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What It’s Really Like Working The Disney College Program

Do you love Disney? Is it your dream to work there? If so, you may want to look into The Disney College Program (DCP). This program allows you to get work experience while earning college credits (assuming that your college accepts the credits, just like with any study abroad experience).

There are a wide array of career opportunities ranging from creative to customer service to business. In order to apply, you must be over the age of 18 years old and either be  enrolled and taking classes and have completed at least one semester or graduated within the last 12 months.

I never did The Disney College Program but my cousin, Elizabeth Zarb, did. Her college did not accept the college credits, so she did the Program for the work experience and here’s what advice she has to give to you.

What It’s Really Like Working The Disney College Program

GenTwenty: What is the application process like for the Disney College Program? How does one get picked?

Elizabeth Zarb: First, you send in the preliminary application. This involves previous employment, a resumé, and ranking all of the roles from “very high interest” to “no interest.” At this point, there is no guarantee about anything – this is the phase where most people get “NLIC’d” (No Longer In Consideration). Moving forward after this stage of the process is really a guessing game, and I’m not entirely sure how the recruiters choose who moves on.

The next step is the Web-Based Interview (WBI), which is kind of like a survey. You answer questions about yourself and whether or not you agree with a lot of the Disney policies (i.e. “I am fond of helping out others” strongly agree – strongly disagree). At the end of your WBI, you find out if you move on to the Phone Interview or if you are NLIC’d. The phone interview is really your chance to sell yourself – you’re finally talking to a recruiter directly. Usually, if you make it to this point you have a pretty high chance of being accepted, but there have been people NLIC’d after the phone interview.

After the interview, it’s just a waiting game until you get your email! For me, the whole process took about a month, but it can be much longer or much quicker depending on the person.

G20: Can you get college credit for it? Do you get paid? Is housing/food included?

EZ: You can get college credit for it, but it depends on your school. At my school, I had to take a leave of absence in order to participate in the program. However, I know of a lot of people who are taking classes down here and getting credits at their school.

We get paid!! This is a full-time job so we are making a salary – though it is less than what the full-time and part-time cast members make. You have the option to take part in CP (college program) housing, and if you do that then your rent is automatically taken out of your paycheck every week. Your rent depends on which of the apartments you’re living in, how many roommates you have, and how many rooms are in the apartment. Food is not included, so I usually go grocery shopping either once a week or once every other week.

G20: What are the incentives to doing the Disney College Program?

EZ: The biggest incentive is the fact that you are working for the Walt Disney Company. When future employers see that on your resumé, it is beneficial. It’s also a completely paid internship, so if you’re going into the hospitality industry this is much better than an unpaid one at another location.

Some of the more fun incentives involve free park admission, discounted park tickets, discounted merchandise and dining, and access to the cast discount store. Obviously these things aren’t the only reason you should do the program, but they’re definitely perks!

G20: If someone were on the fence about it, what would you say to encourage them to apply?

EZ: You can always self-term! There is never any pressure to stay the entire length of your program, so if you’re realizing it’s not what you want, you can leave. The program is also relatively cheap. If you are unable to financially move away from home for school, this program gives you the opportunity to move to a new city and meet new people. Also, you’re getting paid to be in Walt Disney World, what could be better than that?

G20: What do you wish you could have known before applying to the program?

EZ: I was pretty well-prepared going in because my best friend did the program last year, but the best piece of advice she had given me was that it is way more work than you think it’s going to be. Even if you think it’s going to be a lot of work, it’s even more. I also wish I knew more about the program events going into it because there are some really cool opportunities that I just didn’t keep an eye out for.

G20: What has been the biggest surprise of doing the program?

EZ: I’m honestly surprised with how much my location feels like home to me. I work in Storybook Circus, and now when I’m in the parks as a guest I always just want to hang out there. I’ve picked up a shift in a different location and immediately missed the circus.

Going into my program I had planned on picking up a shift in every park, but now I never want to leave my newfound family. Especially with the circus, there are so many college program kids so we’re all just trying to manage everything together and also reconcile the fact that we’re not going to be home for the holidays. We’ve become closer than I expected us to.

G20: Has it made you love Disney more or less?

EZ: More! I’ve been a major Disney fan my entire life and my mom was really worried that working here was going to ruin the magic for me, but instead, I appreciate the effort put in by the cast members to make that magic way more than I used to. I still get very excited to meet Mickey Mouse, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of riding Space Mountain. And to make a little kid’s day is enough to solidify the magic for me.

G20: What’s the biggest challenge of the program?

EZ: It’s kind of impossible to take a sick day without getting penalized. Disney works on a point system and if you call out 3 times in 30 days, 6 times in 60 days, or 9 times in 180 days, you get a reprimand. If you get four reprimands you get termed (fired). As someone who gets sick very easily, I’ve been struggling with choosing what qualifies as sick “enough” to call out of work.

G20: What’s the best part of doing the program?

EZ: The best part of the program is definitely all of the people that I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. A close second though is all of the magic I get to make. On days when I’m really, really tired and just want to go home, seeing a little boy get very excited over a sticker, or sitting on the floor and getting to know a little girl’s favorite princess make it all worth it. Whenever a child comes over to me trying to pin trade my heart melts because you can tell that they’re so enthusiastic but they also aren’t quite sure of what they’re doing. It makes the long days much easier to deal with.

G20: If you had one piece of advice to give to others who may start the program, what would it be? 

LET YOURSELF REST. Just because you have a day off doesn’t mean you need to go into the parks. Your body will thank you for taking the time to just chill before work and watch a movie. Take advantage of the free park admission, but don’t burn yourself out. For every park day, give yourself a self-care day.

And there we have it, a firsthand experience of the Disney College Program. Are you interested in this program for yourself? Let us know in the comments! 

About the Author

Michelle Ioannou

Michelle graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelors of Arts '13 and a Master of Arts '14. She's currently working in corporate America with a side of freelance writing. She wants you to learn from her experiences and mistakes so your 20s can be your best decade. When she's not working, she's likely planning her escape to a tropical island.