Cal Poly’s application rate is at a record-high, but acceptance rates remain low. With the demand for Cal Poly on the rise, and state funding at an all-time low, acceptance to the university is turning into a competition of who will fill the open seats.
Of the more than 40,000 students who applied to Cal Poly last year, less than 15,000 were accepted.
Last year’s admittance numbers weren’t unusual. The largest number of students accepted into Cal Poly in the past five years was in 2007, where only 44 percent of the more than 35,000 who applied got in — further enforcing Cal Poly’s reputation of not being an easy university to get into.
“Easy is irrelevant, students are all evaluated on the same criteria which is very comprehensive,” Cal Poly Enrollment Development vice provost James Maraviglia said. “It takes in multiple variables. Every student here is competing for admission, and every student was evaluated based on their personal merit.”
But personal merit means more than just GPA.
The university considers the applicant’s coursework — which includes high-school level math and foreign language classes taken in middle school – where an applicant is from and if they have family members who attended Cal Poly. Cal Poly’s application process is much more comprehensive and detailed than other California State Universities (CSU) in the state.
The tens of thousands of applications are also reviewed completely by computer.
“It’s all scored by a computer on the comprehensive review,” Maraviglia said.
Computers filter through each application looking for the most qualified applicants. But according to Maraviglia, even some extremely qualified students are being turned away.
Numerous factors contribute to why Cal Poly is difficult to get into. Between the tighter state and federal budgets, and the rising demand for Cal Poly on the rise, each year the numbers for acceptance decrease.
“How many students graduate will decide how many new students are let in — unless the budget is reduced again,” Maraviglia said. “Funding is a driver to Cal Poly turning students away, as the state pays less and less, that creates less and less openings. As the state side shrinks, the opportunity shrinks.”
Maraviglia doesn’t consider Cal Poly to be comparable to other CSUs in the state when it comes to the admissions process.
“I don’t know nor care what the CSUs do — I haven’t cared in 21 years,” Maraviglia said. “I consider us marching to our faculty and our campus community. The other CSUs use an index. Ours is comprehensive — theirs isn’t.”
Cal Poly’s comprehensive application process helps build the academic atmosphere around the university. Maraviglia said by being able to be more selective about who gets accepted, Cal Poly has a better chance of creating a higher quality atmosphere around campus in regards to motivation to succeed. Competition will influence current students hoping to win approval in the working world, as a more competitive school provides more clout in a resumé.
Maraviglia is not the only one saying Cal Poly isn’t comparable with other CSUs when it comes to the university’s admissions process.
In a 2006 report by USA Today and the U.S. Department of Education, Cal Poly ranked No. 5 on the list of the hardest four-year universities to get accepted to out of 857 universities judged from around the world. The only universities ranked higher than Cal Poly on the list were Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Columbia University.
“Yeah it’s a hard school to get in to, but it’s also a really hard school,” biological sciences senior Alisha Monsibais said. “I feel like sometimes students aren’t prepared for the lab-intense environment Cal Poly offers.”
Cal Poly hasn’t always been hard to get in to, though. Cal Poly agriculture alumnus Eric Vasconcellos graduated in Spring 1997. Vasconcellos said he believes his acceptance to Cal Poly was greatly influenced by the reputation he built for himself on campus before he applied.
Beginning at age 12, Vasconcellos’ parents would drop him off at the agriculture department on campus and would tell him to go familiarize himself with the campus and its faculty, and to try to talk to the department head. His parents had him do this every few weekends for more than three years.
But straight out of high school, Vasconcellos knew he didn’t have the grades to get into Cal Poly. Instead, he went community college before applying to Cal Poly.
“My parents wanted me to try very hard to do every little thing I could to stand out,” Vasconcellos said. “So when I finally did apply, they would not only recognize my name, but know exactly who I was.”
Vasconcellos said he believes his efforts helped him get accepted to Cal Poly.
According to Cal Poly admissions, the University of Southern California and Cal Poly launched the first electronic application in 1992 to help with the application process. The application evolved to the Internet, which assisted the creation of the CSU Mentor application website in 1997. But in the late ’90s, with computers still slowly being introduced to the university application process around the state, it was easier for students to get a foot in the door with university administration.
But times changed, computers took the place of application review boards, budgets are at an all-time low and demands are growing to an all-time high. And with so many factors working against perspective students, getting accepted into a university such as Cal Poly is turning into a comprehensive competition to get in.
“It’s hard to get into, but it’s based on your ability to compete.” Maraviglia said.