Disney College Program: College Internship or Cult?

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a member of the disney college program

Credit: Disney

One of the largest groups of employees at Walt Disney World is college students participating in the Disney College Program.

At Disney World, you’re just as likely to see a college listed on someone’s nametag as their hometown, as Disney employs thousands of students on a regular basis through their College Program internship, or the DCP. The DCP is a semester or year-long internship where students can gain experience working for Disney while also taking college or Disney-offered classes.

1st Day of school at Disney World
Credit: Lisa DiNoto / The Castle Run

In a recent episode, the podcast “Cousin Time” discusses their experiences with cult or cult-adjacent practices, and one of the speakers details her time in the DCP. She explains that looking back on it, the DCP feels like a cult, and as a former College Program Cast Member myself, I agree. She mentions the “insider” acronyms, terminology, and theming that Cast Members use to set themselves apart from regular Guests or even other careers. Calling Animal Kingdom “DAK” or using themed language to ask for a bathroom or lunch break all help Cast Members feel set apart while bringing them together.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique cast members
Credit: Disney

The speaker brings up the Disney orientation program, Traditions, and explains that new Cast Members spend hours learning about the company, being shown emotional videos, and then greeted by Mickey Mouse or shown private, backstage areas to introduce them to their new areas and roles. She states that it feels very manipulative while being very on brand, and serves to fuel the “magic of Disney” feeling that Cast Members have.

disney cast members at mickey's retreat
Credit: Disney

Many Cast Members who start in the DCP often end up staying on and transferring to being full-time employees. Many end up switching to finishing school online or transferring to an Orlando school in order to stay in the area. The speaker describes area leaders or executives from Park Operations or Imagineering that started as members of the DCP in an effort to show the success stories that the DCP can lead to. She also brings up the fact that many try to become Disney social media influencers or end up meeting influencers, which is a big deal to those within the Disney community but isn’t relevant to those outside the community.

A little girl walking down the street
Credit: The McLeod Family on IG

A valid point that draws a lot of people to the Disney College Program is that it’s the perfect “out” for young adults who are realizing college may not be for them, aren’t sure what they want to do with their life, or just aren’t sure what they’re looking for. Those participating in the DCP are often scheduled long hours, forming bonds with the coworkers they see for over 12 hours every day. It creates its own bubble, even within the Disney community.

Guests, Cast Members, and characters dancing in the lobby of Wilderness lodge.
Credit: Disney

During my time working for the Disney College Program, I swore I would never go back to work at Disney World. Within a month, I had uprooted my life to go back and work full-time for the Park, and remained on and off with the company for four years. To this day, I talk about my time during the College Program and have previous coworkers and friends that participated in the program decades ago that still talk about it. There’s just something about Disney College Program that makes it either the best experience of your life, or the worst, but either way, that experience never leaves you. You’re so ensnared in the Disney bubble during that time that, looking back on it, it definitely feels cult-adjacent.

Have you ever done the DCP? Would you agree it feels cult-ish or was it just another job? Share your experience with Inside the Magic in the comments below!

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