Why choose Cal Poly for Computer Science?

California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly for short), located in San Luis Obispo (SLO), California, is a top university in the west coast of United States.

The word “polytechnic” means different things in different countries. In the US it means a university that offers industry-oriented as opposed to research-oriented education.

Cal Poly offers 4-year bachelors and 2-year masters degrees. A blended 4+1 program is also available to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time. PhD degrees are not offered since Cal Poly is not a research university.

Being industry oriented, Cal Poly has strong industry connections so getting internships and jobs is easier than at many other universities. Top companies such as Apple, Amazon and Microsoft come to Cal Poly campus to recruit students for internships and jobs.

Ranking

When you change the criterion from research output to employment outcomes Cal Poly appears higher in the lists. Cal Poly is in the top 20 to 25 on lists that are based on employment outcome:

Cal Poly’s footprint in top tech companies is especially impressive when you consider that Cal Poly is far smaller than other universities in terms of enrollment. Just 196 people graduated from Cal Poly in computer related majors in 2019. Compare that to 1,129 from USC, 704 from UC San Diego, 676 from ASU, 676 from UIUC, 661 from UC Irvine, and 507 from Purdue. (Data available here).

Is Cal Poly well known?

Start in your major on day one

If you have taken AP Computer Science in high school, then at Cal Poly you can take Data Structures and Algorithms course on your first day and start learning about stacks and queues and binary trees and graphs and so on. (For comparison, UC Irvine students don’t take this foundational course until mid sophomore year.) By the end of your sophomore year you can be ready for software development internships, leaving your junior and senior years for advanced courses such as Deep Learning and Distributed Systems.

Undergraduate focus

At Cal Poly undergraduates get to take courses such as Distributed Computing and Deep Learning. At other universities they are often reserved for graduate students, and the content of the courses are oriented towards graduate students. More on this below.

Learn by doing

According to a UC Irvine student on reddit, he took Algorithm design course without writing a single line of code. Same for Networks course. An ASU student reports “I have barely coded and I am a second semester sophomore with a 4.0.”

Not at Cal Poly. Here you start coding the very first quarter of your freshman year. When you take the Networks course you have to write code using sockets etc. When you take the Algorithm design course you have to implement graph algorithms, dynamic programming, and so on.

Small class sizes

Professors who love to teach

For contrast, listen to what a UC Berkeley student had to say on this topic: “As a current grad student [at UC Berkeley]: it’s a fantastic research university and a beautiful campus, but the undergraduate experience is terrible. Classes are giant and there’s very little faculty/student interaction, because the focus of the faculty is, for better or for worse, not on undergraduate education.”

Curriculum and course catalog

Some universities are not good at keeping their courses current. For example this ASU student complains about being taught outdated technologies such as JavaFX and Swing. This is not an issue at Cal Poly.

The CS course catalog at Cal Poly is impressive. The first two years — this is when you learn the core of CS — are similar to other colleges. The difference is the junior and senior years. Cal Poly has courses on almost all important industry-relevant topics including Deep Learning, Distributed Computing, Distributed Systems and so on. (These courses are very important to prepare you for jobs at top tech companies such as Google.)

While some of those courses may be available in other colleges too, they are almost always intended for graduate and PhD students, and undergrads are not allowed to take them. At Cal Poly — thanks to their undergraduate focus — these courses are intended for undergrads.

Cal Poly offers 5 concentrations in Computer Science, including AI & Machine Learning, and Data Engineering. See details of concentrations. That’s in addition to Software Engineering, which is a separate major.

Internships and job opportunities

Amazon has a software development office in downtown San Luis Obispo where Cal Poly students can work as interns year round, working 16 hours per week. For more info see here.

Research

Being industry oriented, Cal Poly does applied research. Also, undergraduates get to fully participate in research, thanks to Cal Poly’s undergraduate focus.

Diversity

Student demographic information is available here.

Campus

But keep in mind that universities that have more impressive campuses make you pay for it with significantly higher tuition. For example, if you are from out of state, UCs charge nearly $80,000 more than Cal Poly. Still want sculptures and fountains?

While Cal Poly campus is less impressive, it is not lacking in facilities or convenience. It has new buildings, for example the yakʔitʸutʸu dorms and Vista Grande dining hall are new and modern.

What the campus looks like only helps to make the initial impression. People who went to Cal Poly and lived on its campus for 4 years overwhelmingly loved their experience.

Location

San Luis Obispo also has the nicest weather you could ask for.

Conclusion