California Poly­tech­nic State University-San Luis Obispo

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Public, 4-year or above
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One of the nation’s foremost STEM universities, California Polytechnic State University – known around the world as Cal Poly – was founded in 1901 as a vocational school. Over the course of the 20th century Cal Poly grew up around the polytechnic mission, prioritizing experiential, experimental learning and research that has real, material impact. Cal Poly is part of the California State University system, one of the state’s two world-class public higher education systems, and is one of the largest campuses in the US, at nearly 10,000 acres, all of which are incorporated into Cal Poly’s learning in some way.

Academic Programs

Cal Poly operates according to the polytechnic model, a form of education that puts its emphasis on the applied sciences and on direct, hands-on learning. Of course, Cal Poly is best known for its engineering school, which constitutes the largest part of the student body. Cal Poly’s engineering school ranked one of the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report; individual programs within engineering, including Environmental, Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering, are ranked at the very top of their classes. Cal Poly’s architecture program is ranked among the best national programs by DesignIntelligence, while the Wall Street Journal recognizes Cal Poly engineering in the top 20.

Cal Poly is not all engineering, of course. Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business is ranked as one of the nation’s best, while the City and Regional Planning has been named #1. One of Cal Poly’s most important accomplishments, however, is in diversity; the Social Mobility Index ranks Cal Poly as one of the best in the US for helping raise students’ social class, while Diverse Issues in Higher Education places Cal Poly in the top 10 for degrees awarded to minority students. Payscale further finds that Cal Poly graduates earn one of the highest return on investment rates in the nation, a 20-year net return of $689,000.

Student Life

Cal Poly’s student body stands at over 21,000, with slightly more male than female students. An overwhelming number of students come from California, taking advantage of the incredibly low in-state tuition rates in the California State University system. With a highly competitive, selective admissions process, Cal Poly’s student body is driven, motivated, and serious about excellence, transferring from academic life to student life with numerous competitive organizations, inspiring and challenging activities, and a general creative atmosphere that draws the best out of students.

By far, Cal Poly’s greatest asset is its location. Besides the great outdoor activities, which have allowed the area to develop a considerable tourist trade, Cal Poly has also been able to leverage its location into a profitable incubator. Cal Poly’s entrepreneurial spirit is strong, and numerous start-ups have emerged from students’ senior projects. In that tradition, Cal Poly has deep connections to industry and business in Southern California, providing students with numerous opportunities for work, internships, and networking. The Cal Poly Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs program also gives students the opportunity to work and learn with Silicon Valley leaders, just two hours away.

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