Freshman move-in day is one of the most hectic times on campus. | Mustang News File Photo

Annie Vainshtein

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During this time of year, hundreds of thousands of students from around the country ask themselves this question: Where should I go to college next year?

Choosing a college isn’t easy — there are a myriad of factors that contribute to students’ decisions: finances, party culture, weather, reputation. The list could go on and on, but each variable is important to consider.

For industrial engineering freshman Ashlyn Frost, Cal Poly was always in the cards. She hoped as early as the third grade that she would be the ninth member of her family to attend Cal Poly.

After applying to a dozen or so schools, Frost was torn between Cal Poly and Villanova University, especially because Villanova offered her a spot on their Division I water polo team.

“In comparing the two schools, I knew I would be happy here,” Frost said. “The engineering school is one of the top in the country, the location is great and the atmosphere is always cheerful.”

The engineering program, which is regularly ranked among Best in the West by the U.S. News and World Report, is a huge deciding factor for many students. It was ranked No. 8 in U.S. News’ Best Undergraduate Engineering Program Rankings for 2013.

For biomedical engineering freshman Alex Spady, the decision to come to Cal Poly was a big one. Originally from Seattle, coming to California was something he had always dreamed of, despite having to pay out-of-state tuition.

“Cal Poly is really nice for an out-of-state school,” he said. “The hands-on learning was what really attracted me to the campus.”

Cal Poly’s Learn By Doing philosophy distinguishes it from other schools, providing students with hands-on, applied experience inside and outside the classroom.

This philosophy was the deciding factor for food science freshman Lauren Bell, who was having trouble choosing between Cal Poly and University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). She thought she was set on UNR until she got into Cal Poly and read about Learn By Doing.

“I wanted to be doing hands-on things instead of just sitting in classrooms listening to lectures for four years,” Bell said. “Here, I’m actually getting some experience instead of simply hearing it being said.”

In addition to the emphasis on experiential education, weather and atmosphere were Bell’s other deciding factors.

“It’s important to make sure you know where you’re going to be comfortable,” Bell said. “You need to be comfortable in order to avoid distractions and feel like you fit in.”

Oprah and Travel USA named San Luis Obispo as “The Happiest City in America” and many students, such as psychology freshman Alex Rayas, seem to agree. Rayas said the beautiful beaches, exciting downtown and countless hiking spots are just a few of the things that attract students to Cal Poly.

According to Rayas, San Luis Obispo has “a little bit for everyone.”

Graphic communication freshman Anna Boer didn’t want to come to Cal Poly at first, but after visiting, realized she couldn’t see herself anywhere else. She considered University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) because she was worried about being locked into a major and had received an academic scholarship, but after visiting Cal Poly, decided she felt most comfortable there.

“People seemed really happy here,” Boer said. “Everyone was friendly, the campus was a little more central than UCSB — it seemed more tight-knit.”

Boer is still unsure about her major, but rejects the myth behind the impossibility of changing majors.

Boer said many students “test the waters” at Cal Poly, taking classes in and out of their major to see what fits best.

“I know plenty of people who are in love with their major and plenty of people who are unsure about it,” she said. “If you know what you want to do, it really helps because there is a set track for you to follow.”

Economics freshman Nojan Kazerouni knew Cal Poly was the place for him once he visited and fell in love with the campus. He said the strong economics program was what immediately set Cal Poly apart from all other schools — especially in terms of networking opportunities.

“Once I started looking into the program, I realized how powerful it was,” Kazerouni said. “So many high-profile companies look for graduates specifically from Cal Poly. The connections are incredible.”

Kazerouni also noted Cal Poly’s cost efficiency, especially in comparison to the University of California (UC) system.

“Being one of the best state schools at such a low cost really limited the financial burden on my parents,” he said. “The tuition is fairly low, and yet, for your money, you’re getting a great education.”

Students noted various reasons for deciding on Cal Poly for their college careers.

“Everyone here wants everyone else to do well,” Frost said. “There’s not the same competition that other schools have, especially UCs.”

Besides the tradition and family-like bond that surrounded her choice to come to Cal Poly, Frost chose Cal Poly because she knew she would succeed. She said professors and students work together collectively, encouraging and teaching each other.

“As huge as academics are, you are only in class so often,” she said. “You need to be surrounded by people who support and push you to be the best person you can be, and I feel like I have that here.”

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