“M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E” is not only the theme song of the Mickey Mouse Club, but also the alma mater for more than 8,000 college students from around the globe.
These students participate in the Walt Disney World College Program in Orlando, Florida and, in addition to conventional college courses, are trained to perform specific “roles” such as costuming, culinary arts, custodial services, entertainment, hospitality, housekeeping, lifeguarding, vacation planning and even how to be a Disney character.
“20,000 kids applied, only 8,000 were accepted into the program, and only 300 completed it,” said Lindsey Kelley, a 20-year-old Quinnipiac student and marketing representative for Disney, who has been through the six month program and now is a recruiter for other prospective students.
The program boasts a unique “combination of education and work experience” where students can acquire skills like relationship building, problem solving, and written and verbal communication, in addition to exploring networking opportunities and becoming a cast member at the Walt Disney World Resort.
“It’s just a fantasy land,” Kelley said.
Students interested in the program must first fill out an on-line application [http://www.wdwcollegeprogram.com] and attend one of more than 350 mandatory presentations at various colleges around the country. There, students sign up for individual interviews to which they must bring their completed application to submit to recruiters.
“The recruiting process is not that difficult,” Kelley said. “It’s actually a lot of fun. You get to talk to the recruiters, meet with other students who have already been or are looking to go through the program; you watch a video, and they even give you free Disney merchandise,” she said.
The recruiters look for individuals that demonstrate the qualities needed to fulfill the various roles that Disney has to offer.
“They look for people who smile and have upbeat personalities. They want people who are bubbly, verbally expressive,enthusiastic, optimistic, open-minded, and willing to do anything,” Kelley said.
The Walt Disney World College Program began in 1981 with a mere 200 enrolled students.
“It was a tiny little thing and students had to live in trailers,” Kelley said.
Now, in addition to its conventional “roles,” the program offers advanced internship and management opportunities as well as fully furnished residences complete with tennis courts and hot tubs.
Prospective students must be currently enrolled in a college or university and have completed at least one semester.
All majors are accepted, and there is an international program for students who are not residents of the U.S. Students interested must be in good academic standing with a 2.0 GPA or higher.
“It’s amazing. You meet people from every state,” Kelley said.
One of the many perks of participating in the program is free admission to all of the four theme parks, three water parks, and nighttime entertainment area.
“It’s so much fun. You get free access to all the parks and you only have to pay for food,” Kelley said.
According to Kelley, the park is also located conveniently next to the beach and offers numerous volunteer opportunities through the Disney “VoluntEARS” program.
But the program is not all fun and games. Participants are expected to work a minimum of thirty hours per week, on top of classes, for six dollars an hour in conditions that may include “prolonged exposure to outside elements including heat, humidity, wet conditions and cold temperatures.”
Students are also expected to adhere to a strict code of dress and conduct that is outlined in a booklet entitled the “Disney Look.”
“I wore sparkles one day and got in trouble,” Kelley said.
Some of the numerous rules include that girls cannot have long fingernails, must wear makeup that accents their skin tone, and at professional events, must wear knee-length skirts and black closed-toed shoes.
“The guys are expected to shave every solitary hair on their faces and have traditional haircuts,” Kelley said. “I’ve seen guys come in the morning with blood on their faces because they shaved when they had nothing to shave.”
Students also go through rigorous general training which is followed by specialized training for their specific roles.
During the six to seven hour sessions, instructors “brainwash you with the inside and out of Disney,” Kelley said.
Once students’ strengths and weaknesses are assessed, they are given roles based on their qualities and availability.
“I was chosen to work in restaurant operations and special events planning. I got to plan Halloween and Christmas events, parades, and even fireworks,” Kelley said.
Kelley felt that the best part of the program was making people happy.
“Even though you feel like you’re acting the same way as you always do, people who are on vacation are so excited. You’re making their day,” Kelley said. “You are in the middle of everything and living in the most magical place on Earth.”