Getting into Cal Poly has never been more difficult than it was for the freshman class in fall 2017.
The average high school GPA for first-time freshmen was an all-time high 3.95, while the average SAT score was a record 1293, according to PolyView documents recently published on the university’s Institutional Research website.
Those numbers have steadily increased over the past 20 years as more and more students apply to the university, culminating in more than 65,500 undergraduates submitting applications for the 2018-19 academic year.
When Cal Poly began publishing enrollment analysis in 1998, the average high school GPA for incoming freshman was 3.64. It climbed to 3.78 by 2008, and has been higher than 3.8 every year since.
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The same can be said for SAT scores, where the average was 1164 in 1998 and has not dipped below 1200 in a decade. According to the College Board, the national average SAT score for the high school class of 2017 was a combine 1060 out of 1600.
“As the demand has increased, so has the profile, because spaces haven’t increased,” said Jim Maraviglia, Cal Poly’s associate vice provost for marketing and enrollment development. “It’s a pretty simple equation, right?”
The PolyView documents also show that among the 22,188 total students enrolled at Cal Poly in the fall — another record — nearly 29 percent are part of the College of Engineering.
And of the 63 bachelor’s degree programs offered, the highest enrollment was in business administration, mechanical engineering, biological sciences, computer science and civil engineering.
Maraviglia said the university manages enrollment based on curriculum, meaning there’s a target number of incoming students for each major to reach within the overall enrollment.
“If everyone’s applying in psychology and we’re not taking a lot of students in psychology, there’s going to be a lot of denials,” Maraviglia said. “We’re managing by major to keep our statewide emphasis in place, and that is to provide that polytechnic core.”
Of the first-time freshmen who enrolled last fall, 28.6 percent came from the San Francisco Bay Area, and 21.7 percent came from the Los Angeles area.
Out-of-state students made up 14.8 percent of the freshman class.
Central Coast residents accounted for 7.1 percent of the class, including 3.3 percent from San Luis Obispo County. Fewer than 5 percent of first-time freshmen have come from SLO County every year since at least 2008, according to the documents.
Arroyo Grande High School was the top feeder high school for the second consecutive year, and Cuesta College maintained its position as the top feeder college.
What the average student looks like
In fall 2017, Cal Poly’s student body was 52.2 percent male, and 54.9 percent identified as white. The average age among undergraduates was 20.1 years old.
Nearly 17 percent identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino, and 12.7 percent identified as Asian American.
The total number of African American students (166), Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders (32) and Native Americans (31) combined to make up less than 1 percent of the student body, the documents show.
While Cal Poly’s student body has been predominantly white for decades, it has improved diversity in recent years. Maraviglia noted that 65 percent of students identified as white in 2008 — the highest mark in the last 20 years — and the number has decreased every year since.
He said several variables play into the low number of African American students attending Cal Poly, including distance from major cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles and the polytechnic-based majors.
“What kind of environment are you looking for? What kind of support are you looking for within that environment? What kind of curriculum do you want to study?” Maraviglia said.
“We’re upside down, so you’ve got to start in your major Day 1, so there’s not a lot of shopping allowed.”
Cal Poly enrolled 353 international visa students — 260 of them undergraduates — from 65 countries in the fall.
Fifty-seven students from India enrolled in San Luis Obispo, while students from China (49), South Korea (28), Germany (24) and Vietnam (19) also were well represented.
Additionally, 755 Cal Poly students participated in more than 200 outbound study abroad programs in 50 countries, according to the school’s International Center.