The Truth About the Disney College Program

Note: Today’s guest posts comes to us from now former CP-er Caroline Liddick, who wrote for the blog a few times during her stay in Florida, and who I rode my last Malestrom boat with (RIP) . Now Caroline is back in the real world, and what follows is her account of her time on the College Program. While her feelings aren’t all the same ones I had during my stay, they do hit pretty close to home. And now is probably a good time to reidorate that this blog does not express the opinions of anyone but it’s writers, who in this case – is Caroline. Enjoy! 

My name is Caroline Liddick. From June 2014 to January 2015, I participated in the Disney College Program in Orlando, Florida.

This is the official description of the College Program as listed on the Disney Careers website:

As a Disney College Program participant, you’ll become part of the magic that is known worldwide. You’ll get valuable, on-the-job experience in our parks and resorts, and expand your knowledge in a classroom with international diverse students from all over the country and potentially the world. Discover new worlds and create long-lasting memories. Because here, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will change your life forever.

You probably picked up on a few Disney keywords there, like “magic” and “memories.” But what is the DCP really like? What is the truth about the Disney College Program?

LIVING

If you are smart, you will not live in CP housing.

I lived in a six-person, three-bedroom apartment for which each of us paid $97 a week. Comparably, a three-bedroom apartment in CM favorite Windermere Cay runs $1585 a month. It only takes a little calculating to learn that if we had split an apartment there like we did in CP housing, it would only be $66 a week — and this does not take into account the discount given to Disney World Cast Members.

The often-agreed reason for this extra cost in CP housing is for the events that the complexes throw, but even if you participated in every housing event in a month, my guess is that you will not have gained that $124+ difference back.

EARNING

 At work, I was often yelled at and spit on. I was threatened with physical violence on more than one occasion, but no Guest ever managed to follow through. As a CP, most part- and full-timers looked down on me at first, a reputation I did not earn, but still one that I had to work to get rid of. As an Operations Cast Member at Fantasmic!, I was looked down on by most CMs working at Hollywood Studios — even those in my own area. Theaters are widely considered to be easy, since they “aren’t real attractions”, and therefore the CMs working them are considered “rejects.”

 For those concerned with details, I worked $9 an hour for a maximum of 30 scheduled hours each week. You could pick up more shifts, as I would often do, but you could only exceed 40 hours if you were scheduled overtime, which literally never happened at Fant. And we were often asked to shorten our shifts – a special circumstance that, as far as I know, only ever happened in my area.

After taxes and rent, my average weekly paycheck came out to $114.36 — yes, I did the math. Living off this type of money isn’t impossible, but if you are like me, you will spend too much of it on expensive park food and merchandise, and you will lose money on the program.

 LEARNING

 As for classes, I did take one class – Disney Marketing. The class, like many other classes sponsored by the DCP, was largely an overview. I didn’t learn anything in the class that I couldn’t surmise on my own about Disney’s approach, and it certainly wasn’t a college-level class.

If you are looking to do the College Program so you can have a college “learning” experience, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. The real Disney “classroom” are the parks and the resorts. I learned more from observing others, from having positive and negative Guest interactions, and from meeting people all over property than I ever did at a class or a lecture. Do not underestimate the power of asking the right questions and listening for answers.

The College Program is not a productive time or place for most, including me. I didn’t further my career there. I didn’t make life-long professional contacts. The most the Program did for me on a professional level was make me realize that I never want to work for the Parks and Resorts – I much prefer interacting with them as a Guest than a CM.

My friends and I hated the Program while we were there. We hated the system that allowed jobless, experience-seeking students to become cheap labor in promise of something more (a Professional Internship or a job) down the line. We hated the way that we allowed ourselves to be treated like dirt in the name of getting a renowned company like Disney on our résumé. We hated the way that we were Cinderella from the beginning of the movie with no hope of becoming Cinderella from the end of the movie, all because of our own twisted love of the company that made us that way in the first place.

 All this considered, though, you might be surprised to learn that I fucking loved my time on the program. I worked with some of the kindest and funniest people I ever met. I got to be a part of history – the first ever hard-ticketed Villains Unleashed event, Tower of Terror’s 20th anniversary, Rock’n’Roller Coaster’s quinceañara, even Frozen Summer Fun (cue collective groan from the general direction of Hollywood Studios). I got to learn about myself in a way that I never could in any of the places I’ve lived — even New York City. And I got to have a Frozen Coke, a Dole Whip, or a Mickey Premium Bar any time I wanted one.

Did I consider extending my time there? Not even a little bit.

Would I recommend the program to others? Not without a warning.

If I could go back in time, would I do it again? Abso-fucking-lutely.

And that is the truth about the Disney College Program.

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