On the Road with Betsy Woolf – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Located on California’s Central Coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is a California public university where the motto is “Learn by Doing.” And that is exactly what I found on a trip to this surprisingly modern campus. The curriculum is “flipped,” meaning that from day one, students are  taking classes in their areas of study. And they don’t just sit in class. This is a hands-on university.

Although there are 22,000 undergraduate students on campus with a student to faculty ratio of 19 to 1 overall, classes tend to be on the small side. A psychology major told us that her largest class was no more than 100 students, with most of her classes 30 or fewer. An animal science major said that the ratio of students to teachers in her college, Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science, is only 10 to 1. Since the university is focused on undergraduates – the school counts only 800 grad students – there are lots of opportunities for undergrads to do research. Note, however, that because of the flipped curriculum, it can be difficult to switch majors.

In addition to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science, Cal Poly features a College of Architecture and Environmental Design; a College of Engineering; a College of Liberal Arts; a College of Science and Mathematics; and the Orfalea College of Business.  The most popular majors on campus are business and mechanical engineering.

There’s a lot to do outside of academics. San Luis Obispo is only 15 minutes away. Biking is big. Hiking, too (often to the big white “P” in view of the campus). Touring productions at the Performing Arts Center and productions by students in the Theatre and Dance Department. There is even a craft center on campus, where I saw surfboards ready to be decorated.

As a California public university, Cal Poly accepts applications from first year students from October 1 to November 30 each year. A student must declare a major on the application. Coursework through high school, including 12th grade, is considered, as is a student’s GPA from 9th through 11th grades. Competition is competitive. The most recent overall GPA is 4.08 – 4.25, with a 29.3% acceptance rate, but the GPA and acceptance rate varies from college to college. For example, the reported GPA for the College of Engineering ranges between a 4.17 and 4.25 with an acceptance rate of 21.9%, while  the College of Liberal Arts reports a GPA of 4.0-4.25 and an acceptance rate of 30.8%, and the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science reports a 3.94-4.25 GPA and a 48.1% acceptance rate.The SAT and ACT are not considered.