Cal Poly's Financial Aid Office. Credit: Jackie Espitia | Mustang News, 2022

Every spring, students across the U.S. open their college admission letters. While the majority of the student population across California anticipates these decisions, one thing sets Cal Poly’s admissions apart. If a California resident meets certain requirements, Cal Poly sends an invite to an exclusive program: Cal Poly Scholars. 

The Cal Poly Scholars Program marked its ten-year anniversary in 2022. Over the years, the program has evolved beyond the financial support given to the students and into a physical community on Cal Poly’s campus.

First launching in 2012, Cal Poly Scholars “is aimed at recruiting and retaining low-income students from California high schools,” according to the program’s website

“I’m proud to be a Scholar and I’m glad that I’m involved in such a great program on campus,”  psychology junior Miriam Hurtado-Guerrero said. “As a Scholar, I receive so much support, whether it’s financially, through resources, or by making me feel like I belong at Cal Poly.”

The Scholars program is highlighted as a source of community for students who experienced similar lifestyles prior to arriving at Cal Poly. Scholars are enrolled in the same supplementary classes and first year students may choose to enroll in the Scholars Residential Learning Community (RLC).

According to Cal Poly’s  University Housing website, this year, Cal Poly houses the Scholars RLC in the Yakʔitʸutʸu communities and Yosemite Towers, or in buildings joint with Culture & Identity, Pride, EOP and TRIO. 

Though the program is known for bringing fellow Scholars together, Cal Poly’s Residential Learning Communities (RLC) for the 2022-2023 school year have brought forth a new dynamic among students on campus — especially with combining Cal Poly’s three financial advising and aid programs – Scholars, TRIO and EOP – in the same learning communities. 

“Although I understand why it may seem ‘isolating’ by forcing first and second years to live in the RLC, I feel like it’s essential since it helps students meet like-minded people and not feel like an ant in such a big world,” Hurtado-Guerrero said. 

First-year Scholar Michelle Hu explains that having the joint RLC with other financial advising programs has been beneficial in her experience. 

“I think people see it as a negative thing but I personally feel that it’s good to have that connection,” Hu said. 

Based on a report of Campus Mandatory Fees on the Cal State website, Cal Poly has the highest total full-time tuition and campus fees in the entire California State University (CSU) system. At the same time, other schools like the UCs are able to offer “more generous scholarship and aid packages,” according to the 2021 Cal Poly Opportunity Fee Report, a report detailing why Cal Poly increases campus fees to fund financial aid programs.

Cal Poly specifically seeks out students in need and offers three invite-only programs for financial advising, scholarships and speciality resources. The Scholars program specifically funds student’s partial tuition, orientation events, technology and other academic rewards. 

Hurtado-Guerrero added that the program is enjoyable and many scholars are motivated to apply to be a mentor in their later years. 

“First years are given the option to either be on the ‘mentor track’ or ‘events track,’” she said. 

The mentor track connects you with a Scholar mentor (a second year or above) who then mentors first-year Scholars. 

“Many mentees enjoy this aspect of the program and are motivated to apply to be a scholar mentor or at least a student assistant for Scholars,” Hurtado-Guerrero said. “I enjoyed having a mentor my first year, so I was inclined to apply as a mentor and it’s now my second year mentoring for the program.” 

Along with their joint housing communities and mentoring resources, those in the Scholars program are required to take a class called UNIV 101 which assists Scholars in their educational plans. 

“This course offers you studying tips, navigating your first quarter at Poly, time management, communication skills and learning how to adjust to a new environment with new people,” Hurtado-Guerrero said. 

Within the class, Scholars receive a book titled Teach Yourself How to Learn, which received initial backlash among freshmen this year. 

The handout contains time management, note-taking and other skills helping with success in college. 

“When I first got the book I was a little confused because of the book title but as I read it, it was really helpful,” Hu said.

In the future, Hu said she hopes these resources become more widespread for the community, being that there are similar programs, such as EOP and TRIO, who are grouped with Scholars for things such as housing but are not receiving these handouts. 

“If Scholars are getting it, everyone should; giving this booklet to solely Scholars creates a negative stigma against us,” Hu said. 

The now 10-year-long program has brought together a community of students from California high schools — a community that students find especially important on Cal Poly’s predominantly white campus.

“It helps students meet people of similar backgrounds and navigate their way through a PWI,” Hurtado-Guerrero added. “The resources these programs offer are endless and it’s a grand help to students.”