California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo is a large public university with 6 colleges, 6 teaching certificates, 70 undergraduate programs, and 26 graduate programs. The school was founded in 1903 as a polytechnic high school and grew until 1933, when the California Board of Education transformed it into a two year technical and vocational school. Bachelor’s degrees were first offered in 1940, then Master’s degrees in 1949.
San Luis Obispo, a small city of about 44,000 residents, is almost halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, just 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The area is surrounded by agricultural lands, valleys, and mountains. The campus includes 9,678 acres in total across several different land holdings, and a 3,200 acre ranch which serves as an outdoor classroom for livestock and forestry education. There are roughly 17,000 students enrolled in any given year, although the university is planning to increase enrollment to 20,000 students by the year 2020.
Cal Poly has an excellent reputation for academics. The architecture, agriculture, and engineering programs are particularly well-known. Alumni earn, on average, the third-highest salaries in the United States of any group of public school graduates.
The six colleges are: College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, Orfalea College of Business, College of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts, College of Science and Mathematics, and Cotchett School of Education.
The philosophy of the university is “Learn by Doing” and how this plays out may be most obvious on the university’s farm. The organic farm is a learning laboratory for agricultural students, who study topics such as composting, natural pest control, native plants, biointensive agriculture and permaculture design. The farm is open to visitors during regular business hours.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Admissions are highly competitive. In recent years, the average incoming freshman had a GPA of 3.90 and an SAT score of 1292. Around 32% of applicants for the freshman class and 13% of transfer applicants are admitted. Students are expected to declare their majors as part of the admissions process, as admissions criteria differ between departments. It is difficult to change majors. Tuition rates also differ by department.
About 47% of students receive some form of financial assistance, totalling nearly $100 million in aid. In addition to the usual financial aid options, the college offers over 800 of their own grants and scholarships. There are unique scholarships in every college and department of the university. The school does not offer financial aid to international students.
Student Financial Aid Details
Cal Poly has been criticized for its lack of diversity, especially considering the very ethnically diverse area in which it is located. Roughly 65% of the students are European American, 12% are Latino American, 11% are Asian American, and less than one percent of students self-report as belonging to any other distinct ethnic category.
In other demographic measures, about 56% of the student body is male and 44% female. 31% of freshmen come from the San Francisco Bay area, 23% from Los Angeles, and most of the rest come from other areas of California. Only about 7% of students are from outside California, and international students comprise less than half of 1% of the entire student body.
Clubs and Organizations
There are several dozen clubs and organizations on campus, including student government, academic interest-based groups, social clubs, and intramural sports. Greek life is vibrant, with 10 USFC fraternities and sororities, 18 IFC fraternities, 8 panhellenic sororities, a panhellenic interest group, and 3 governing Greek councils. The Gender and Equity Center provides a safe space for men and women alike to deconstruct gender, explore meaning, and expand their worldviews.
Over 95% of first-year students live on campus. There are five different groupings of residence halls on campus. The South Mountain halls host living/learning programs, which means that students live with others in their area of study, building small, intensive communities within the wider university framework. Fremont Hall is home to students in the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences; Muir Hall is home to students in the College of Science and Mathematics; Sequoia Hall is home to students in the College of Architecture & Environmental Design; Tenaya Hall is home to students in the Orfalea College of Business; and Trinity Hall is home to students in the College of Liberal Arts.
Sierra Madre Hall houses the Connections Program for first year students. This program supports new students by guiding them through campus resources for academic success, extracurricular learning activities and field trips, and social action projects as a micro-community.
The North Mountain Halls of Shasta, Diablo, Palomar, Whitney, and Lassen house students from the College of Engineering, although they are more loosely structured than the learning/living program dormitories of South Mountain. The Canyon Village apartments offer housing for the Sophmore Success Program (similar to the Connections Program for freshmen) and housing for continuing students. The Cerro Vista apartments house the Transitions Program, which helps prepare students about to move from an academic environment to an adult work environment, and the honors community. There is separate, on-farm housing for Agriculture students.
Eating on Campus
There are many dining options on campus, including Einstein Bros Bagels, Jamba Juice, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, BackStage Pizza, Julian’s Patisseries, Tacos To-Go, Starbucks, and more. For an upscale meal on campus, students can visit Sage, an eclectic Mediterranean and Asian restaurant. There are some local foods available through Campus Dining, but the majority of food options are conventional. Despite the fact that the university has its own organic farm, seasonal produce from the farm is only available from Sage Restaurant and is not well-represented on campus.
Many sources report parking on campus to be difficult. The university is currently expanding parking spaces and bicycle racks, and also encourages students to use public transportation alternatives. The San Luis Obispo public transit system is free for students to use to and from campus.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
The athletics department participates in 20 intervarsity sports in NCAA Division I. Teams (with the exceptions of the football and wrestling programs) also participate in the Big West Conference. The mascot is the Mustang, and the spirit group is the Mustang Maniacs.
Football is the most popular sport, with the most attention paid to the annual Battle for the Golden Horseshoe against archrival UC Davis. The women’s volleyball team and men’s cross country team are also particularly strong.
Students have full use of the university’s recreational sports complex, including fitness equipment, weight rooms, a 50 meter swimming pool, a double-level gymnasium, martial arts rooms, and racquetball courts. There are also about 20 recreational and intramural sports that are open to any interested student.
Alumni who went on to become professional athletes include New York Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden, discus throw Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Brown Trafton, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Kevin Correia, Olympic equestrian and silver medalist Gina Ostini Miles, Detroit Tigers pitcher Casey Fien, Cleveland Browns defensive end Chris Gocong, captain of the Washington Redskins Mel Kaufman, ultimate fighting champion Chuck Liddell, Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, Houston Astros pitcher Bud Norris, Seattle Mariners pitcher Garrett Olson, professional golfer Loren Roberts, Major League Ball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, and ultimate Frisbee Hall of Famer Brandon Jernigan.
Other notable and well-known alumni include humourist and musician “Weird Al” Yankovic, Chief Financial Officer of Apple Computer Peter Oppenheimer, Chief Financial Officer of Raytheon William H. Swanson, California State Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, California State Senators Jeff Denham, and Dennis Hollingsworth, Lieutentant Governor of California Abel Maldonado, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, astronauts Greg Chamitoff and Robert L. Gibson, and UrbanDictionary creator Aaron Peckham.
Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.