Everyone knows that some college students study abroad in foreign countries around the world, while earning an undergraduate degree, and many spend their summers interning for companies large and small, to gain valuable work experience before graduation.
But did you know that students in the Disney College Program can apply to earn a paid, semester-long internship and receive course credits at one of two very magical places right here in the U.S. – the Disney World and Disneyland Resorts in Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California?
The Disney College Program started in 1981 as Disney prepared to open its Epcot Center park in Florida. Currently, around 50,000 students annually apply for this competitive program, with only 12,000 – 13,000 being accepted each year.
Students who become part of the program in Florida can choose to live in Disney-owned housing complexes near the resorts, with rent payments taken directly from the students’ pay for working at the parks. (As of October 2018, this housing option is no longer offered in California.) Job wages run from $10-$15 per hour, depending upon the role.
College students are offered more than twenty different work positions to apply for across the theme parks, resorts, restaurant and shopping venues, water parks and mini-golf attractions. The jobs range from food service, merchandise sales, character performance, custodial, lifeguard, ride attendant, and photographer, to name a few.
While students are employed during their internship, and they must be available to work all time shifts that are offered, they can also opt to take several different kinds of Disney Education courses.
There are six collegiate courses offered that are recommended for credit by the American Council on Education, so a student’s college or university makes the decision to award credit for those. In addition, there are seminar offerings that include guest speakers, field experiences and activities to highlight Disney’s diverse lines of business, such as marketing, hospitality, human resources, and sustainability. The program also offers self-paced learning opportunities like career development workshops and alumni speaker series.
The Disney Education instructors are long time cast members with impressive resumes, who are industry and content-area experts with years of practical experience in their fields.
So, just how does a student apply and get accepted to the Disney College Program (DCP)?
First off, a student must be at least 18 years old when they arrive to begin the program.
Applicants have to be currently enrolled in an accredited institution or program, have completed at least one semester, or have graduated within the past six months.
Students must also meet any of their own school’s participation requirements, such as minimum GPA and credit hours earned. Disney accepts students from all college majors.
The process has three steps. If an online application is reviewed favorably, an applicant moves on to a live, web-based interview. If that goes well, another phone interview is conducted before a student is offered a position. The entire application process can take anywhere from around three weeks, to as long as three months.
Adam Teich, now a senior and a Business Management major at Northern Arizona University, is currently participating in the Florida-based college program, doing shifts at both the Disney World Resort and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. He first heard about the DCP while in high school, and thought it sounded like a dream internship.
Adam lives in one of the four Disney housing complexes and describes them as
incredibly convenient and a great way to meet new people down here. They constantly have free events with food and different activities going on throughout the program. I don’t have a car here and housing has free shuttles that will take you to the parks and your work locations. Some even will take you places like the grocery store and UPS.
On average, a student pays about $100 per week for the apartment-style housing, which offers amenities like pools, gyms, laundry and security.
Many, but not all, of the college program students would like to work for Disney after they graduate. The corporation says it doesn’t keep track of how many of its employees started out participating in the DCP, but the experience does seem to give them a bit of a competitive edge when they apply for Disney professional and management internships, or permanent jobs.
Even for the students who don’t plan to work for Disney, having their college program listed on a resume adds a certain prestige and helps them stand out from other job applicants, due to the company’s high standards for employee behavior and appearance.
Known as the “Disney Look,” all college program students must also adhere to the company’s strict brand guidelines that were established back when Disneyland first opened in 1955.
For example, this from the Cast Member Handbook: “The Disney Look is a classic look that is clean, natural, polished and professional, and avoids “cutting edge” trends or extreme styles. It is designed with our costumed and non-costumed Cast Members in mind.”
Going in, college students who are interested in applying for the DCP definitely need to be aware of the firm rules about acceptable hairstyles, eyewear, jewelry, tattoos, and even nail length and polish colors.
Adam’s tips for successfully navigating the competitive application process are to remain confident and positive throughout. If an applicant already displays the attributes of a Disney employee – “quick to smile and eager to help” – they already have a leg up.
He also suggests students do their research into all of the possible job offerings and apply for work positions that they already have some experience doing, such as retail skills, culinary knowledge, or any kind of stage performance involvement. Of course, having patience with children, and tired adults, is an added bonus.
Successfully completing the Disney College Program could assist a student in obtaining a future professional internship with Disney or one of its many subsidiary companies, so it’s worth looking into.
As Walt Disney himself once said, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
That’s a pretty great philosophy for both work – and life.