The Origins and History of the Disney College Program


Every year thousands of students across the
country and across the globe make their way to Walt Disney World and Disneyland for an
internship experience. It’s called the Disney College Program. The Disney College Program as we know it today
formally began in 1981, however it wasn’t the first time Disney would work with colleges
in their theme parks. So to really begin we actually have to go
back nearly ten more years to 1972, because that is when Disney established the Disney
Entertainment Work Experience Program. (They start to sing “This Land is Your Land” in Tomorrowland for some reason.) As the name implies, it was a work experience
program for college students who had a primary focus in the performing arts. Students in the program would spend 12 weeks
over the summer working at either Disneyland or Walt Disney World as an entertainer in
one of multiple groups. These groups included the All-American College
Marching Band, the All-American College Singers, the All-American College Players, and a musical
group called The Kingdom Kids. I guess they had finally run out of “All-American
College” names. Similar to the College Program today, the
work experience program supplemented their days at the parks with training sessions and
offered college credits by the end of the three months. The sessions focused on voice, movement, composition
and acting. Students were given a housing grant and were
also paid a stipend for the duration of the summer. I wasn’t able to get a number for the earlier
years, but by 1976 the stipend was $1000, which adjusted for inflation would be just
around $4,500 today. Now while the Disney Entertainment Work Experience
Program shared some similarities to today’s Disney College Program, one area where it
differed greatly is scale. It was estimated that around 3,000 students
would audition for spots in the program every year, and of those 3,000 Disney would select
the best 100 students. It was a small program, but it wasn’t going
to remain small for long. “The Disney College Program is a unique opportunity. You can live, learn, and earn by working for one of the most exciting and innovative entertainment companies in the world. If you’re looking for a program that could possibly change your life, that could prepare you for whatever kind of future you’ve got in mind, choose the Disney College Program. Live the Disney difference and you’ll be the one who makes the magic happen!” In 1980 Disney decided to test a pilot program
for what would eventually become today’s Disney College Program. The company reached out to the University
of Georgia, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Alabama, and from those
three universities they accepted 250 students who would work at The Magic Kingdom. The program, similar to the Work Experience
Program, offered college credits and supplemented their employment with training seminars on
business management the Disney way. They felt it was a natural balance to offset
the fact that for many students, the day to the day work they’d be doing at The Magic
Kingdom wouldn’t particularly relate to their chosen major. The seminars however would offer a general
enough education in the world of business that it would, in theory, benefit most of
the students. During this pilot Disney was also testing the waters with an international variant of the program. Disney was just two years away from opening
EPCOT Center, and they had plans to staff the various international pavilions with cast
members from the actual countries the pavilions were based on. And so Disney got a head start on the process by bringing over just 8 international students that year. Obviously with EPCOT Center still a couple
of years off they, too, worked at the Magic Kingdom. The program was well received by the students
and worked out well for Disney, and so the very next year in 1981 it formally launched
as The Magic Kingdom College Program. It was expanded to over 40 schools in the
US, however that initial year they still only accepted around 250 applicants. The international branch, however, was expanded
from 8 people to a whopping 15. All of these students had to live somewhere,
and so as a semi-temporary solution Disney leased a trailer park in Kissimmee. It was outfitted with trailers that were new,
albeit barebone, and the location was renamed to Snow White Village. Now just think about that for a second. You had students taking time out of their
school year, and in some cases traveling halfway around the world to live in a trailer park
in central Florida where they spent most of their days working typical day jobs at a theme
park. It doesn’t sound like the kind of program
that would be a major success, but the truth is, it was. Students love it. Why? Well on the surface level, it was a lot of
fun. For many, they were getting to experience
a new part of the country while working and playing at a Disney theme park. They were also making friends from both within
the states and from overseas. In fact, that was one of the other goals of
bringing over international students to work at EPCOT Center. Disney hoped that the experience would create
long lasting friendships, with the idea that one day these kids might be business or world
leaders who have these global bonds thanks to their time at Disney. Beyond that there was an inherent value to
the program when it came to their professional future. Even though operating rides might not have
had much relevance to their chosen field of study, having the Disney name attached to
their work history was worth something. Disney’s management style had gained such
a great reputation that outside companies were actually hiring Disney to teach them
how to run their own company more like Disney. So for many students, being able to put their
work experience with Disney on their resumes or CVs was a pretty big deal. Not to mention there were many then, as there
are many today, who use the Disney College Program as a first step in a long-term career
with The Walt Disney Company. It’s like a dream achievement for so many people. Man, imagine. You get to be an intern, you become a princess at Disney World, and then our poor interns What do they get to be? They get to sit in the back room here at 4th and Market They get you coffee! They get you the skinny vanilla latte- Now THAT is career advancement right there. So with the success of the program, it continued
to grow. The following year EPCOT Center would open,
prompting the number of American students to rise to 350 and the international students
to rise to 85. The name would eventually be changed in 1984 to the Walt Disney World College Program and then again in 2005 it would be renamed to the Disney Theme Parks and Resorts College Program. Though today everybody, including Disney, just calls it the “Disney College Program.” And lastly, it would take six years, but Disney
would finally close the Snow White Village, and in 1988 they had a more permanent housing
complex built, called The Vista Way Apartments. Today the program exists on a scale that makes
all of those other numbers look small. According to the Tampa Bay Times, nearly 50,000
students apply for the program every year across multiple seasons, and of those 50,000
a reported 12,000-14,000 get in. It’s as popular as ever, and it isn’t
just because it looks good on a resume. For most, whether it’s the friendships formed
over those weeks, or the memories made in the parks, the Disney College Program proves
to be an unforgettable experience.

100 thoughts on “The Origins and History of the Disney College Program

  1. When I was going to college they did a lecture on it, so I applied. Got rejected the first wave, couldn't retry until 6 months later. -_- I did, got the phone interview, but when I got approved it wasn't for what I even applied for. I said Disneyland, as I live in Arizona and Florida would be too far for me, and I applied for the hotel jobs. They gave me Florida and food service, and wanted up front the first month's rent in a few weeks. I said NOPE. Shouldn't have to pay to do such a thing.

  2. Future Fall 2018 CP here! This was such an interesting watch, Iโ€™m glad you made this video ๐Ÿ˜Š I never knew about the history and how far back the program went!

  3. I did the college program 5 years ago. I still keep in touch with my dcp friends. We even had a mini reunion last year at Disneyland!

  4. Hey Rob, can you talk about the fireworks at Disney World? How often they are set off and how much they spend on them? Thanks ๐Ÿ˜Š

  5. I was rejected from this program four times in a row. Huge disappointment. But thankfully I have plans to pursue a career with the Walt Disney Company another way. My dreams of working for the Mouse will never die.

  6. I found this so interesting! I'm currently a CP and I never really knew the origins. Thanks for always having such fun videos, Rob!!!

  7. Ok i'm the oddball here but go 5 minutes in..How in the world is the people mover ever that close to the monorail??

  8. @Robplays I was just wonder what song you place during most of your videos it sounds like a remix of some kind?

  9. One of the best experiences of my life so far was being a DCP Cast Member. Met a lot of friends from across the globe and made amazing memories. This just put a big smile on my face. Thanks Rob!

  10. While the roles you do during the Disney College Program may not always be glamorous, the experience is something I will never forget. From doing backstage tours of attractions, Walt Disney Imagineering, and other great perks. The best perk was the friends you made along the way, one of which is now my wife where two of my groomsmen were my roommates in the College Program.

  11. I moved to Orlando in 2004 to be a CP. At the time we were paid a whopping $6 an hour and they took weekly rent out of that. I completed the program but did not stay on with Disney. I made Orlando my permanent home. Having Disney on my resume here has never benefited me because everyone in the city has worked for them at one time.

  12. 14 hour shifts. 8 day work weeks with unpredictable hours. 1 day off (spent in the parks of course). Then do it all over again. A bunch of college kids living in close quarters. The sex and drugs and alcohol. It was the most awful, but yet the most fun experience ever.

  13. Iโ€™ve just completed my program, I loved this video!

    Ps: the photos are not from vista way, they are from patterson court, another disney housing

  14. Awesome video! My sister did the DCP and she liked it so much that she stayed down there! PS she told me one time your videos were playing in their break room #killingit

  15. I'm a 2X Disney Colleg Porgram alumni and just recently became a full time cast member. The DCP changed my life, I made friends from all over the world and had the time of my life.

  16. I kept getting rejected and it sucks because everyone is surprised. I talk about Disney 24/7, I smile all the time, i'm never late, I study Disney protocols, Disney look, I dress in Disney look almost everyday. Idk what i'm doing wrong in my app but I never get past the first part ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿพโ€โ™€๏ธ meanwhile people are posting videos about getting into the program by accident ๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿพโ€โ™€๏ธ

  17. I'm surprised you didn't make mention of the plans to consolidate the multiple WDWCP apartment complexes into a single (massive) one at Flamingo Crossing.

    My WDWCP program experience was awesome in 1992, though funny enough, they told us in the recruitment session that we'd be matched with people from all over the world (epcot) and the country. I had a crew entirely from neighboring states.

    (At the time there was only Vista Lay and the international students were comingled).

  18. To be honest, I'd rather work for Great Wolf Lodge then Disneyworld. It's not that I don't love Disneyworld, I do- I am hoping to go down for their 50th anniversy, it's just that GWL is located in several cities up north- and given it's an indoor water park, it's open in in the winter

    Disney is a Christmas place for those who'd enjoy warmer weather with fake snow, while Great Wolf Lodge- it's perfect for those who want to see a white Christmas out thier window and go swimming. Best part of GWL- little worry about lighting strikes on Christmas Day.

    And I'm a winter girl. I can't spend Christmas in warm places. I've done it once, Christmas down South and I hated every moment of it. I prefer the weather of the North. thank you very much.

    So I'd much rather work for GWL. That's my plan upon graduation.

  19. 4:33 That's my trailer!!! Photo credit to my roomie James Isaac, although you nicked it from my FB profile.
    MKCP Spring 88 here. Last to live at SWV. There were about 500 of us that year. Over 100 of us stay in touch 30 years later via our FB Group. -KC

  20. DCP Spring Advantage 2005 entertainment! I definitely miss my days with my favorite puppy and princess from a galaxy far far away. I'm super excited to go back with my family soon.

  21. Iโ€™ve been watching this channel since the beginning and it has become the best Disney YouTube channel love the videos! And the podcast!

  22. Hi guys and Rob! Love the videos!
    Quick question I am going to be a freshmen this fall at Illinois and next summer I want to be apart of the College Program. Are there summer only Internships? So I wouldnโ€™t miss any school.

  23. Wow. Too bad they don't have any classes in themeing and imagineering, and mechanical art. That would be my only interest.

  24. I recently finished my college program this past May and loved it!! It definitely had its ups and downs but overall it was a great program! Magical video!

  25. Biggest regret is not applying for the DCP. Of course there's no guarantee I would have gotten it but now I'll never get the chance! I know a few people in the program now and I love following their experiences. They love Disney and I know they go the extra mile to bring Magic to everyone they meet.

  26. Iโ€™m from Brazil and am applying for the program this year!!
    Here we have A LOT of competition and even a separate step with interviews with a Brazilian company to โ€œfilterโ€ the candidates that go have the oficial interview, this year we had over 3000 candidates in the first interview with even more people not being able to attend the mandatory lecture due to capacity ๐Ÿ˜…

  27. random question, are you and Offhand Disney friends at all? how about Defunctland? Bright Sun Films?

  28. Current CP working on Main Street. While it is a lot of work, the friends you make really shape your experience. Between the mad rush of last minute stocking and singing while Happily Ever After plays in the background with fellow cast members, to the game nights with roommates, the people you meet truly shape the experience.

  29. I got accepted to the program but turned it down it didnโ€™t end up working out school wise but I know many people who went and loved it

  30. Simply put…The Disney College Program (Disneyland – Spring 2011 and Fall 2013) was the greatest experience of my life. It changed my life.

  31. I'm planning on trying out for this when I reach college. Even if I don't get in I will still try to get a job at Disney.

  32. I did the DCP almost 10 years ago and wouldn't trade it for the world. It was fun and very educational! It has no connection to my major or career but an experience that has helped me.

  33. I loved being a British cast member for the DCP last summer, still friends with all the people I met while I was there. It is worth the experince as it is one of the many things I am proud to of done at 21.

  34. Current DCP Spring Advantage 2018 CM!! I love it. I hope to do another after graduation and make a career of it. It's been such a remarkably positive experience- even the worst days are still some of the best of my life!
    My advice for future CPs: Keep a positive attitude. Work hard, play harder. And if you'e invited to Seรฑor Frogs, DON'T GO.

  35. I may have a chance to actually do the whole college program thing, at a really high cost though because I'm from Canada. Do you think I should still do it or just live with going Walt Disney World as a tourist?

  36. Random question for everyone: which Disney ride do you think needs an update, edition, etc.?

  37. I have seen your videos and didn't bother subbing because I didn't think I'd care about getting a notification about a new video but every video of yours i see i get interested in it. Sub earned

  38. This reminds me how sad I am that I was never accepted into the program ๐Ÿ˜ญ and now I am no longer in college so I can't apply again.

  39. CP here in 1989. Got to work at Pleasure Island. Met George Lucas, Michael Eisner came by too…Wish I could have afforded to stay there.

  40. Loved the video! I check in for my program two weeks from today and I really hope to run into you, Dan, and Kevin, my 3 favorite Disney youtubers ๐Ÿ˜€

  41. I have been looking into the DCP for a few months now, and was wondering if anyone had thoughts about using the DCP as a foothold into Imagineering as a career? PS, great video per the usual Rob!

  42. @robplays here is a question for you what do you think walt would of done if he was unable to get all that land down in Florida

  43. Former CP here you forgot to mention that they have added new appartment complexes for the CPs other than Vista Way. Chatham, The Commons and Patterson Court. Each community even has an official disney pin sold at Company D. I have both Chathams and Commons since I lived in both.

  44. Do colleges need to pay royalties to Disney for using mascots with the likeliness of Disney characters? Such as Donald Duck and the University of Oregon.

  45. As though they actually care about personal development and arenโ€™t just doing it for intelligent students working cheaply

  46. I met my future husband while I was on the Disney College Program. We get married Thursday after 3.5 years together.

  47. Unfortunately I have a good friend who graduated from the Disney College program and although she is a avid Disney fan she did not have a lot of favorable things to say about the program. Maybe I should interview her and post the video

  48. It's a shame they didn't let other colleges from other states participate why was that? Such as if you lived in Ohio. I know because I'm originally from Ohio

  49. The best experience of my life- Disney College Program 2011 and 2013 at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

  50. I completed the Disney College Program at Disneyland!! Iโ€™ve been trying to find more history and research on the DCP, I love your video ๐Ÿ˜€

  51. Hi. I was a part of the University of Alabama crew from 1980. There was no extra training like you mention for the summer of work. Disney came onto the campus in May 1980 and posters went up everywhere. We would go interview at the student center on campus, where Disney would offer you employment for the summer. A 40 hour work week, plus they were grouping us together in short term apartment rentals( 3 month rental instead of a year rental). I was placed in a two bedroom furnished apartment in south Orlando with 3 other roommates. We were called CT, that is casual temp in Disney lingo. Seasonal workers up to 40 hour a week job without insurance benefits. I worked at 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea in Fantasyland as a sub driver. Disney had the costume for you to wear, so you just had to furnish black shoes. Made great friends and ended up staying at Disney instead of returning back to college. But that is another story. As I remember, colleges recruited that summer of 1980 was University of Alabama, University of Georgia, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Thank you.

  52. I don't know if you just showed random apartments, but that was not vista way. looked more like chatham square or the place across from it(I forgot the name).

  53. I lived in Vista during my College Program and at 7:08 shows a housing complex that is not the Vista Way…

  54. I love all of your videos. They are Disney-quality videos about Disney, so thank you! I lead a normal life, but I feel intensely comforted to have these short videos on in my down time at home–a feeling which stems from my CP ten years ago. :O Both in the moment and looking back now, those days were absolutely magical. All my fellow CPs and I seemed to be on a semester-long high, fueled only by our close contact with the parks that we loved so much. Needless to say, those friendships are special. I'm from Texas, and year ago–almost a decade after our program–I met up with my French friend on vacation in Spain and it was as if we'd seen each other the week before. My roommate and her husband met on the program, as well as my brother and his wife (who had a wedding at the Grand Floridian). Say what they will about Disney taking advantage of college students; we go in willing, and in my opinion, take away much more from the experience than the company does from us.

  55. DCP Fall 2010 here. It was one of the best experiences of my life. The friends made, the times had, and the memories still mean more to me than just about anything. Itโ€™s coming up on 9 years since I did it and I never regret it. My only regret is not staying on with the company.

  56. DCP Fall โ€˜19 accepted here! Iโ€™m so excited to work for the Mouse starting in August ๐Ÿ’•

  57. You didn't mention all the housing location changes they made… During the first Work Experience Program back in the 70s, the participants were housed in rooms blocked off at the Contemporary Resort in one of the auxiliary buildings (I believe it was the west wing building). Since they didn't have equipped kitchens, they were given meal vouchers to eat at the resort restaurants (they were only good for dining locations inside of Contemporary Resort only), similar to how colleges distribute meal vouchers to students. When the current College Program first started, they housed the students in Snow White Village. The trailers were extremely bare bones and had up to 8 students to a trailer. There was no pool and very limited recreational space, so a lot of the social, networking, and team-building activities were done on Magic Kingdom backstage property, near what is called West Clock. The Disney University building was also in this area, and that's where all the classes were held. As the program expanded and got more popular, they started housing students in what used to be Tree House Villas, as well as Snow White Village. The treehouses were better equipped than the trailers, so in a bid to give America a good impression on those from outside the country, the international students were placed there. Since this was a converted resort, there was a pool on the complex grounds, as well as a really spacious recreational park/field where the social networking events took place. As the Tree House Villas and Snow White Village were both aging, they had Vista Way built. However, the program continued to expand every year, and the trailer park and treehouses were not large or updated enough to accommodate anymore, so they had Chatham Square and The Commons built to replace them. At this time, The Commons was mainly where the international students were placed initially. More recently, they built Patterson Court to accommodate even more expansion that has occurred in the 2010s, and all properties accommodate both domestic and international students. The move to integrate domestic and international in all properties was in a bid to make the program more immersive and beneficial for students making and developing new friendships.

    Also, in addition to the development of the program on the East Coast, Disneyland has also adopted the Disney College Program. They built a gorgeous apartment building in downtown Anaheim specifically for DCP students. As I have already done a DCP in World and lived at Chatham Square, I am trying to get into the program at Land and see how it differs from the program that has been a staple in the East…

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