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By Heather Lewis
Walt Disney World and Disneyland both offer a unique opportunity for college students. Students in any area of study can spend a semester or more working as a CP, Disneyspeak for College Program intern. The process to becoming a CP is quite easy. I spent my second semester of college in Disney’s College Program, and I would like to share some details of my experience.
I had never heard of the program prior to the recruiters arriving at my campus in Oklahoma. I majored in Radio and Television Broadcasting, so my department was one of the ones that recruiters focused on at my campus. Between classes I spotted a table set up in our department building that said Disney College Program. As a lifelong Disney fan (my first trip was when I was 17 months old), it caught my attention.
The recruiters gave me the basic information: one semester working for Disney with a chance to earn college credit. At that point I made an appointment to attend one of the three scheduled information sessions.
The information session was held the next evening in the student union. There were approximately 15 people at the session I went to. At the session the recruiters covered the Disney College Program in more depth. You could apply for a semester internship or a “semester plus” that included the summer or holiday break. During the time of your internship, you would live in gated apartment communities with other College Program interns. You would be scheduled to work five days a week, with some exceptions. You were guaranteed a minimum of 30 hours a week with the option of working more. You were paid above federal minimum wage. Job assignments could not be guaranteed and would not even be assigned prior to your arrival for the program. Roommates would also be randomly assigned, with anywhere from two to eight people living in an apartment. Transportation was also provided to all College Program interns with routes to each work location and community spots such as Wal-Mart.
At the information sessions, everyone filled out an application if they were interested in the program. It covered the basic information that any job application covers. When we were turning in our applications to the recruiters, several of us were given the opportunity to schedule an interview. I was able to schedule my interview for that same night.
The interviews were done in pairs. The questions were typical of interviews but the recruiter also wanted to see how well you interacted with your partner. Following the interviews we were told we would hear from the program in four to six weeks. At this point we were also given a list of job categories and asked to select which we would consider working in. They ranged from park operations, a general catch-all, to housekeeping, to quick-service food service.
A week later I received a packet in the mail informing me of my acceptance into the program. I was offered a position in park operations, meaning I had no idea what I would be doing. After convincing my father that this internship would not derail my education, I accepted the internship. I went to a website given in my packet and filled out an acceptance agreement. I then also filled out medical forms and made arrangements to have my fingerprints sent to Disney.
During spring 2004, I spent a semester working at Disney World in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. I worked in park operation operating rides and staffing events in Tomorrowland. My primary work location was the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway. I also worked during Grad Nites and the Visa cardholder events. At these events I operated my attraction, checked bags of incoming graduates, and passed out favors to guests. Another common assignment was PAC — Parade Audience Control. Yes, I was one of those Cast Members who would come by and inform guests that the seat they were trying to save was in the handicapped section of the hub.It was an unbelievable experience that far surpassed anything I could have imagined. The benefits have been too numerous to count.
For example, to this day I am still asked in job interviews about what it was like working at Disney World. That single line on my resume gets more attention than any other. Employers know Disney sets the bar high for customer service, and if you can survive working there you can make it anywhere.
I received college credit for my semester. Disney offers classes to College Programs based on a curriculum they have prepared. I took two of these classes for 3 credit hours each. My school also awarded me 9 credit hours based on the schools internship program. So during my semester I earned as many credits at Disney as I would have earned on campus in Oklahoma.
Disney also offers some unique opportunities to College Program alumni. Of particular interest are the advanced and professional internships. These internships are also a semester or longer in length. However, they will be tied into your specific area of study. As a radio and television major, I could have had an internship in public relations or special events concerning any live filmed events.
Disney College Program participants are considered to be full Cast Members. This means you have free admission and parking at the parks. You are also entitled to other Cast Member discounts and perks. Working at the Magic Kingdom, I had access to the Utilidor and all backstage areas of the park.
Some of the most lasting benefits are the relationships and networking that was started while I was a College Program participant. One of my co-workers and I became close friends after working together during the Spring Break madness. He eventually went on to introduce me to my husband. Another co-worker still works for Disney, now full-time in entertainment. On my most recent trip she helped me make arrangements to surprise my sister at Askerhaus Royal Banquet Hall. One of my area managers eventually ended up hiring me at my first job out of college. He had left Disney and when he saw my application come across his desk he was quick to set up an interview.
Making a small gesture to cause the face of a child to light up brings wonderful rewards. Creating magical moments is one of the coolest feelings ever. Knowing that your actions will stick with that child and possibly create another lifelong Disney fan is what makes it worth it.
Working at Disney as a College Program intern puts you at the bottom of the seniority pole. You will work long hours at a demanding job for little pay. However, the benefits will far outweigh the cost every time.