The Disney College Program – A Senior’s Reflection


“Walking up to the hundreds of name tags laid out on tables just to spot mine was so surreal. This was when I knew I made it” (Image credit: Nina O’Connell).

Nina O'Connell, Contributor

As a college student YOU have the opportunity to participate in the Disney College Program (DCP), a paid internship at The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida!

You can apply while still in college or two years post graduation. There are even perks like free admission to the parks, as well as discounted select merchandise and food!

I got the opportunity to participate in the DCP during my spring semester of 2022. As a communication arts major, I needed an internship to graduate, and luckily STAC accepted the DCP as my internship!

In September of 2021, I applied for the DCP and after a few weeks of waiting, I received the email with a bold banner across the top: “YOU’VE BEEN ACCEPTED.”

Upon accepting the offer, I would shortly learn my role and location. A role is what your job is, and a location is where you work.

My roles were outdoor vending and food service; my location was at food carts and a restaurant in EPCOT. I would be a part of the opening cast for Connections Café and Eatery, which houses a Starbucks and a quick service restaurant.

Flash forward to mid January, I moved into Flamingo Crossings Village, a Disney owned apartment complex specifically for DCP participants. Anyone living there gets free bus transportation to work if you do not bring a car.

A few days after moving in, all new participants attended a class called Traditions, where we learned what it means to be a cast member (what Disney calls its employees). Mickey Mouse even popped in to give us our own Mickey hats.

The part that I was anticipating the most was receiving our name tags. Walking up to the hundreds of name tags laid out on tables just to spot mine was so surreal.

This was when I knew I made it. The journey I have always wanted to embark on was finally here.

A few days after Traditions, we got a tour of our locations and started training. Here is where we got our uniforms, called costumes.

After I officially “earned my ears,” a term coined by Disney for completing training, I was officially on my own. 

Getting to work at different locations scattered throughout the park was so much fun, and I truly felt that I was a small part in helping make magic for all of the guests.

I also decided to take four online classes through STAC, as I did not want to fall short on credits, but this was optional.

Juggling work and homework was difficult at times, but challenged me in a good way.

The hours were relatively good- a typical shift was from 4 to 10 p.m. for an average of five days a week. However, things would quickly change as EPCOT was about to have its grand opening of Connections Café and Eatery.

Once that restaurant opened in April, things escalated. We began to work longer hours, with some shifts lasting 12 hours and only one day off a week.

While this was a struggle, I learned to manage time better and make sure I was taking care of myself during this. Depending on the week, our hours would fluctuate, so having to adapt to that took some getting used to. 

The most challenging part of having our hours change drastically was getting my homework in on time.

While my professors did know I was on the program and were aware of my hours, I did my best to not fall behind or submit anything late.

One or two assignments were late but I quickly picked myself up and made sure I was keeping up with the coursework.

Shifting from outdoor food carts to a busy restaurant kept all of us on our toes. Although we received training, nothing could have prepared me for what was about to come.

There were so many different areas to work in, and having to work at a relatively stable pace in a fast-paced working environment really shook us all.

Our jobs within the restaurant were anything from making chicken or french fries, to making pizza, to taking out the trash, to bussing tables, to working at the register, to stocking certain areas for supplies.

I know that does not sound like a lot to handle, but at a place as busy as Walt Disney World, we needed all of the help that we could get.

Still, working in a fast paced environment was fun, as I really got to see what areas I was confident in and what areas needed improvement.

To me, the best part about working here was creating magical moments.

A magical moment is defined as an act of kindness from cast members to guests. My way of doing this was usually handing out stickers, or giving away free snacks or sweets.

My favorite one was on my last day. I was working the register at Connections and a little girl dressed as Princess Aurora was with her parents ordering food.

The girl was shy to tell me what she wanted but after she did, I leaned over to her and asked if she liked waffles, strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate. I was referring to a liege waffle, a popular dessert served there.

Her face lit up with excitement, so I grabbed her one. The parents were grinning from ear to ear, and her mom even snapped a photo of her daughter with the dessert and me.

This was so rewarding, as growing up, I always admired the cast members’ dedication to the guests and wanted to reciprocate that magic. 

Another great part of the program were the different cast member perks, such as being able to ride attractions before anybody else.

EPCOT’s newest coaster, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind,” was available to us before any guests. We even rode during shifts.

We also got cast member recognition nights, where the parks would be closed just for the employees.

Although working at Disney was special for me, it was not always great.

I say that not to steer people away from applying to the program, but rather to inform others on what to expect.

Some expectations the expectations I had were not met, but that is reality and I still made the best of my program. I was working nearly full-time, but I was still able to take time off to enjoy all of the perks.

There are also emergencies that you need to quickly act on. Every cast member is equipped to deal with these situations, but in the moment they can be stressful.

A common question is whether or not the Disney magic is ruined after working there. While I do know almost all of the secrets behind the parks, the magic is not by any means ruined, but actually enhanced.

I got to make magic for hundreds of people every single day. I did not do this program to say I worked at Disney, I worked here because I genuinely cared that guests at Disney parks experienced the magic that has been resonating with the company for decades.

The hardest part of doing the DCP was moving away from family and friends. However, I quickly made a ton of friends and we all instantly bonded.

I still talk to them regularly, and this may sound cliche, but I honestly do not know what I would have done without them. 

My time there was short-lived, but I got to work at the most magical place on earth, and I will never take that for granted.

I highly encourage anyone who has thought about applying to the DCP or is now interested to go for it, because you never know where this could lead you.

I know a lot of people who decided to stay with the company and have already moved up so much.

To anyone who believes that they won’t be accepted, I thought the same exact thing, but I defied what I thought about myself and accomplished an amazing internship.

As Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” So go out and apply, you never know what can come out of it.