a child is not behaving according to expectations how will this be handled? A warning? Time out from fun activities? A phone call to parents? Expulsion? What actions will lead to these measures? It's important to not only know how your child might be disciplined, but also and how issues are dealt with.
37. How does the camp resolve camper vs. camper conflict?
Related to the above, how will the camp resolve any conflicts that might arise between your child and other students? Will parents be notified of these problems if they occur?
38. How can I keep track of my child's progress?
If your child is at a camp where they'll be learning new skills, you'll probably want to track their progress and find out what they learned and achieved during their session. Will the camp keep you updated with their progress and contributions to the program?
39. What if my child misses some days?
If your child has to miss a day or two due to illness or other reasons, does it make sense for them to continue on with the rest of camp? Is there any way they can make up for time lost? If they are on an academic course, are the classes recorded and and made available in a timely fashion so that they can catch up with the material for next class, or at least be able to review it at a later date?
40. What happens if my child gets sick or suffers an injury?
Along this same vein, what will happen if your child gets sick or suffers an injury? Do camp staff have first aid training? Are they able to help take care of your child while they are ill or transport them to medical services as required?
41. Are there medical services close by?
In a medical emergency, how close is the nearest hospital from the campus? You can be lot more at ease if you know that medical services are a short car ride away as opposed to several hours.
42. What kind of camper is most likely to have a good experience at this camp?
This is a good question to ask in order to know if you are really sending your child to the right camp. Of course, ideally the camp’s response should paint a picture of exactly who your child is. Warning. If your prospective camp says ‘anyone’ would have a good time at their camp and would be a good fit for their program, this is actually a very negative sign that the camp hasn’t focused enough on anything in particular, and as a consequence wont be especially enjoyable to anyone.
43. Does the camp offer a balanced experience?
Do you want your child to spend all day in classes, or just enjoy hanging out making friends, or practicing their backhand and second serve? Do you want them to focus on one thing in particular, or do you want them to have a more balanced summer experience, and if so, how varied would you like their activities to be?
44. What does an average day at camp look like?
It’s also good to get an idea of what a typical day at the camp looks like. Are meals at reasonable times? Is bedtime too early or too late? If your child is not morning person, do activities and classes get going on the early side, and if so are there any options to start later?
45. What does the whole camp schedule look like?
What activities will your child be engaging in throughout the entire camp? Can the camp produce a schedule of these activities on request? If you are sending your child to an academic camp, what does the course curriculum include, and beyond the acquisition of simple facts - what realizations and understanding should a student leave camp with?
46. What is the pace of the day?
This has a lot to do with the questions above, but just a particular angle of looking at it. Is the pace of the camp frenetic and highly structured with little down time, or are there ample opportunities to improvise and explore one’s own interests?