5 Realities of the Disney College Program

I had the opportunity to live, work and breathe Disney through the semester-long Disney College Program this past August to January. My particular role was in merchandise at Disney's Hollywood Studios. There were tears, there were laughs and there was a whole lot of magic. Here are five realities of this whirlwind experience:

1. You don’t get sick of going to the parks.

At least, I didn’t. It was always fun to run to Epcot for an hour before it closed, especially during the Food & Wine Festival. On the Disney College Program, all the parks become “half day parks,” which is a term people sometimes use to describe a park that they can’t find a whole day of enjoyment out of. It’s not that CPs can’t enjoy the parks for a full day, but sometimes you go for a half day before or after work, or in-between “adult” errands on a rare day off. My method was to make Fast Passes in a three-hour period so I could get into the park, do what I wanted to do that day, and get out. Believe it or not, going to the parks by yourself is fun, too. It’s not uncommon at all to get to work early or bring a change of clothes to stick around after your shift to wander around as a guest for awhile, either. Plus, those Happily Ever After Fireworks? Never fail to make every CP teary, every time. 

2. You lose all concept of time during the program.

Because days off aren’t consistent, at least in my area, I never truly knew what day of the week it was. Sometimes when the park was a little more crowded, I’d realize it was a weekend. Other times, I’d find out it was a Wednesday and be confused. Most of the time, I only knew it was Saturday when I saw posts about football on social media. I also had no idea how long ago events had happened. Holidays came and went without feeling real, because from Nov. 1 to Jan. 6, it’s Christmas at Walt Disney World. I went to Animal Kingdom on Christmas Eve and it didn’t really feel like a holiday at all, save for the photos my family was sending me from back home. 

3. You will answer the same three questions over and over and over.

Ultimately, I think the Disney College Program length is good because I was getting quite tired of answering the same questions all shift long. On slower days, it really felt like my job was to be an information booth where all I did was give directions and answer questions about prices. However, I can now explain how to get anywhere in Disney’s Hollywood Studios from anywhere inside the park, and tell you the price of all the Toy Story Land merchandise… because these are useful skills to have now that I’m back in college.

4. Disney cast member habits will stick with you once you’re home.

For my location, I often had to talk on the radio—and instead of “okay” or “heard,” we’d say “10-4." I’ve caught myself saying “10-4” to my friends at school in passing. I don’t know if they think it’s weird or not, but it’s definitely stuck in my vocabulary now. There’s also the iconic Disney two-finger point, as well as smiling at anyone who comes nearby. Luckily, I haven’t asked any strangers where they’re from or if they’re having a magical day yet. 

5. The Disney College Program is a scam, but it’s worth it.

Hear me out. When you go into the program, it’s understood that you’ll be overworked, underpaid and rarely appreciated. This is all true—your hours will be crazy, the money you manage to save that doesn’t go to taxes or rent will go right back to the Mouse and people will roll their eyes at you when you’re just trying to do your job. 

However, what they don’t tell you is that you’ll form lifelong bonds with coworkers you meet who come from all different backgrounds across the world. They don’t tell you that you’ll meet people crazy enough to run through Epcot in a monsoon with you, or people you don’t mind being at IHOP with at 4am on Jan. 1. They don’t tell you about all the nights you spend spiraling through YouTube with your roommates. They don’t tell you about the friends you’ll reconnect with after not seeing each other for years—it’s a small world after all. 

The program is a scam because it ends and makes you go back to a reality where you’re not employed by Mickey Mouse and you don’t get to see the friends you made every day anymore. But it’s worth it, because without it I wouldn’t have these friends or the memories I’ll treasure for a lifetime.

Some people say working for Disney is a cult, or that students who did it never stop talking about it—but we can’t help it. These five months made me quick to smile, better at talking to people of all ages and backgrounds and gave me a better eye for the magic that’s all around us.