Being “Real World Ready” with The Disney College Program

Both the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California provide students with the opportunity to earn college credit, gain valuable knowledge, and achieve their childhood dreams through the Disney College Program: A national internship operated by The Walt Disney Company.

The program first began in 1981, and since its inception, plays host to more than 600 colleges across the nation. The students who participate work alongside Disney workers, or “cast members,” immerse themselves in the culture and history of one of the most successful companies in the world. However, there are certain requirements which must be fulfilled before a student is accepted for this experience.

Those who wish to participate in the Disney College Program must be at least 18 years of age by the time their program begins, be enrolled in an institution, complete at least one semester, and actively taking collegiate-level courses. Also, they must meet any eligibilities set by their school in order to be considered for the internship. Each program season lasts between five and seven months, and they are given the option to choose their arrival date should they be accepted.

Once the application is finished, a select amount of students are chosen to continue the process through a web-based interview which can happen immediately or months after they sign up. Those who are selected to go beyond the web-based interview talk over the phone with recruiters about the positions they would undertake during the program. The positions range from entertainment, merchandise and hospitality. The final notification of an applicant’s status is sent out towards the end of the current program season.

There are three main components which make up the Disney College Program: The Living, Learning and Earning Experiences.

For “Living,” once the student has accepted their position with Disney, they can stay in one of four company-sponsored housing units for the duration of their internship. The four apartment complexes are Chatham Square, Vista Way, The Commons and Patterson Court.

The cost of rent varies on the housing location, and it is deducted automatically from a student’s weekly salary. Students are expected to follow the rules and guidelines of each complex, and roommates are assigned by gender and age, except for married couples. Those located in Florida are provided transportation by the Disney Company to and from theme parks and work locations as well.

For “Learning,” students have the opportunity to attend professional seminars focusing on a Disney topic. Participants also attend “Traditions,” a four-hour orientation which demonstrates everything about the place of employment and the company in general. Furthermore, Traditions serves as the participants’ first day of work. The program also offers “job shadowing,” during which participants follow Disney cast members whose careers are in the fields similar to the student’s major.

For “Earning,” students are working within their given theme park or resort, and are given on-the-job training from people twice their age. “I love working with all the new participants; they bring such a youthful energy to our environment,” said Antonio Gallardo, attractions host at EPCOT. “Giving college kids a chance to work for a place they dream about is truly the best, and I’m glad I get to be part of it.”

Gallardo has worked for the Disney Company for more than 25 years and says working at the “happiest place on Earth” is still enjoyable after all this time. “When I come into work, it’s such a rewarding feeling to know I’m a part of this legacy which spans over nine decades,” he said.

However, there are some students who have a less-than-positive experience when they come to work for Disney.

“For my program, I worked at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, and it was totally chaotic,” said Simeon Van Gerpen, bell services dispatcher. “Everyone wanted their luggage at the same time, and if it wasn’t ready, they would call our desks with non-stop complaints,” he said.

Despite these claims, a positive day of working at Disney is possible, but only if you make it happen.

“At the end of the day, you have to understand it’s not about you; it’s about creating a magical experience for our domestic and international guests,” said Jordan Abrams, food and beverage server at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Resort. “We were all chosen for a reason, and as long as you remember that, you can accomplish great things during your time here,” he said.

All in all, the Disney College Program continues to be a source of inspiration for college students who aspire to go the distance, and while it may seem daunting, the end results are life-changing in more ways than one.

“People come to Disney to be captivated by all the splendor we are known for providing,” said Gallardo. “These standards have been around since our company was founded, and we never settle for second-best.”

Mickey & Minnie Mouse and Goofy at the EPCOT Character Spot. Photo by Bruce Javery II.

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