Forget everything you know about a good life—Austin Carruth (26), Madison Curl (24), and Landon Kennedy (23) have truly experienced the magic! After all, all three of them have eaten, slept, and breathed the coolest place on earth, thanks to the Disney College Program (DCP), which gives participants a chance to gain on-the-job experience while completing college coursework. In this tell-all, the trio opens up about the magic of Disney World as well as life outside Emanuel.
How did you find out about the Disney College Program?
Austin: I found out about the program through a trip to Walt Disney World (WDW) as a child. I remember vividly interacting with a cast member and asking why they didn’t have their hometown on their nametag but a college instead. On that day, I told my mom I would have a college on my nametag, too.
Madison: My aunt, Jennifer, had done the college program back when she was in college. Growing up, we always went to visit her and go to the parks. I knew from a young age that I, too, wanted to work for Disney and make lifelong memories.
Landon: I’ve known about the DCP since I was a kid. One of my babysitters in the past had done the program, and I wanted to do it ever since.
Why did you want to work for Disney?
Austin: I grew up traveling to WDW with my family when my mom worked for the Disney Store, so it was only natural that I developed a huge passion for it from such a young age. It was always a happy place for me. Not much is better than going to work every day to bring joy to others.
Madison: They revolve their company around making memories for people and their families and offer their cast members the opportunity to advance their careers inside and outside of the company.
Landon: I thought having the Walt Disney Company on my resumé would look good. Plus, who doesn’t want to live at Walt Disney World!?
When did you apply, and when did you find out you were accepted?
Austin: I applied shortly after applications dropped in January 2015, moving quickly through the process. After completing my phone interview, I received my acceptance four days later.
Madison: I applied the first week they announced that applications had opened. Like many other hopeful Disney College Program kids, I followed all of the social media pages for the program to ensure that I did not miss the deadline. Once I submitted my application, I received an offer for a web-based interview. Once I passed that, I was offered a phone interview with a recruiter. After the phone interview, I waited around two months before I got an email letting me know I had been accepted.
Landon: I applied on January 22, 2019.About two hours later, I got an email letting me know I had made it to the web-based interview, which is a series of questions and scenarios and you have to answer them the way you would handle the situation. About two hours after submitting my web-based interview, I received another email letting me know I had made it to the final round of the interview process, the phone interview. I scheduled my phone interview for the first date possible, which was January 25. I was so nervous! During my interview, the recruiter asked me a lot of questions regarding my past work experience, specifically that of photography. After my phone interview, I was a nervous wreck. The waiting game had officially started. On February 5, I remember sitting in class and getting a tweet notification from one of the Disney recruiters that the first official acceptance wave was going out that day. I kept seeing everyone getting accepted on the DCP Facebook page, and that made me nervous, too. After class, I went home and my friend, Savannah Ann Harkins, and I were sitting on the couch, talking about how we hoped we would hear back soon, but I think we both came to the conclusion that that day wasn’t going to be the day we got our acceptances. So, Savannah Ann walked home and literally as soon as she walked out, my acceptance email came through! I was so excited! I logged onto the computer to see what role they offered me, and I called my family to let them know! A few minutes later, Savannah Ann came running through my door with her acceptance email as well!
How difficult is it to get into the Disney College Program? In your opinion, what set you apart from other applicants?
Austin: I’d say it’s tough, considering the amount of people that apply each season, but counts of those accepted fluctuate each year based on a multitude of things! I think my application stood out for my particular role that I was accepted for due to having volunteer work, a childcare background, and retail experience. These all were large pieces of my role I worked during my program.
Madison: Though it seemed easy for me to get into the program, I was still worried that I had not made the cut since there is no feedback given after the interviews. Of the some 50,000 applicants the DCP gets each year, only around 12,000 are accepted. I think what set me apart is I’m a huge people person and love to learn about what brings people here and what they love about it. I’ve always been able to keep a level head in any situation and know how to say the right things to people in times of need.
Landon: I have seen in Facebook groups that people have applied to the program four and five times and have never been accepted, so I felt extremely blessed to have been accepted the first time I applied. I believe it all comes down to what roles recruiters need to fill and what you as an applicant have to offer, as well as your personality and how you would handle certain situations.
When did you start and end the program? What was your job title, and what were your responsibilities?
Austin: I worked as a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique hostess in sowntown Disney from August 2015 until May 2016. I created magical transformations for children, ages 3-12, that could include costuming, hair styling, makeup application, and nail polish application.
Madison: I started the program in February 2018 and worked through August of that year as a sales hostess. I sold merchandise in indoor and outdoor locations. I also helped with stroller and wheelchair rentals, prepared packages for shipping and delivery, and provided information to guests.
Landon: I started May 13, 2019, and I have just been selected to extend my college program to May 28, 2020. My original end date was January 2, 2020. I am a Photopass photographer at Magic Kingdom, and my responsibilities include taking photos of guests in front of the castle or while they are meeting their favorite character. I also help guests find lost photos and add them to their accounts and assist guests by selling prints/digital memories from their vacation.
What did you learn from working at Disney?
Austin: Of everything in my time at Disney, I gained so many things: a work family, friends that I could never imagine being without today, and an even stronger work ethic and passion for the company than I ever imagined possible for me. I learned many skills that (maybe) aren’t the most practical for your typical 9 to 5 but fostered connections with so many cast members and guests I still encounter today, even in my current role. You never know where you’ll go working for a place of endless opportunities.
Madison: With doing the college program, I learned excellent conflict management skills. Living with seven other girls from all over the world was sometimes the most challenging but also the most rewarding thing I ever could’ve done. I was given the opportunity to handle problems with these girls, guests, and my coworkers, and that gave me new, lifelong skills on how to effectively handle problems. This program also gave me amazing resumé skills that will carry over into any future career I pursue. While working in merchandising, I learned firsthand business skills of money-handling and effective merchandise presentation and stocking. I also had the opportunity to network with leaders in my area on skills they learned working with Disney, and they gave me tips on how to take these skills into the workforce for the future.
Landon: Overall, I feel like I have learned and grown so much as a person and within my skills and knowledge of photography since being here. This has truly been a magical experience for me.
Describe one cool experience you had while working there.
Austin: During my program, my very first transformation out of training was with a young girl named Maggie. She was celebrating her third birthday, thus making her just old enough to have a transformation. I spent over an hour with Maggie, her mother, and her aunt, telling stories, laughing, and pinky-promising that she would come back to visit me. A few weeks later, my managers recognized me in a team meeting with a long letter and photos from Maggie’s aunt from the transformation, saying how appreciative they were of my time and the connections that I made with each of them. Fast-forward to today, I actually work with Maggie’s aunt on special events in my current job! It’s definitely a small world.
Madison: One night while working at Hollywood Studios, a man and a woman approached me and asked if I could do them a favor. I, of course, said yes. They began to tell me a story of how they lost their young son to cancer a few years before. They had made it their mission to place Hot Wheels cars around places so kids could find them and read about their son who loved Hot Wheels toys. They showed me their Facebook page, which was scattered with pictures of where they had placed the toys in areas they had traveled to and pictures of kids and families who found them. They asked if they could simply leave a toy at the counter of the register I was at and, of course, I said yes. I told my leader about the story and asked if we could take the toy on a trip around the park and take pictures of the toy’s journey to post on their page. We ended up walking around the entire park taking pictures of the toy and eventually found a spot to leave it. We watched as a little boy wearing a Cars t-shirt spotted it, ran over, grabbed it with delight, and began to play with it. Afterward, we posted all the pictures on the family’s Facebook page, who then messaged us, thanking us for taking the time to make sure the toy was taken all around the park and had its own adventure.
Landon: One night, I was working with Mickey and Minnie, and this little boy came in dressed as a guest relations cast member. Mickey, Minnie, the character attendant, and I then realized that his name was Landon, too! I told the little boy that next time he came to visit, he would have to wear a Photopass costume so he could match me! His mom insisted on getting a picture of Landon and I holding our nametags with Mickey and Minnie. It was so cool! Landon then gave me a bracelet he made. I still wear it every day. That was the highlight of my week!
[Editor’s note: The child’s name was revised throughout Austin’s statement for legal reasons.]
What are you doing now?
Austin: After completing my Disney College Program in 2016, I felt terribly homesick as soon as I pulled off of the Disney property to head home. It was in that feeling that I realized my passion for Disney as a company was so strong that I had to return after graduation. In my last semester, I began applying for Disney professional internships in various departments. The process was much longer than applying for the DCP as many of these roles accept small groups of cast members, or even only individuals, for some roles. In applying to 13 positions, I made it to the final stage interviews for four. In the end, I was offered my choice between the Disney College Program Housing Service Center coordinator and the VIP Tours administrative support roles! Choosing the path of VIP Tours, my day-to-day tasks varied, but I worked primarily with our daily operations and Ultimate Series of VIP Tours. I was trained on everything in the department, so my schedule typically varied, depending on the season.
After being offered an extension of my DPI at VIP Tours, the hunt began for a permanent role to stay with Disney. With my internship ending in January, I had less than six months to find a “home.” My heart pulled me toward guest relations, so after I interviewed, I was offered a temporary position with Disney Springs Guest Relations. After eight months, I was offered full-time! On the same day, VIP Tours called to offer me a full-time coordinator position! It was a wild day, but one that led me to the path I’m meant to be on now.
Madison: After my college program ended in August, I was offered a part-time position at the world-famous Jungle Cruise. I had the opportunity to drive boats around the four main rivers of the world while telling satirical jokes. While it was an amazing experience, I knew I wanted to go back into merchandise, where my heart truly belongs. After spending eight months at the Jungle Cruise, I transferred to a full-time merchandise role on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom at the Emporium. Since transferring there three months ago, I was offered a promotion to become a trainer, then a coordinator, in the store. I am truly thriving in this position because business and sales are where I belong.
Do you have any desire to return home for good? Why or why not?
Austin: As of a few months ago, I am officially a Floridian, having converted my driver’s license over! I know that my future is here in Florida for now, but I can’t rule out returning to Georgia at a later point in my life.
Madison: The only thing that would bring me back home for good would be for my family. I would do anything for my family if the time came and I needed to come back, but thankfully, they know that I am making a life for myself living down in Florida and am trying to put myself in a good position for a great lifelong career.
Landon: As of right now, no. There are too many opportunities out there for me to want to come home right now that I feel like I’d be missing out on.
How did Emanuel County make you who you are today?
Austin: I grew up between Savannah, Garden City, Rincon, Springfield, and Swainsboro from birth, so I always had a good mix of experiences from moving around so frequently. Emanuel County shaped me into a woman that became capable of chasing her dreams—definitely not something the shy, 12-year-old me ever thought possible. From the small town to the big city, one should never forget where they come from and the people who made the largest impacts of all.
Madison: Growing up in Emanuel County helped me learn to appreciate the little things in life. Going from living in such a small city to a large one like Orlando was a drastic change for me and took some time to get used to. Large cities move at such a fast pace, and I feel as though my life is just speeding ahead. Here, there’s no time to just go by your grandma’s house and have dinner while you catch her up on all the small-town drama. You’re lucky to get in a phone call once a week to see how things are going. Those are the little things in life that you take for granted when you sit down and think about how everything has changed.
Landon: Without growing up in Emanuel County, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I am so grateful to have made lifelong friends. Without the support of Emanuel County, I also would not have had a successful photography business to help prepare me for this job.
Any words of wisdom for people who want to leave home, be it temporary or permanent?
Austin: It may seem scary, but take the leap and just chase your dream! You only have one life, so live it well and with passion. Being homesick will happen, but always know that home is there to welcome you back with open arms.
Madison: Even if you’re not sure that you want to leave home permanently, go on an adventure and explore the world. Leave home, even if only for a couple weeks or months. You won’t get to experience all of the wonder that the world has to offer if you only stay in one county. In the end, if small town life is the one you want to live, just come right back. You’ll still have amazing stories to tell.
Landon: I say go for it! It has been such a good change of pace for me. Leave home, make new friends, learn new things, and expand your mind outside of what you’re so use to. It’s okay to leave home, and it’s okay to come back home. Do it as long as it makes you happy!
Austin is the daughter of Kevin and Cherry Carruth. She has one brother, Zachery Carruth. She graduated from Swainsboro High School in 2011, East Georgia State College in 2013, and Columbus State University in 2016. She has an associate degree in general studies as well as a bachelor’s in integrated media. While at EGSC, Austin was a student ambassador. She was also a member of the Lambda Pi Eta and the Phi Theta Kappa honor societies. Austin has also volunteered as a Relay for Life coordinator and is an advocate for CURE Childhood Cancer. In addition, Austin competed in the Miss Georgia Pageant numerous times as a local titleholder; she was Miss EGSC 2013, Miss Emanuel County 2014, Miss Middle West Georgia 2015, and Miss Hummingbird Festival 2017. In the future, she hopes to move into communication management at Disney.
Madison is the daughter of Karen and Anthony Curl. Her brother is Brandon Fields. She graduated from David Emanuel Academy in 2013, then went on to graduate from Georgia Southern University in 2017 with a degree in business marketing. During her time at GSU, she was inducted into the Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority and was part of the Eagle Executive Society. She is currently completing graduate school through Bellevue University, pursuing a Master of Business Administration with a focus in logistics, thanks to Disney Aspire, which offers Cast Members the opportunity to go back to school with all expenses paid by the company. Madison expects to finish the program in 2021. She plans to go into a career that focuses on consumer purchasing and sourcing.
Landon is the son of Bill and Gina Kennedy. The brother of Luke Kennedy, he graduated from Swainsboro High School in 2013. He attended East Georgia State College for two years, then transferred to Southern, where he is currently a senior studying public relations. He would like to continue working for Disney after completing the program.