Why Choose Cal Poly SLO over UC Davis, Santa Barbara


I have an Undecided senior who is deciding between these options right now + UMichigan. It’s a tough decision. (1) While he is interested in engineering, he isn’t set on it. (2) Every school on this list is pretty reputable in engineering and other programs. And (3) While he personally likes SLO more than the others, he feels the UCs have a better brand name.

While it may be tempting to make a decision solely based on rankings, here are some reasons why Cal Poly SLO might actually be the ideal learning environment for you:

Hands-On Learning

SLO’s mantra is “learn by doing.” This means that students don’t just read books about mechanical engineering or coding; they use the concepts they read about via labs and group projects. This is fundamentally different from learning at UCs, where classes tend to lean towards theory and models as opposed to practice and application. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other, but if you’re a hands-on learner, then Cal Poly has the edge over UCs and most other research universities.

A Closer Learning Community

Walking me around campus, my student seemed to know every other person. When we stepped into his dorm complex, students from various majors immersed themselves in a physics problem posed by a student in a shared lounge. There is a certain sense of community and togetherness at SLO more prevalent than most UCs, and much of this is due to SLO’s size. At about 20,000 undergrads, it isn’t “small” by any means, but it feels like it.

You’re Okay with Lack of Diversity

It’s no secret: SLO is predominantly white. If you’re okay with that, then you can stop reading right here. If you’re not sure how you feel about that, note that the school has been making efforts to increase the campus diversity, going from roughly 70% to 60% in just a few years. Consequently, there is a growing number of Asian Americans and Hispanics, a trend SLO hopes to continue through its diversity initiatives.


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