I am a HUGE Disney nerd and one of the best intentional decisions that I ever made was to participate in the Disney College Program.
The DCP is a program for students enrolled in college to work for a semester at either Walt Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California.
There are 2 timelines for the program: Spring (which is when I went) is January-May and Fall which is August-December. There are some programs you apply for which are longer than others, but those are basically the two time periods for it. Applications for a spring program usually open in August, and applications for a fall program usually open in January or February.
Their motto is Live, Learn, and Earn. Basically: they provide a place for you to live, there are classes you can elect to take (some that are specific for certain majors, and some that are open to everyone), and earn money but having a full-time job on Disney property.
There’s a variety of roles (aka jobs) that you can get: attractions, merchandise, food and beverage, and lifeguarding–just to name a few.
The application process is pretty simple. You start by submitting an online application where you list some of your job history and things like that. You also get to mention your level of interest in each role (high, moderate, low, and no interest–if I remember correctly). Ultimately, the decision comes down to where they need people, but you do get to list your preference. If you have no interest in a role, be honest about it!
It’s at this point that you also get to list your preference for whether you’d like to be considered for Florida, California, or both. The Florida program has been established for 20+ years, hosts hundreds of students each semester, and is a much larger property that can offer more positions. The California program is newer and smaller. I only did the Florida program, but one of my roommates from Florida ended up doing the California program a few years later and she had a blast. Because California is such a smaller program, you really get a more one-on-one experience and you get to know program leaders better. In Florida, it was very much a “small fish in a big pond” kind of feeling. It’s up to your personal preference.
After your application, you take a Web Based Interview. It’s a survey-style questionnaire online where Disney tries to get a feel for you, your personality, your values, and how you would respond in certain circumstances.
If your WBI goes well, you’ll be asked to schedule a phone interview. You schedule a date and time, and a Disney representative calls you on your phone to talk and asks some basic interview questions. Interview questions can range from the stereotypical questions like “what’s your biggest strength and weakness?” to more Disney related questions: “How would you respond if you are a character attendant with Tigger, and you hear a young child ask why Tigger has a zipper on his back?” There are a ton of YouTube videos that can give you tips on the phone interview. I remember that in my interview, my interviewer asked me something related to driving and if I had any citations or ticket on my license. Your interviewer also gives you a chance to really talk about what you want to get out of your program. In mine, I talked up how much I wanted guest interaction: I wanted to have the opportunity to be interacting with people and really making magic on a daily basis.
After your phone interview, then comes the waiting period. At this point, it’s either a yes or a no.
Let me take a moment to explain that it might take several rounds of applying to get in. I think I applied… 4 or 5 times? I applied a LOT. It’s an incredibly competitive program and I made it all the way to the phone interview every time. I spent a lot of time pouring over blogs of people who had done the program and watching a lot of YouTube videos. I definitely was obsessed. But, it eventually paid off! I was accepted.
In your acceptance email, they tell you what role you’re being offered and the pay for that role. You have a certain amount of time to respond to accept your role, and then there’s program fees to pay (when I went in 2014, the fees for Florida’s program was somewhere in the $300 range). Program fees pays for your first couple weeks of rent as well as some of the events and parties that the housing complexes throw for participants.
From there, you’re off! There are Facebook pages to connect with other people doing the program so you can find roommates and start bonding.
You don’t find out your location until you are actually there and checking in for your program. I worked merchandise at the Pop Century Resort in Spring of 2014 and I loved every minute of it. I lived in Patterson Court in a 3 bedroom, 6 girl apartment. In our apartment we had:
- a character performer
- an outdoor food and beverage cast member, located in Magic Kingdom
- a merchandise cast member, located in Adventureland in Magic Kingdom
- a Fairy Godmother in Training at the Bibbidi Boppity Boutique in Downtown Disney
- and an attractions cast member who worked Peter Pan and It’s a Small World
At first, I was really disappointed that I wasn’t working in the parks but by the end of my program I was really grateful. It meant that going and playing in the parks on my days off (yes, you get in for free) never lost it’s magic. There was never that feeling of ‘taking work home’ or anything. It was always new and it was always fun. In addition, it never got as crazy busy as the parks did and the schedule was always consistent: we closed at midnight every night, regardless of whether Magic Kingdom was open until 3 am for extra magic hours or anything. The consistency ended up being REALLY nice.
Because I was worked in merchandise, the skills are transferrable to any location so I picked up one shift inside Big Top Souvenirs in Magic Kingdom and I was deployed to the Discovery Island shops in Animal Kingdom for a week. The flexibility to be able to work anywhere was really nice–I was just too shy to take advantage of that opportunity very often.
But the opportunity to basically live at Walt Disney World for a semester was incredible. I got to take a backstage tour of ‘The Haunted Mansion’, I got to eat at the restaurant inside of Cinderella’s castle, and I got really good at navigating crowds. I got really comfortable with being by myself and going and playing in the parks by myself. I met a ton of amazing people that I’m still in contact with to this day.
All in all, the DCP is a fantastic program and post-Disney depression is absolutely real. The next semester–and really that next year–back in reality was really bittersweet.
If you have any questions about the Disney College Program, I’d be happy to answer them. It was a fantastic opportunity and quite frankly, I miss it almost every day.