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California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo is one of the best public schools in the West and has been since 1901. This California university consists of primarily undergraduate students. The student body as a whole is over 22,000; however, the overall undergraduate population comprises over 21,000. Cal Poly’s approach is to learn by doing, in addition to theoretical practices with a 22:1 student to professor ratio. It is the belief and philosophy of Cal Poly that individuals simply learn and retain more by doing actual work to find solutions to real-life problems on a local and global scale.

Overview of California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo

The advantageous location of central California provides students with nearly unlimited hands-on experience directly related to Cal Poly degree programs, such as coastal ecosystems, winemaking, and agriculture. Because the university is located almost directly between San Francisco and Los Angeles, students will also have access to business and non-profit projects, internships, and long-term employment opportunities.

Additional critical components of the Cal Poly success factor are inclusion, equity, and diversity. Students will be exposed to differing viewpoints, cultures, and life experiences. These aspects help to make the student body more respectful, inclusive, and engaging with people from all walks of life throughout their career. It’s also possible for students to participate in a variety of organizations, sports, events, activities, and more, including congressional internships, agricultural experiential learning opportunities, women-based architectural organizations, hacking events, organizations to fight against human trafficking, and more.

General Information

School Type Public
Campus Setting Suburb: Small
Campus Housing Yes
Student Faculty Ratio 21:1
Graduation Rate 82%
Year Founded 1901

Student Enrollment

Total Students22,013


Undergraduate Student

Male 10,971
Female 10,127

Graduate Student

Male 476
Female 439

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Male 28,425
Female 26,238


Male 7,391
Female 9,183

Acceptance Rate30%

Male 26%
Female 35%

Enrollment 4,428

Male 1,284
Female 1,063
Application Fee $70
High School GPA Required
High School Rank NA
High School Transcripts Required
College Prep Courses Required
Recommendations NA
SAT/ACT Required
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) NA
Application Deadline November 30
Common Application Accepted No

Tuition Cost & Financial Aid

California Polytechnic State University has an average net pricing of $21,232. This higher figure for a public school is in direct correlation to the large number of out-of-state students who participate in undergraduate programs. Tuition for in-state students is $9,943 and out-of-state students can expect to pay $23,833 before financial assistance. Around 63% of students at the undergraduate level accept financial support to combat the high costs of higher education. For Cal Poly students, they can expect to require another $18,000 or more for standard living expenses and classroom costs.

These price tags do not include the costs associated with having a personal life and for entertainment not offered for free by the university. Some students enjoy going out at night, taking quick trips to regional locations, going to restaurants with new friends, attending sporting events, and much more. It will be essential to establish a budget that includes such expenses. Keep in mind that these activities are optional expenses; however, most individuals find them a key component to the overall college experience.

Average net price 2017-2018
Net Price $20,036
Average Total Aid $5,836
Students Receiving Financial Aid 64%
Room & Board $14,208

Sticker Price

  • Tuition In-State - $9,943
  • Tuition Out-of-State - $23,833
  • Books and Supplies - $1,941
  • Room & Board - $14,208
  • Other - $2,835


The primary educational difference and advantage at Cal Poly over other colleges and universities is that undergraduates are awarded the same options as graduate students in most other schools such as to publishing papers, working within an industry, and participating in research. These attractive attributes help to secure a retention rate of 94%. Cal Poly does have a relatively low graduation rate at just 51% within four years. The graduation rate within six years is more agreeable at 82%. Lower graduation rates within a timely manner could be attributed to the fact students spend more time gaining practical experience rather than sitting in a classroom.

To help reduce the time it takes to graduate, Cal Poly has developed innovative blended programs, also known as 4+1 programs, to allow for students to complete both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree simultaneously. This approach has proven to reduce the cost and time associated with completing these degrees. Six colleges are available to all undergraduates and most feature blended programs which include agriculture, food and environmental sciences, architecture and environmental design, engineering, liberal arts, science, and mathematics and the Orfalea College of Business.

As part of the hands-on learning experience, students will also participate in research within their chosen field of study. Students can select from over 60 majors and 50 master’s degree options. It’s important to note that students must declare a specified major at the time of applying so that students have the opportunity to begin gaining valuable experience on day one. And, while the university does allow for major changes, it’s ideal to take the time to vet potential majors thoroughly before making a decision.

Student Population Total

Student Population 22,013

Evening Classes : No
Distance Learning : Yes

Most Popular Programs & Majors

(# of Diplomas Awarded by Subject)

All Business Majors 874 Total Graduates / 17%
Business Administration and Management, General 762 Graduates
Construction Management 112 Graduates
All Engineering Majors 1,208 Total Graduates / 23%
Mechanical Engineering 264 Graduates
Civil Engineering, General 149 Graduates
Electrical and Electronics Engineering 135 Graduates
Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering 107 Graduates
Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical/Space Engineering 96 Graduates
All Social Science Majors 276 Total Graduates / 5%
Political Science and Government, General 117 Graduates
Economics, General 64 Graduates
Sociology 55 Graduates
Social Sciences, Other 40 Graduates
All Biological & Biomedical Majors 324 Total Graduates / 6%
Biology/Biological Sciences, General 239 Graduates
Biochemistry 51 Graduates
Microbiology, General 34 Graduates
Agriculture, Agriculture Operations, and Related Sciences 630 Total Graduates / 5%
Agribusiness/Agricultural Business Operations 180 Graduates
Animal Sciences, General 164 Graduates
Viticulture and Enology 71 Graduates
Agronomy and Crop Science 63 Graduates
Food Science 43 Graduates
All Other Diplomas 36%

Outcome & Salary

The hands-on learning approach is noticed and appreciated by hiring employers. Upon graduation, 93% of students are employed, will attend graduate school, or have alternative plans. Over half of all students state that their employment was the direct result of the career services center. The center helps students connect with potential employers, as well as prepares students for interviews, negotiating, resume building, and additional services. Graduates begin their careers in California at a rate of 83%. Of these individuals, nearly half go on to work in the Bay Area.

Students also attribute their employment success with the vast array of programs, centers, clubs, organizations, and resources available to everyone on campus. These include the Black Academic Excellence Center, Center for Leadership, Center for Military-Connected Students, counseling services, a disability resource center, and cross-cultural centers.

Graduates Salary
College Grads Early Career Salary $65,600
College Grads Average Salary $78,000
College Grads Mid Career Salary $119,500
Return on Investment (ROI)
10 Year Salary Earnings Potential $780,000
20 Year Salary Earnings Potential $1,975,000
Cost of Education (Net Price) 4 Year $80,144
10 Year Projected ROI $699,856
20 Year Projected ROI $1,894,856
No College Education Salary Comparison
National Average Salary $38,792
10 Year Projected Income $387,920
20 Year Projected Income $775,840

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