Living life at the “Happiest Place on Earth:” Inside the Disney College Program

Living in Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World is almost every little girl’s dream. For Kristin Leechow, a rising sophomore at Elon University, that dream will almost become a reality over the next semester as she participates in the Disney College Program in Orlando. She won’t be living in a castle in the center of Magic Kingdom Park like Cinderella, but she will be working, studying and living at the parks with other students as a participant of the program.

Leechow, an arts administration major with minors in dance, business and communications, first heard about the highly selective program on a family trip to Walt Disney World when she was younger. Ever since, she has been determined to participate.

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Kristin Leechow, a rising sophomore at Elon, will participate in the Disney College Program in fall 2017. (photos: Kristin Leechow)

In high school, Leechow was a trained dancer. The DCP offers a performance role, or face character role, but these are even more selective than the basic program, which only accepts 10 percent of applicants as is.

“I wanted to do a performance role, but they are very specific and I only really look like Moana,” Leechow said. “For now I’m placed in Quick Service food and beverage, but I have food allergies so we’re in the process of finding me a new role.”

DCP students work the front line at the parks, resorts and restaurants. Besides performing, being a face character or Quick Service, other participants may work in housekeeping, concierge positions, character handlers, ride operators, taking photos, as lifeguards or in merchandise. The program places students based on their prior experience and interests.

“I have a lot of retail experience, so I was thinking I’d be placed there,” she said.

With the high demand for positions, many students may not end up in their first choice position.

Kristyn Gallant, a nursing major graduating from University of New Hampshire in May, was accepted but placed in custodial, one of the reasons she ultimately declined the offer.

I was super nervous that maybe working in Disney wouldn’t be so glorious,” Gallant said. “What if it ruined the magic?”

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Outside of working and attending school in Disney, Leechow will also get insider perks as a temporary ‘Cast Member.’

Getting in

The application process is three-fold. First, the online application, then a string of phone and video interviews.

“With my Disney knowledge and experience it was so easy to win over the interviewer in a second,” said Gallant, who vacations to the parks at least twice a year and has been over 20 times.

Once accepted, participants have seven days to accept the offer. For some, changing plans last minute to accommodate for the DCP is not so easy. Gallant had every intention of participating if she was accepted but said the process was just too fast. Like Leechow, Gallant knew within a week that she was accepted.

Ideally I wanted to go to the DCP while having a job lined up for when I get back because I’d be way too stressed if I didn’t,” Gallant said. “For nursing majors they have new grad programs that start in August and only do one cohort a year so I would completely miss that opportunity.”

For Leechow, accepting the offer meant changing all her plans for next fall.

“I had just registered for classes the day before I got in,” she said. “I was accepted to study abroad in Vietnam for Winter Term, and I was all set to live in a triple in the AOII [on campus] house, so now I have to find someone to fill that spot and a new place to live,” she said.

Despite the hiccups in her schedule, Leechow said she couldn’t be more excited. Seems like the movies were right about one thing–Disney has the power to make dreams come true.

Learn a little bit more about Kristin’s process below:

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