Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Admissions

SAT Scores, Acceptance Rate, Financial Aid, Tuition, Graduation Rate, and More

Center for Science and Mathematics at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Center for Science and Mathematics at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. John Loo / Flickr

California Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) is the most selective of the Cal State universities. The school has an acceptance rate of 35 percent, and successful applicants typically have grades and standardized test scores that are significantly above average. Applicants are required to submit scores from the SAT or ACT.

Why Cal Poly

  • Location: San Luis Obispo, California
  • Campus Features: Cal Poly's nearly 10,000-acre sprawling campus includes a ranch, arboretum, and a vineyard.
  • Student/Faculty Ratio: 22:1
  • Athletics: The Cal Poly Mustangs compete in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.
  • Highlights: Cal Poly has highly regarded schools of architecture and agriculture, and the institute ranks among the top undergraduate engineering schools in the country. The "learn by doing" approach to learning gives students lots of hands-on experience.

Cal Poly Admissions Statistics 2017-18

For the class entering Cal Poly in the 2017-18 academic year, Cal Poly had an acceptance rate of 35 percent. Below are score percentiles for the SAT and ACT.

SAT Score Percentiles
Section 25th Percentile 75th Percentile
ERW 600 680
Math 600 700
ERW=Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

An average SAT score is a little over 500, so you can see that the great majority of Cal Poly students had scores that were well above average. Cal Poly has the highest average SAT scores of all the Cal State universities as you can see in this side-by-side comparison of SAT scores for the 23 campuses.

ACT Score Percentiles
Section 25th Percentile 75 Percentile
English 25 33
Math 26 32
Composite 26 31

As with the SAT, admitted students almost always have ACT scores that are well above average. Cal Poly has the highest admissions bar in the Cal State system.

Cal Poly GPA, SAT Score, and ACT Graph for Admission

California Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo GPA, SAT score, and ACT score data for admission.
California Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo GPA, SAT score, and ACT score data for admission.  Graph courtesy of Cappex

The GPA, SAT score, and ACT score data in the graph was self-reported by applicants to Cal Poly. GPAs are unweighted. You can see the real-time graph and calculate your own chances of getting in to Cal Poly with a free Cappex account.

Discussion of Cal Poly's Admissions Standards

In the graph, the blue and green dots represent accepted students. As the data shows, the majority of students who got into Cal Poly had at least a B+ average, an SAT score (ERW+M) above 1100, and an ACT composite score of 22 or higher. Chances of admission improve as those numbers go up. Realize that in the middle of the graph there's a lot of red hidden behind all that green and blue. Some students who have grades and scores that are on target for Cal Poly still get rejected (see the graph below). On the flip side, some students with scores below the norm got accepted.

Except for EOP students, the California State University system does not ask students for essays or interviews, so the difference between an acceptance and a rejection usually comes down to factors such as your test scores, grades, college preparation, chosen major, and geographic location. Work experience and extracurricular activities can also play a role. Cal State schools often need to give preference to area applicants, and some majors are more restricted than others because of staffing and budget constraints. On the academic front, the more challenging your high school record, the better.

Cal Poly Rejection and Waitlist Data

Cal Poly admissions rejection and waitlist data
Cal Poly admissions rejection and waitlist data.  Graph courtesy of Cappex

If we were to judge based on the graph earlier in this article, we'd conclude that an "A" average and above average SAT or ACT scores will likely lead to an acceptance letter from Cal Poly. When we strip away the blue and green data points for accepted students, however, we see a far less rosy picture.

Many applicants with grades and standardized test scores that are on target for Cal Poly are either rejected or waitlisted. So why might a student with the same grades and test scores as an accepted student be rejected? In most cases, it will be because of the student's high school curriculum. Cal Poly wants to see strong grades in the most challenging classes available—Advanced Placement, IB, Honors, and dual enrollment classes. They also like to see students who have taken more science and math than their minimum requirements.

When it comes to non-numerical measures, extracurricular activities can play a role in the process, although admission isn't overly holistic. Application essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation do not play a role in admissions decisions. 

More Cal Poly Information

Cal Poly is arguably the strongest of the California State University schools, but applicants should be aware that only half of applicants receive any form of grant aid, and less than half of applicants graduate in four years.

Enrollment (2017)

  • Total Enrollment: 22,370 (21,351 undergraduates)
  • Gender Breakdown: 52 percent male / 48 percent female
  • 96 percent full-time

Costs (2017 - 18)

  • Tuition and Fees: $9,432 (in-state); $21,312 (out-of-state)
  • Books: $1,8484(why so much?)
  • Room and Board: $13,134
  • Other Expenses: $2,703
  • Total Cost: $27,153 (in-state); $39,033 (out-of-state)

Cal Poly Financial Aid (2016 - 17)

  • Percentage of New Students Receiving Aid: 63 percent
  • Percentage of New Students Receiving Types of Aid
  • Grants: 50 percent
  • Loans: 31 percent
  • Average Amount of Aid
  • Grants: $5,891
  • Loans: $5,900

Academic Programs

Transfer, Graduation and Retention Rates

  • First Year Student Retention (full-time students): 95 percent
  • Transfer Out Rate: 3 percent
  • 4-Year Graduation Rate: 45 percent
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 79 percent

Intercollegiate Athletic Programs

  • Men's Sports: Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Football, Golf, Soccer, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, Track & Field, Wrestling
  • Women's Sports: Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Cross Country, Golf, Soccer, Softball, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, Track & Field, Volleyball

If You Like Cal Poly, You May Also Like These Schools

The strongest Cal Poly applicants often apply to some of the nation's top engineering schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of California campuses at San Diego and Berkeley. Realize that all of these schools have a higher admissions bar than Cal Poly.

Other popular options include both public and private institutions in California. These include Santa Clara University, Pepperdine University, CSU Long Beach, and Cal Poly Pomona. The private universities will obviously have a much higher price tag than Cal Poly, but those differences are often negligible for applicants who qualify for financial aid.

Data Source: National Center for Education Statistics