UT students work hard, network, make lifelong friends at Disney College Program

Hannah Ortega

From atop the Swiss Family Treehouse in Magic Kingdom, marketing junior Samantha Kagel watched the Happily Ever After fireworks show with tears in her eyes and friends by her side. It was her last shift in the Disney College Program, and she would soon have to leave what she called the “Disney bubble.”

“I kind of think of it like ‘The Bachelor,’ like how everything is so magical and amazing … for nine months, and then you have to go back to real life, and it’s really hard,” Kagel said. 

Students like Kagel, both at UT and other colleges, often take a semester or longer off from school to participate in the Disney College Program. The program is held at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland and allows students to work in the parks and resorts as paid cast members. Kagel, who spent fall 2017 and spring 2018 at Disney World, worked several Magic Kingdom attractions and helped control parades.

While Kagel said UT doesn’t award course credit for the program, high school Advanced Placement credit allowed her and radio-television-film junior Alison Richman to take time off without falling too behind in their studies. 


Kagel wasn’t completely out of the classroom during the Disney College Program, however. Kagel took seminars provided by Disney, which she said can be great places for networking. Kagel’s boyfriend, geophysics junior Jayce Testut, got a Disney Professional Internship by networking at the lecture series, where various Disney professionals speak to students in the college program.

“I just met someone, talked to her for five minutes, and she said, ‘Oh, I’m going to connect you with someone that I know,’” said Testut, who worked as a custodian mostly on Main Street, U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom. “People are so eager to help you because that’s how everyone got their start there.”

For his summer 2018 internship following his spring 2018 program, Testut worked with Walt Disney Imagineering, who design and build Disney attractions. He helped create rocks for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars-themed land coming to Hollywood Studios this year.

While Kagel, Testut and Richman said they greatly enjoyed the Disney College Program and made friends they still keep in contact with, they said their jobs were intense and not as easy as some may think.

“The job is not easy,” Kagel said. “People are mean, and it’s hot, and you’re on your feet for 12, 15 hour days.”

Despite the exhausting work, Kagel said the program was “the best year of (her) life.” 

Richman said participants in the program receive perks such as ride tours and free access to the parks. 

“I got to go tour Haunted Mansion,” said Richman, who worked as an Animal Kingdom custodian in spring 2018. “You get to see everything backstage, and then they walk you through the ride with all the lights on, and it’s like (the) world building … is crazy.”

Testut, who got into the program on his second try, advised applying students to not feel discouraged if they are rejected.

“They have so many applicants, that it’s just … nothing personal,” Testut said. “One of my best friends that I made there is one of the most perfect ‘Disney people’ in the world, and she didn’t get in until her fourth time applying. It’s really a little bit of luck as well as knowing how to sell yourself.”