Why I Did (And Didn’t) Choose Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

With college admissions season coming to a close, many high school seniors are in the process of selecting the university they will call home for the next four or more years of their lives.

If this describes you, congratulations for being admitted to one or more colleges! If you’re debating between Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and another university and clicked on this post in hopes of obtaining more insight from a current Mustang, congratulations for getting into Cal Poly (and other schools, of course)!

Since choosing the college you will attend can be a tough decision to make – especially if you’re a first-generation college student or if you have unsupportive parents – I hope I can explain why I chose to commit to Cal Poly SLO last year when I was still in high school. I also want to share with you the reasons why Cal Poly may not be the right fit for you in order to offer you a less biased perspective and to shed light on the negative aspects people may not tell you about Cal Poly (or college as a whole).

Why I chose Cal Poly:

  1. It was the cheapest option for me.
    If you’ve read my college admissions journey blog post from last year, you may recall that I got accepted to two schools, waitlisted to two, and denied from two. This meant that I was forced to choose between Cal Poly and Emerson College, a smaller university in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts, a 5.5-hour flight away from LAX.
    Taking into consideration the out-of-state tuition I would have to pay, flights to and from Boston, and many other expenses I would have to forfeit as an out-of-state college student, my parents and I agreed it would be more fitting to attend Cal Poly, which is a mere 2.5-hour drive away from my home in Oxnard and a couple thousand bucks cheaper than Emerson College’s out-of-state tuition, even though the school offered me a generous scholarship.
    If cost is a huge deciding factor for you (as it should be), Cal Poly may be a wonderful choice for you as on-campus students have free laundry, free transportation via bus to and from downtown San Luis Obispo, and many other relatively cheap options on and off campus compared to other top universities.
    This, however, isn’t to say that Cal Poly will be easy on you financially. From personal experience, housing and dining have still caused a considerable dent in my parents’ bank accounts, despite being offered nearly $9,000 in scholarships as a high school senior and taking out a whopping amount of loans from FAFSA. But if you’re searching for a cost-efficient school in regards to the benefits you will receive before and after graduation in relation to the tuition you will be paying, Cal Poly could be an excellent choice for you.
  2. The distance from home was optimal.
    Like I said earlier, Cal Poly is only a 2.5-hour drive away from the city I call home, which is not too far away that I feel like I’m in an entirely different region of the world but is still close enough if I ever feel inclined to visit my family.
    Because college is supposed to be a time filled with fresh experiences and new friends, you probably won’t feel as homesick as you may think you will. (In fact, I used to think I would be incredibly homesick all the time, but as soon as I moved in, I never wanted to come back home!) But if you think you will experience a bout or two of homesickness every few weeks or months, then I would recommend selecting a campus that isn’t too far from home.
  3. The “Learn by Doing” motto is ubiquitous.
    As an aspiring journalist, I did not think research would be as useful in my field (I didn’t even apply to any UCs when I was a high school senior!) as I wanted to go out into the real world and learn how to be a journalist through real-life experience. In other words, I thought application would be of more benefit to me than being in a laboratory conducting professor-led research every single day.
    At Cal Poly, I’ve been able to implement the university’s “Learn by Doing” motto on a daily basis. Very early into my freshman year, I got involved in Mustang News, the award-winning student media organization at Cal Poly. Mustang News has given me the opportunity to interview students, professors, faculty and staff members, and other professionals for weekly story assignments and has allowed me to blossom as a multimedia reporter, which is excellent experience to have as a journalism student and prospective MMJ.
    Even my close friends who are STEM majors get to employ the “Learn by Doing” motto, too! Though I am not familiar with their majors or curricula, my friends are always in studio, working with animals, or conducting research alongside faculty members. The college’s “Learn by Doing” philosophy can be found everywhere and anywhere, regardless of your major, and will help you obtain real-world experience that you will take into your future occupation.
  4. The Filipinx community on campus is thriving.
    Cal Poly is not the most racially diverse campus (more on that later), but its Filipinx community has been a phenomenal group of people who have made it easier to call SLO my home away from home.
    I am a member of the Pilipino Cultural Exchange (PCE) club at Cal Poly, which is not just limited to Filipinx students! I have friends who are not of Filipinx descent yet have cultivated lasting friendships through the cultural organization.
    In PCE, we conduct weekly meetings and hold a plethora of opportunities to get involved and to socialize, including (but not limited to) the annual Friendship Games, Sunset Social, Open Mic Night, Pilipinx Cultural Night (PCN), Winter Formal, and many more fun events.
    Whether you are a Filipinx student worried about the lack of racial diversity at Cal Poly or identify with any other ethnic or racial background, you can rest assured that the Filipinx community on campus will happily welcome you with open arms and a ton of spirit. We’re a fun bunch, and we accept all racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, etc.!
  5. The alumni connections and networking opportunities are unparalleled…
    IF (and only if) you put in the effort to create and foster those connections.
    I have had the tremendous opportunity to meet and connect with professionals who currently work or have previously worked for NPR, KSBY-TV, NBCUniversal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, and many other top media organizations through Cal Poly alumni connections and current professors or department chairs. Despite being a first-year undergraduate student, I’ve already cultivated connections who have given me more insight on the news industry and how I can be fruitful in my academic and vocational pursuits. It’s plain to see that the professionals I have met genuinely care about my success as an aspiring journalist and take the time out of their day to ensure I am on track to acquire the experience I need to stand out in the workforce.
    Though I’m enrolled in the journalism program at Cal Poly, I’m certain there are an infinite number of resources and networking opportunities on campus for every other major. You just have to do your research and ask, ask, ask!
  6. The University Honors Program is phenomenal.
    A highly selective and invite-only organization, the Cal Poly University Honors Program has been a wonderful resource for me as a second-generation college student. My high school experiences and upbringing had not sufficiently prepared me for the academic rigors of college, so when I was immediately immersed in a challenging work environment such as the one within the Honors Program, I had a vast network of professors and faculty members affiliated with Honors who were able to serve as a mentor for me and guide me toward a more optimistic, “growth-mindset” track within my Honors courses and my major and GE classes.
    The Honors Program offers its students a welcoming office on the fifth floor of the library to study or socialize, multiple fun activities to de-stress throughout the quarter, peer mentoring sessions, free printing, class registration assistance, and so many more useful resources.
    If you are invited to apply for Cal Poly’s University Honors Program, I would definitely recommend submitting an application! It is an additional course load on top of your current class schedule, but the student and staff members in the Honors Program and its boundless number of resources at your disposal make it worthwhile.


Why I didn’t choose Cal Poly (aka the cons of the campus):

  1. There is a lack of racial diversity.
    I was born and raised in Oxnard, California, a city comprised of nearly 75 percent Hispanic or Latinx people and about 7 percent Filipinx people. So when I first arrived at Cal Poly and was greeted by a significantly white student body, I felt incredibly alone and excluded.
    I’m the only Filipinx student in most of my major courses and the only Filipinx student in my Honors classes, and seeing minorities in general around campus is not as typical as seeing white students.
    Though the university is attempting to make great strides in its efforts to promote diversity and inclusion through various programs and institutes, the culture shock I experienced the first few weeks on campus was unlike anything I had ever felt before. I cried a lot about the isolation I felt. There were days I felt uncomfortable to participate in class or to speak with my professors about the “growing pains” of college because I would fear how they would perceive me as a young woman of color.
    While I’ve grown to love Cal Poly, the lack of racial diversity has been a huge struggle to grapple with. If you’re a person of color and decide to attend this school, be cognizant of this, but don’t let it stop you from putting your best foot forward in your classes! This may very well be an opportunity for you to make a positive impact on the campus and SLO communities, or to provide insightful feedback to university administrators.
  2. On-campus dining is subpar.
    Growing up in a Filipinx family meant eating rice every day with ulam, or reveling in cultural dishes that my mom would whip up and have ready for me after school.
    At Cal Poly, I’ve lost nearly 20 lbs since the start of college due to all the walking I do to get to class, the (mostly) healthy on-campus food options, and how much less food I’ve eaten compared to the portions I was consuming back in Oxnard. But while most of the food on campus is healthy (which is a huge plus if you’re into that!), the quality of the food isn’t comparable to that at UCLA, UC Irvine, UCSB, or other California universities’ dining halls.
    Every day I live off Yerba Mate, Subway, Starbucks, and pastries from the coffee shop in the Kennedy Library. Cal Poly Campus Dining serves a lot of sandwiches, salads, and pizzas, but because I never ate much of them growing up, it was a huge culture shock for me.
  3. The school spirit is not as strong.
    If you’re accustomed to enthralling pep rallies and a populous crowd at every single sports game in high school, you probably won’t be thrilled to see as much school spirit at Cal Poly. The only sports event I’ve attended my entire first year was the highly anticipated UCSB vs. Cal Poly men’s soccer game, and that was only because of the intense rivalry between both schools. Other than that, there isn’t much school spirit at Cal Poly compared to USC or any other incredibly highly-spirited university.
    This hasn’t bothered me much at Cal Poly, especially since I’m not big on attending sports events. But if you prefer a strong and vivacious student body, Cal Poly may not be for you.
  4. If you’re an engineering major, expect 7 a.m. classes and Friday classes.
    Like I said earlier, I’m a journalism major, which meant I was able to go my entire first year of college without any 7 a.m. courses nor any Friday classes. This entailed starting some quarters at 8 a.m., ending before 6 p.m., and only having to go to class Monday through Thursday each week.
    If Cal Poly’s engineering department is alluring to you, anticipate having a couple 7 a.m. classes and Friday classes. If you’re not a morning person, this may be a huge inconvenience for you, but I do have friends within the College of Engineering who have learned to adapt and have accepted their early schedules.
  5. If you don’t have priority registration, you might perceive the registration process to be a headache.
    Unless you’re in a program that permits priority (early) registration, you may be waitlisted to certain classes that you initially signed up to enroll in, which can be a big con for those enrolled in impacted majors.
    There are ways to navigate this issue – such as emailing your professor(s), “sitting in” on the class for the first few lectures and waiting for students to drop the course, and more – but for the most part, don’t expect registration to go smooth-sailing your entire time in college.
  6. If being in a relationship in college is important to you, don’t expect dating to come as easily at Cal Poly.
    Speaking from personal experience, it’s so easy to meet guys who just want a casual/”hook up” relationship, but to find someone who wants and is ready to commit is few and far between.
    I understand this could be a pro or a con depending on your dating preferences. But if the prospect of dating monogamously in college excites you, don’t anticipate to find your soulmate upon entrance. I recommend first and foremost putting your efforts into creating and cultivating lasting friendships in college, and through those quality connections, you’ll probably be able to find someone you vibe really well with and with whom you can begin a romantic relationship.

Keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive. There are a plethora of advantages and disadvantages to attending Cal Poly, but the aforementioned pros and cons are, in my opinion, of utmost significance. If there are any topics I didn’t cover in this post that you would want me to expand upon in the future, feel free to suggest them to me! I’d love to facilitate the decision-making process for any of you high school seniors. Good luck!

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