These two simple tasks require substantial investment of your time, but if you have prepared well in the months before, you should be able to run through them smoothly. The right recruitment partners will help you reach students who are interested, available, and ready for your program. With clear information about compliance and human resources you should now be able to focus on finding the right individuals to staff your program.

Knowledge for Freedom — Toolkit




You’ll probably want to give one or more presentations directly to students about the program to encourage applications. Some students will be interested to know how your program can help them get into college, while others will be motivated by the content of the course. Try pitching to both groups. If you have only a few minutes to present, speak to their emotions: this is an exciting opportunity for them to read challenging philosophical texts with real college professors and ask some of the big questions about society in a judgment-free and constructive environment. They’ll make new friends, debate important issues, and practice living independently before college. If you have more time, you might go into the syllabus in more detail. At Columbia, Jessica Lee has had success sharing a (very) short reading with students, such as an excerpt from Aristotle on friendship, and asking them to talk about what friendship means to them. Roosevelt Montás does something similar with a copy of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. Other times Jessica has told the story of the trial and death of Socrates or engaged students in a debate on voting eligibility.

Expect to get some of the following questions and comments from students:

  • Do I have to live on campus? What if my parents won’t let me?
  • How much will this cost me?
  • I know I’m into STEM, so this won’t apply to me.
  • What GPA/SAT score is required? (Or, I’m not smart enough to do this.)
  • Will this help me get into your college?
  • What if I have to work this summer?
  • What is the year-long commitment? What if I can only commit to the summer?
  • How do I apply?

Give yourself plenty of time to recruit students. Aim to present the program in early January, close applications by early March, and accept students by late April. You will probably end up extending deadlines, but starting earlier gives you the necessary flexibility.



At Columbia, the staff recruitment of 13 undergraduate teaching assistants begins immediately after winter break, with interviews scheduled in late February and final decisions made before spring break in March. At both Ursinus and Columbia professors teach related college seminars during the academic year, and Columbia has had success recruiting TAs from those classes. In recruiting undergraduate or graduate staff to apply for your program you will want to consider the following:

Information to share about the job

  • Exact dates of the program, including training and post-program wrap-up
  • Hours on-site and any off-site prep work they might need to do
  • Desired skills and experiences
  • Skills they will they gain and what will they learn from this work
  • Requirements for eligibility
  • Pay rate or stipend
  • Housing and meal plan benefits (if applicable)

Advertising the job

  • Reach out to your former college students. Ask for their recommendations, or request their help spreading the work about the job opening
  • Talk to your colleagues and ask for their recommendations or help advertising the program
  • Find related courses in your campus directory and ask professors to advertise the job in class
  • Use your campus online job marketplace, if one exists, or contact career services to find out about how you can advertise broadly on campus

How staff can apply

You may want to keep the basic application simple to encourage applications, and spend more time vetting your candidates through in-person interviews. Information you may want for an application includes:

  • Cover letter
  • Resume
  • Transcript
  • Writing sample
  • 2+ references with contact information, related to work or volunteer history


The American Camps Association recommends a personal interview for summer staff, and we highly recommend one as well. Try asking questions that get them to provide specific examples of their past behavior, or decisions they have made in certain instances, rather than in hypothetical scenarios. Remember your undergraduate staff are not only teachers but may also be camp counselors and project managers, depending on the scope of your program. Questions you may want to ask:


  • Tell us about your transition to college--what helped or hindered your adjustment and how might that experience inform your work with our students?
  • Why are you interested in this job? What are you hoping to get out of it?
  • Which of your professional or volunteer experiences do you think is most relevant to our work, and why?
  • (At the end): Is there anything you’d like us to know about yourself or your experiences that we haven’t asked about?
  • (At the end): Do you have any questions for us?


  • Have you had a seminar professor or TA who you thought did an outstanding job orchestrating a full group discussion? What did they do that you might emulate in your own class?
  • Have you ever had to lead a group activity in a club, job, or volunteer experience?
  • What are strategies you have for getting the full group to participate?
  • Think about our syllabus (or the syllabus of a related class you took): is there one text you’re most excited to teach? How would you explain the texts to your students before they read it to get them excited? What is one concept you think your students must walk away from that text understanding?
  • Have you ever edited or taught writing to peers or students? What did you learn from that experience? How did you balance making your own edits with maintaining the author’s own voice?
  • Imagine we are high school students. Can you tell us what a thesis statement is and how we can tell if we’ve written a good or bad thesis statement?
  • Think back to a time (or consider a time in a relevant work experience) in which you’ve had to tell a peer “no.” How hard was it to set up a boundary and how did you do so without hurting your relationship with that person?


  • What about the residential position interests you besides the free housing?
  • What kind of experiences are you hoping to have with the students?
  • Have you ever been in an authority position with people close to you in age?
  • How have you managed that relationship?
  • Consider your own freshman orientation leaders or residential advisors in campus housing: what did they do that you would want to emulate with our high school students in the dorms, or what would you avoid?
  • How do you want your students to think of you (how would you want them to describe you)? What actions could you take and what behaviors could you practice that would ensure your students see you as ________?
  • What would you anticipate being the biggest issues you might face supervising high school students in the dorms?
  • Have you ever felt highly stressed or overwhelmed on campus? What coping strategies did you employ that you might teach to your students? How might you build community with students during down time?

Year-long Civic/College Mentorship

  • Have you ever worked on a long-term group project? What was that experience like and what did you learn about getting a group to complete an assignment on time?
  • How do you balance your time during the academic year so that you have time for your extra-curricular activities?
  • Our students will have a lot going on during their senior year and you may struggle to get them to attend meetings as the year progresses. What tactics might you employ during the summer or at your first meeting in the fall to encourage their year-long commitment?
  • What civic issues would you like to work on? Pick one: how would you explain to one of our high school students why they should care about this challenge?

Background Checks

Your school’s Protection of Minors policy will almost certainly require staff background checks every one to three years, likely coordinated through HR. You can expect that your newly hired staff will need to submit a background check authorization form that will ask for personal information including their social security number, date of birth, and residential history. Many schools will only require criminal history and sex offender registry checks every few years, and will not require fingerprinting. The ACA recommends yearly background checks for seasonal staff (see the ACA guidelines here). Background checks vary in cost and time based on the individual’s residential history. At Columbia, the university uses an external company to conduct checks. In 2019 background checks took between one and five business days to clear, and they cost between $9.15 and $227.90 per person. You should retain documentation that your staff has cleared background checks.