Cal Poly Pomona Vs. Cal Poly SLO – Which School is Better?

Once upon a time, up until the late 1960s, California students hoping to immerse themselves in the unique experiential learning process, which polytechnic universities provide like no other, had but one place to look: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

However, in the year 1966, a subsection of Cal Poly SLO, called the Cal Poly Kellogg-Voorhis Institute, grew in size and popularity to the point where it broke off to become its own independent polytechnic Institution. 

This institution, today, is Cal Poly, Pomona. 

Now, an important question faces California students hoping to receive the hands-on learning which polytechnic institutions stand apart in providing: which of the state’s two polytechnic universities is the right choice? 

This article is going to break down the key information that might help readers decide which polytechnic institution might rightfully be called the state’s best. 

Alongside looking at admissions statistics and rankings, this article also looks at the kind of college experience both of these universities provide and what unique factors make these seemingly similar universities, in fact, quite different from one another.

Will it be the state’s oldest polytechnic institution, with its tradition of academic prestige, selective admissions criteria, and holistic education which combines the scientific and technical with the arts and humanities? 

Or will it be the school that branched off from its older counterpart to amass an even larger student body than its predecessor? 

Read on to learn all the information needed to decide.

Academic Requirements for Admission

Cal Poly Pomona
Cal Poly Pomona – Public domain photo by Marco Guzman, Jr via Wikimedia Commons

SLO uses a Multi-Criteria Admission process that assesses the following variables: academic performance, experience in required courses, standardized test scores, work experience, and extra-curricular activities. 

Although SLO does not provide a minimum GPA, SAT, or ACT score for admission, there are a number of required high school classes a student must complete prior to applying. 

SLO requires students to declare a major upon submitting their application, and then students are admitted in competition with only students who stated that same major. 

Pomona gives students the option of declaring an alternate major alongside their primary declared major, granting slightly more leeway to students who are unsure of which program might best suit them.

Similarly, Pomona’s multifactor admissions model factors in a wider range of relevant data when considering admitting students, potentially leading to accepting students based on a more holistic view of their merit.

Alongside GPA and test scores, Pomona also considers veteran/military status, first-generation status, youth services experiences, experience with campus partnerships, extra-curricular activities, and relevant educational programs. 

Like SLO, Pomona requires specific high school coursework to be completed before admission and a minimum GPA of 2.5.

As such, SLO seems to weigh markers of academic rigor more stringently in admissions decisions, while Pomona tries to create a more holistic view of applicants.

Cal Poly Pomona Vs. SLO – Rankings, Acceptance Rates, and More

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Barrydfloyd, Performing Arts Center Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CC BY-SA 4.0

With an acceptance rate of 28%, compared to Pomona’s 54% acceptance rate, SLO is the more difficult of the two to get into. 

The perceived academic excellence of SLO is reflected in most university rankings. The 2022 Times Higher Education university ranking placed SLO as the #189 university in the US and Pomona as #344

Regarding U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of the best universities in the Western United States, SLO received 2nd place, compared to Pomona’s 14th place. 

However, when looking at specific specializations within both schools, Pomona is taking the lead over SLO in certain areas. Pomona is the only university in the CSU to offer an Engineering Technology focus and boasts the largest civil engineering, mechanical engineering, construction engineering, and electrical engineering programs in the CSU system.

But SLO has just as many areas of specialization as Pomona. U.S. News and World ranked SLO as the #1 university for veterans in the west, #1 in the west in terms of innovation, and the #1 Western Public University/College. 

SLO also ranks higher in all areas of engineering that both schools offer.

To look at a different ranking system, the Washington Monthly ranks universities based on their ability to grant students social mobility, their research’s good for society, and a university’s promotion of public service. Of schools whose highest degree offered is a master’s, Pomona ranks 14th, while SLO ranks 23rd.

GPA & Test Scores for Cal Poly Pomona VS. Cal Poly SLO

Cal Poly Pomona
Chlorineer, Cal Poly Pomona South Campus, CC BY-SA 4.0

The average High School GPA for admitted SLO students is 4.0, the average SAT is 1255/1600, and the average ACT score is 28. 

In contrast, Pomona students average a 3.4 High School GPA and a 1,141/1600 composite SAT score. 

On the surface, this might seem to suggest that SLO may be the more academically prestigious of the two, but it is essential to remember that the less exclusive admissions process could help to explain why the Washington Monthly ranked Pomona as 8th in the region for social mobility, compared to SLO’s 12th. 

Less stringent GPA and standardized test score requirements for Pomona, based on the Washington Monthly’s data, does not necessarily suggest a neglect of prestigious academics, but rather a focus on accessibility at Pomona. 

Pomona, on average, has almost double the number of Pell-eligible students who graduate from its campus each year compared to SLO, despite the relatively similar size of the two institutions.

All this said, due to both institutions using multi-faceted admissions decisions, there are outliers from the average GPAs of incoming first-year students in both cases. 

According to CollegeSimply, 1% of SLO first-year students and 13% of Pomona first-year students have a high school GPA in the range of 2.75 to 3.00. 

As such, those who do not fall within the average GPA range for either of these institutions are highly encouraged to apply, as admissions decisions are made to consider applicants holistically.

Deciding Whether to Attend Cal Poly Pomona or SLO

Although rankings can reveal certain trends regarding the affordances institutions grant students, they can’t outline the full range of factors a prospective student must consider prior to applying. 

For example, SLO lies in a small town on the beachside. The small town in which SLO is located is said by many students to increase the sense of community among those enrolled at SLO. 

Pomona is located near the heart of Los Angeles, with many students coming from Los Angeles and living at home during their time in university. 

Though this can decrease the sense of community for some, the school’s Los Angeles location does provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in one of the most vibrant cities in the United States. 

For many, athletics is a core component of the college experience, and SLO does boast 21 varsity sports in the NCAA Division I, compared to 10 varsity sports in NCAA Division II for Pomona. 

Despite their similarities in terms of educational methods and majors offered, these two institutions are incredibly different in terms of the kind of college experience they offer. 

Which School Is Better – Cal Poly Pomona or SLO?

Cal Poly SLO Dexter Lawn
Cal Poly SLO Dexter Lawn – Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

This question can only be answered by each individual applicant, but in this article readers have discovered some stark differences between these two institutions despite how similar they look on paper. 

It is up to the reader to decide if they agree that those traditional markers of excellence are accurate in assessing the merit of a university. For many, Pomona’s higher degree of community service alone might be worth more than the prestige of SLO. 

One thing is for certain though: both of these institutions provide the remarkable opportunity of experiencing the highest quality of experiential learning anywhere in California or the Western U.S. 

Students should decide what factors matter most to them—athletics or accessibility, college community or a vibrant metropolitan city—and once one has done that, students truly cannot go wrong with either of these wonderful universities. 

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