The Disney College Program: An Overview

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The Mouse For Less Blog would like to welcome Samantha, who shares about the Disney College Program.

There is an element to Disney Parks magic that most guests don’t see. There aren’t any guidebooks to find it, like a Hidden Mickey. The quickest way to discover it is to look at the nametags of the youngest cast members and you might just find the name of a college printed below their name instead of a hometown. These are the Disney College Program participants! They move from all over the place to work for the Walt Disney Company for an average of six months at a time – living, learning, and earning with The Mouse.

As the name suggests, all participants must be enrolled in a college at the time of their application. The program is aimed towards that ‘average’ college age, 18-23, but non-traditional students are welcome to apply and do get accepted! Some students take time off of school to participate but most are able to use the experience to gain school credit – both through internship experience and a wide variety of classes taught by Disney Leaders. Others, like me, apply their final semester in college to participate after graduation.

Disney provides low cost housing and a semi-reliable bus system to the Disney College Program participants. There are four options for the Florida program: Chatham Square, The Commons, Patterson Court, and Vista Way. The complexes, though technically off property, are just minutes from the parks and resorts. The buses are operated by a third party company, coming and going on a set schedule – most of the time. It is a pretty good set up for a college student with the low rent and free transportation, but that is just a small bonus when you consider that they are working in the most magical place on earth!

And it certainly is a working experience. If nothing else, I want to make sure that people who want to apply for the program are aware of that part! Many people come ready to have a four month vacation and are unprepared for working some long hours at crazy times. The official website talks some about the earning portion of the program without admitting that Disney College Program participants are at the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak, when it comes to scheduling.

If you want to work in Magic Kingdom, be prepared to work until 3:00 a.m. on those Extra Magic Hour nights. If your dream job is to welcome guests home at the front desk, get ready to work that overnight shift that no full-timer wants. But the reality is that sometimes the crazy schedules are the best part! They’re what help you bond with your co-workers, gives you the most opportunities to make magical moments, and treats you to having some really great stories to tell your friends back home.

And while those friends are stuck at home, you can participate in classes like Disney Heritage or Creativity & Innovation. Classes take place within the housing locations and give program participants the opportunity to learn from people who know their field best, the Disney cast members. I elected to skip the learning portion of the program in favor of not having to do homework for a while, something I think I rightfully earned after four years of undergraduate classes! But Disney offers many other options like the chance to meet Disney executives, shadowing managers in the company, and bringing in speakers to learn more about the company.

As somebody currently in the program and as an avid (rabid?) Disney fan, I 100% believe that the Disney College Program only enhances the magic of the parks. Some past participants out there say it ruins the parks for them but I think they didn’t make the best of their program. Negativity will only tarnish the opportunity. If you apply with the right intentions – a willingness to work and learn is a must – then only good things will come to you!

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