"Magic Kingdom" is the name of one of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World in Florida, and an informal name for Disneyland in California, but it takes more than sorcery to bring smiles to the faces of guests at these famed amusement spots. Instead, thousands of employees working behind the scenes help make an excursion to the "happiest place(s) on Earth" worthwhile. You might not know that some of those workers enroll in a special Disney College to work at the parks.
What is the Disney College Program? It's not a typical four-year institute of higher learning, and DCP is separate from the training regular employees go through. Instead, it's a five- to seven-month internship program for a select number of students to provide them with professional experience working in one of the two parks. Some aspects of the highly competitive Disney College Program are similar to college: Students pay costs, live in dorm-like housing, and can earn college credits. But not many universities offer a Disney "Traditions" class. And the program is not without controversy, because it provides the parks with cheap labor.
While it's difficult to know much about the program unless you've gone through it yourself, some former participants have revealed interesting tidbits of information. Their accounts, and the program's own guidelines, offer a glimpse into the Disney College Program experience.
Getting a job at Disneyland or Walt Disney World is no easy task under normal circumstances, but gaining acceptance into the Disney College Program is a far more intensive process than what's required for regular jobs at the theme parks.
The application process includes three phases: an online application, a web-based interview, and a telephone interview. Most applicants don't get beyond the application phase; those who do say the interviews are a stressful experience. One DCP alumna, Jennifer Tatum, described her application process:
I didn’t have to pass any interviews to get into a university. But the interview process for the Disney College Program was extensive and nerve-wracking. It was much more intensive and surprising than any college application process I’d ever experienced.
Applicants for the Disney College Program must be enrolled as full-time students at an accredited college, have completed at least one semester of college, or have graduated from college within the previous year. Other criteria such as a high GPA may be considered.
While the Disney College Program is technically considered an internship, which would normally be done in an undergraduate program, it's open to graduate students, as well. International students are allowed to apply and attend, but they must be enrolled in a US institution and have a work authorization to meet all legal requirements.
Every year, Disney receives around 50,000 applicants and only accepts about 12,000 people.
The Disney College Program offers classes that can count for regular college credit, but students who've already graduated, don't need credits, or just want to learn more can add coursework to their daily load to earn a higher "degree." Those attending the program at Walt Disney World in Florida can enroll in the Disney Exploration Series (DES), which offers extra classes in the following areas:
- Disney Heritage
- Disney Marketing & Sales
- Disney Environmentality & Sustainability
- Disney Hospitality & Guest Service
- Disney Cast Engagement & Human Resources
- Disney Leadership 101
Each session meets four times for two hours, and those who attend them all receive a "Mouster's" Degree, which can be added to a resume or CV.
Participants can also enroll in one of two Professional Development Studies, which cover the areas of engineering and entertainment. These sessions include eight classes that last two to three hours, and if a person attends them all, they too earn a Mouster's Degree.
The program itself is free to participants, who also receive a paycheck for their work, but some costs and fees are reportedly associated with attending. For the Florida program, an initial $375 deposit is due as soon as the offer is accepted. This includes a $240 participation fee and a $135 housing fee.
In California, the initial cost of $940 includes a nonrefundable $150 participation fee, a refundable $150 security deposit, and additional costs related to ongoing housing. The money is deducted from the cast member's pay, which keeps upfront costs out of the program.