Interning with The Disney College Program

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Oct 11, 2013 / 0 comments

Disney has captured the hearts of children and adults with captivating fairytales and movies that have come to life in each of their treasured theme parks. Today, Disney continues to provide many engaging opportunities to college students with The Disney College Program. On the website (, it describes the program: “As a part of the Disney College Program, participants have the incredible opportunity to advance their strengths and interests, meet guests and cast members from around the country and take part in educational opportunities students can't get anywhere else. This truly unique program allows participants to network with leaders, take part in personal and career development classes, and build transferable skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, guest service and effective communication.”


The Disney College Program (DCP), is always recruiting new college students to intern and participate in various roles in each of their U.S. theme park locations in Florida and California. Participants must be at least 18 years old, enrolled as a full-time or part-time student taking classes, and have unrestricted work authorization. The program is also open to eligible international students as well who are enrolled at a U.S. college/university in the United States and possesses unrestricted U.S. work authorization (with F-1 or J-1 visas). Additionally, there are many benefits to this program including a weekly paycheck, costumes/uniforms provided, on-site learning centers and programs, and even discounts at Disney World and Disney Land dining, merchandise, and recreation locations, to name a few.


To share more about the Disney College Program, I interviewed a college student, Ms. Eugenia “Gina” Cunningham, who’s studying Finance and Business Administration at Western Michigan University. She participated in the Disney College Program in the Fall 2010 semester. Gina should complete her degree program in Spring,  2015. Read the interview below to learn more about Gina’s experience!


Entrance to Walt Disney World


How did you hear about the Disney College Program (DCP) and what was attractive to you about it?

As a Student Associate working for the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University, one of my responsibilities included displaying programs and events for on and off campus events.  One day while at work, I took a closer look at the flyer headline that read: “Magic.Experience. PAID INTERNSHIP.” and I knew that I had to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the internship program.


Why were you interested in participating in the DCP?

I wanted to find out what I needed to do in order to have the opportunity to live, learn, and earn the Disney way. After attending the mandatory informational session that was held on campus one evening, I was sold on being a participant of the Disney College Program. After the informational meeting, I headed back to my dorm room and applied for the Disney College Program.


Were there admission requirements? What did you have to submit? Is there an ideal candidate? 

Admission requirements included attending the mandatory informational meeting, where you are given the access code for the application. Applicants must attend a four year university or community college that offers the Disney College Program for college credit, and enrolled as a full-time or part-time student at the time of applying. You must meet any requirements set by your institution (i.e GPA, student status, credit hours, etc.), be at least 18 years old and have unrestricted work authorization to work in the United States. You must be able to provide proof of documentation prior to your arrival. International students must adhere to all of the requirements stated above, in addition to having an F-1 or J-1 visa.

The ideal candidate is determined once he or she completes the online application. The application questions is a combination of behavioral and work ethic related questions, designed to determine if you have what it takes to become a Disney cast member. The ideal candidate is someone who carries themselves the Disney way at all times, because you never know who’s observing you. The Disney look is clean and natural in appearance, as well as behaving professional at all times, whether on or off stage.


What was your experience like?

My experience was AWESOME from start to finish! After arriving to check-in, parents had their own break-out sessions to attend, to learn what their young adult would be doing for the next 5 months. Check-in is the time to get your housing I.D photo taken, choose your apartment complex, learn about the provided resources in your living community, and lastly, board the charter bus to your new home for the next few months!

I chose to stay in a 3-bedroom apartment, which included two people per bedroom. Ironically, one of the girls I chatted with on the drive to our complex was one of my roommates! We decided to claim our shared bedroom, unpack, and await the other girl’s arrival. My roommates were from California, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, and two of them were from my home state of Michigan!

During the application process, you are able to express interest in a role, and then you are randomly placed at a work site throughout the parks & resorts. Due to my interest and excellent customer service experience, I was placed in a food & beverage role at Captain Cook’s, which is a quick service restaurant, located inside the Polynesian Resort. My responsibility was to make a magical and memorable dining experience for every guest.

In addition to the Food & Beverage role, there are many other roles in which cast members are placed in, which include: Operations, Lodging, Retail/Sales, Recreation and Entertainment (character performer), and a number of position titles within a given role. Western Michigan University offers college credit for all Disney College Program Participants. Upon successful completion of the internship and submitting the required journal log assignments and the supervisor evaluation form, college credit will be granted.


Any perks/benefits that you liked about participating in the DCP?

Where do I begin!? There are so many perks about participating in the DCP!


Three of the apartment complexes are located within a short walking distance of one another and the fourth is a short bus ride away. Bringing a car is optional, although there’s really no need. All DCP participants are able to use the FREE Disney Housing sponsored busses, exclusively for DCP participants. All you have to show is your housing I.D card and hop on the bus to your destination. The busses run every 30 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about being late for work or wasting gas money. You’re able to take the bus to your work location, other housing complexes to visit friends, grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, etc.


Disney College program ID


All apartments are fully furnished with a bathroom in each room and a walk-in closets. There are on-site laundry facilities, computer labs, and most importantly a nice swimming pool to enjoy after your work shift, day off, etc. The housing complexes put on many social events such as grocery bingo, sporting events, and beach outings to encourage meeting your neighbors and staying socially active.

My program was during Fall 2010, and during November the housing complexes put on a catered Thanksgiving dinner for all DCP participants. Along with dinner, we had the chance to take part in the photo-op with a few Disney characters.  In December, we had a winter formal, where we dressed in our nicest clothes and had a fun evening with friends and took pictures with Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of their Disney friends.



I chose to complete the DCP for college credit offered by MWU, that way I could work full-time, and enjoy my days off when I wasn’t scheduled to work. Some of the other participants chose to work part-time and enrolled in courses at Disney University that fit their undergraduate curriculum at their home university or college.



As a DCP participant, you receive an hourly rate of pay, depending on your role.  Hours worked depends on your work location. You can be scheduled to work as a part-time or full-time cast member. You have the option of getting your earnings put onto a preloaded debit card, but you may have to pay fees.  I found it easier to set up direct deposit, because my earnings hit my account at midnight of pay day. As an added bonus, pay day is every week! For your convenience, rent is deducted from your check prior to receiving your funds earned.



As an added bonus, DCP participants received exclusive access to a cast member’s ONLY store. DCP participants were able to shop for collectibles, apparel and much more. As an additional added bonus, DCP participants received a preloaded card that admits a pre-determined number of guests into the theme park of your choice for FREE! This is a perfect time for friends and family to visit you and share some of your benefits. In addition to free park entries, your guest can enjoy a 40% discount at one of the many on-site Disney resorts.

My family was excited to hear about this benefit and came to visit me for a week during the Christmas holiday. Once my work shift ended, I was able to visit my family at their resort and enjoyed being a guest for a few hours before heading back to my apartment. Visiting Downtown Disney with my family was one of my memorable experiences. This was my younger sister’s first Disney experience, and they enjoyed the shopping part! Downtown Disney has stores for all ages to enjoy from Disney toys, candy, apparel and so much more.

In December, CEO Bob Iger presented all cast members of Walt Disney World Resort with a Christmas gift.  We received a commemorative Blue-Ray disc and DVD of Toy Story 3, with a personalized message from him.


Gina and her family


What skills or abilities did you gain from participating in the DCP?

Since participating in the Disney College Program, I have strengthened my communication skills, both orally and written, solved simple and complex work issues, and worked well with other cast members to ensure that every guest had a great dining experience.


Graduating from Disney College Program


Did this experience inspire or encourage your academic studies in any way? If so, how?

After being able to move to another state for 5 months and successfully adapting to a living and work environment I was not used to, I grew the desire to travel for educational purposes. Before completing my undergraduate studies at WMU, I plan on studying abroad in order to immerse myself into international cultures and business practices. The next challenge I have for myself is having a global mindset, so that I can contribute to the success of a corporate finance company after I graduate with my finance degree.


Describe a memorable experience from the DCP that you’d like to share...

In November 2010, all DCP participants got an exclusive sneak peak of the Thanksgiving parade the night before it was scheduled to perform for guests. The parade took place in Magic Kingdom and the lights around the castle looked amazing under the moonlit night sky. The cast members that performed in the Thanksgiving parade did an excellent job, just as if we were guests and that made it a remarkable experience for me.


Were there any challenges that you had while in the DCP? What are some potential challenges that students may encounter? 

Learning Disney terms for the work environment was the thing I had to work on most.  When working for Disney, while you’re at work, you are a part of the show, meaning on stage - and when you’re in employee only areas, you’re considered to be off-stage. Most companies require their workers to wear uniforms when interacting with customers. At Disney, your uniform is referred to as a “costume”, because as you interact with guests, you have to get into character and create magical experiences. Some potential challenges that students may encounter may be barriers. People from all over the world visit Walt Disney World for many purposes, and with that you interact with guests that may not speak English at all, or speak very little English. Students are allowed to take language assessments to test for fluency. Once completed, DCP participants are able to earn a special name badge, which includes your language(s), so that guests are able to distinguish your language abilities from other cast members. Most students are required to take two years of a second language as a college graduation requirement. Earn good grades in your language classes and you can earn a slightly higher hourly rate of pay.


Graduating from Disney College Program


What is up next for you? Anything else you’d like to share?

The DCP prepared me with valuable adaptability skills and exposed me to many cultures during my internship experience that encouraged me to study abroad. Summer 2014, I plan to study abroad in Germany for three weeks, to learn about German and Business Culture.  I am especially interested in the optional third week Global Negotiating course, where I would get the chance to work alongside German students.  I believe this experience will prepare me with the necessary skills needed to become a successful professional in the corporate finance industry, upon graduating from Western Michigan University with my Bachelors of Business Administration degree.





Anastasia R.D. Lopez, M.A. recently graduated with her Masters degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs degree from Western Michigan University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Her experience in higher education and student affairs ranges from Career Services, Academic Advising, working with first generation students, students with disabilities, international students, transfer students, undergraduate/graduate students, and study abroad and international education at both public and private universities. She also has related experience in business as well as hospitality and tourism management. Stasia is a Global Education Editor with Wandering Educators and lives with her husband, Fernando, in Michigan.




All photos courtesy and copyright Gena Cunningham