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Cal Poly "Starting Salary" a convenient myth?

cmg2024cmg2024 24 replies5 threads Junior Member
Question to the group regarding starting and career salary - I don't know the answer but I'll ask the question. Cal Poly is obviously located in one of the most taxed and highest wage earner states in the nation.

How much do you think this skews the salary numbers for the school? Clearly when held up to other California schools it will be impressive, but what about a graduate from a school like Michigan or Texas A&M or Colorado? The graduate would leave with a similarly valued degree but then (typically) works regionally in those areas where the cost of living is much, much less. The employer centers of LA and Bay area are much more expensive than the others.

The assumption, of course, is that Cal Poly grads are mainly hired (at least initially) in California.

The follow-up question is how do you feel these schools all compare to each other under that lens? Do you consider Cal Poly a regionally respected school or a nationally respected one? Maybe use Mechanical Engineering degree as an example. Also, what about research? How does it stack up there?
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Replies to: Cal Poly "Starting Salary" a convenient myth?

  • GregmacdGregmacd 216 replies19 threads Junior Member
    edited February 6
    As you know, California is an expensive state to live in. Thus, everyone makes more than in places where it is cheaper to live. For example, some CSU (CA St. U) grads make $50k/yr, while a Montana State grad might make $35/yr. This doesn't necessarily mean that the CSU is a better school, or that you are better off making more money. I would think that $50k in CA is about the same standard of living as $35k in MT. Thus, you should probably go to school where you want to live after college. The CA employers will look from grads from CSUs who are willing to put up with the high cost of living in CA, and the MT employers will look for grads from MT schools who want to live in MT.

    Note that a MT grad that moves to CA for a job will make more than $35k, while a CSU grad that moves to MT will make less than $50k. Some employers will find a potential employee "better", because they "come from far away", but most employers will hire locally. So, your best bet would be to go to a school where you would like to get offered a job. If you want to work in CA, go to Cal Poly or another CSU.

    I graduated with a MS in Mechanical Engineering from Cal Poly. I found many CA employers who were interested in hiring me after graduating from Cal Poly in both northern and southern California and was offered a salary much higher than those from other CSUs In contrast, I graduated from PA with a BS in Engineering, and most employers were from the local area. I didn't see any from California.

    I interviewed also with a Missouri employer but was uninterested when I found the job was in St. Louis. That employer told me they were going to stop interviewing at Cal Poly, because they could not find anyone willing to leave CA. Thus, I would say that Cal Poly has more of a regional reputation than a national one. My professors in PA certainly heard of Cal Poly, but my friends and relatives thought I got into "Cal Tech".

    Thus, if you get into Cal Poly for Mechanical Engineering, and you want to live in CA, then just go. You'll make more on average than other CSU grads, and you will find employment in CA.

    On the other hand, if you want to live in Texas, go to Texas A&M. if you want to live in Colorado, go to Colorado St at Fort Collins.

    edited February 6
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  • cmg2024cmg2024 24 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Great, thanks @GregMacd for that answer. It makes total sense.

    What are your thoughts about the research levels at Cal Poly? I've toured a few schools where they were significantly higher (at both undergrad and grad level) but I'm trying to gauge the impact.
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  • eyemgheyemgh 5747 replies124 threads Senior Member
    There are companies from the east that recruit at CP and CP grads do leave CA. Most though stay in CA.

    My son was offered a job with a PA company, but ended up taking a job in CA. The CA company offered him $35k more. Interestingly, his housing cost in CA isn't grossly different than it would have been in PA. He just lives in a shared apartment in CA and could have had his own apartment in PA.

    There isn't a ton of research at Cal Poly, because they don't have a doctoral program. Where they shine is in small class size (for example, early Calc classes are capped at 30ish and early physics classes are capped at 40ish), nearly all taught by instructors with terminal degrees, even labs and discussions. They also have more labs than most schools. There are over 80 in the college of engineering alone. Upper level classes that are mostly only lectures at most schools have labs at CP. They have a rotational dynamics lab for example. As a result, most CP grads are capable of being productive right out of the gate.

    You should visit all of them if you are really interested. They all have strengths, but are different.
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  • GregmacdGregmacd 216 replies19 threads Junior Member
    edited February 6
    @cmg2024
    I did most of my research through a co-op job with the Edwards Air Force Base. I got a lot of help from my Cal Poly professor, but most of my research was outside the school, so I don't have a good handle on the research levels at Cal Poly. Also, I went in the early 1990's so things may have changed.

    In terms of picking a school, don't overlook "where do you want to live for the next 4 years"? San Luis Obispo is a great city. It has a downtown like Fort Collins, but is about 12 miles from the beach and has mild temperatures year-round. The students at Cal Poly are overwhelmingly happy to be there. The Alumni are well respected, and when you tell someone you graduated from Cal Poly, they are genuinely impressed.

    I was accepted to Cal Poly and several other graduate schools. When I began to tell my undergraduate professors the list of schools that I got into, I could never get past Cal Poly, because as soon as I mentioned Cal Poly they would stop me and say "go there".

    So, if you're deciding between Michigan, Col St, Texas A&M, and Cal Poly, I would say go to Cal Poly. If you were accepted to every school in the nation, I would still say go to Cal Poly.

    You would think that all schools have their advantages and disadvantages. but Cal Poly is just plain better than everyone else. The starting salaries are right up there with UC Berkeley and UCLA. There is no myth.
    edited February 6
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  • cmg2024cmg2024 24 replies5 threads Junior Member
    edited February 6
    Thanks again - so D has two schools in her final 2. Cal Poly (although hinges on acceptance) and CU Boulder. Engineering at both and accepted in Engineering school at CU-Boulder.

    The cost for CU Boulder is looking to be somewhere in the 66k-80k range for four years (in-state and a few nice scholarships).

    The cost for Cal Poly would be more in the 170k range (some of this is debt she'd take on).

    Certainly both are nice college towns. I've visited both and walked away impressed by both. One is more familiar as it is < 2 hours from our home. Any thoughts in the context of the above question (salary, research, regional rep, etc).
    edited February 6
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  • sushirittosushiritto 4961 replies18 threads Senior Member
    Purely based on ROI, choose the cheapest option.

    Also, I wouldn't put a degree from A&M, Michigan and Colorado in the same tier. But I'm also biased. I'm a Californian and my oldest was accepted to SLO, Boulder (w/Presidential) and various UC's, but attends Michigan. Michigan is recognized around the globe and has a $12 Billion endowment.

    Now, my D21 will be choosing schools next year and I'd love for her to attend SLO. If money were equal, I'd choose SLO over Boulder everyday of the week and twice on Tuesdays. But she will be taking on debt for an undergrad degree, thus Boulder is choice between the two.
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  • eyemgheyemgh 5747 replies124 threads Senior Member
    edited February 7
    I agree with @sushiritto.

    My son had a great time, both socially and more importantly academically at Cal Poly. He finished his BS and thesis based MS in ME in 5 years and landed a great, high paying, exciting job. We sent him there from out of state and are happy we did.

    That said, between our savings, some from grandparents, and the fact that he held a job as a student and interned for three summers, he walked out debt free, with a paid off car, and a Roth he started as a first year.

    It's hard to overstate the power of being debt free. If your student can walk without debt from a very good school, and make no mistake, for ME and Aero, CU is a VERY good school (as is A&M), I would strongly encourage that route. Leverage is a wealth building momentum killer.

    Where ever they end up, it will be much more about what they do with the opportunity (good grades, club and/or research projects, internships, and senior project/thesis) than it will be about the name on the diploma. It

    Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions about Cal Poly or his experience there.
    edited February 7
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  • GregmacdGregmacd 216 replies19 threads Junior Member
    @cmg2024
    It might seem crazy to pay an extra $100k for Cal Poly, but it may actually be $148k cheaper. For example, google the following: “ roi boulder cal poly payscale”.

    You’ll see that the ROI at Boulder is $451,000 after 20 years, but it’s $699,000 at Cal poly. Thus, you could actually make $248,000 more over 20 years if the cost was the same, but even after subtracting the extra $100,00 to go there, you could be up by $148,000.

    Overall, I would leave the choice up to your D if she can afford either school. I would also put a lot of weight on where she wants to live after College. if she wants to live in California, definitely Cal Poly. if she wants to stay in Colorado, then maybe Boulder may make more sense
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  • eyemgheyemgh 5747 replies124 threads Senior Member
    edited February 7
    @Gregmacd, don't get me wrong. I love Cal Poly. University wide ROI is very misleading though.

    CU has roughly 10,000 more undergrads than Cal Poly, but Cal Poly has roughly 1000 more undergraduate engineering students than CU. That means the high salaries of engineers get much more diluted at CU, thus lowering the ROI, than they do at Cal Poly.

    The most recent median starting salaries for MEs are $63,000 and $73,000 at CU and Cal Poly respectively.

    Assuming the difference is a real representation of the school and not simply a reflection of where the graduates are working, the leverage required to choose Cal Poly MAY result in higher real earnings, but possibly will require a new grad delay or at least reduce funding their retirement until their student loan debt is paid back. This can result in massive differences in the final 401k tally.

    @cmg2024, what's the total debt required to choose Cal Poly and how much of that will fall on your daughter's shoulders? What major did she apply for at Cal Poly.

    You might want the perspective of @colorado_mom. She's an engineer in CO whose son chose a respected, small east coast private over CU (and I presume, but I'm not sure over Mines too). She can give his rationale and probably speak to the quality of CU engineering grads.



    edited February 7
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  • GreymeerGreymeer 894 replies16 threads Member
    About 15yrs ago I had a friend that moved to Silicon Valley on a temporary 4yr assignment. The company he worked at gave him a raise of 40k per year and paid for his house. After 4 years when he moved back, they took the raise away.
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  • GreymeerGreymeer 894 replies16 threads Member
    "My professors in PA certainly heard of Cal Poly, but my friends and relatives thought I got into "Cal Tech"."

    That's funny.

    About a year ago I got into a brief argument with a Calpoly grad here about the national reputation of SLO. I told him that it was the case of mistaken identity, since no one knows SLO they were thinking he's talking about "Caltech".
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  • cmg2024cmg2024 24 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Thanks for all the great answers. I'll see if I can track down @colorado_mom

    Last followup question - D (currently) plans to go to grad school. My understanding is grad students in engineering rarely pay for this schooling. This, of course, is assuming the did well at the undergrad level. I'm sure she'd try and play the prestige card at that level as much as she could - maybe a great UC school or Michigan or something along those lines.

    At that point does it really just become a case for undergrad of ROI combined with where she feels most comfortable?
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  • eyemgheyemgh 5747 replies124 threads Senior Member
    edited February 7
    @greymeer, I wouldn't say that no one outside of CA knows Cal Poly. Some east coast companies recruit at Cal Poly. My son landed an internship interview with Lincoln Lab and a job offer from a small, but well known niche company that was recruiting at CP from Pennsylvania. That said, it doesn't have the name recognition of MIT or Stanford. There are lots of very good programs though that fall into that same bucket. Think RPI for example. The reason to choose Cal Poly is because you like the way they educate their students (small classes, virtually no TAs, heavy lab exposure).

    As for grad school, it's a little early to make that commitment. She may not need it. She may burn out and not want it. If she does, MS programs are rarely funded (although my son received funding for his MS) and I wouldn't recommend a PhD that isn't funded. Prestige is different in the graduate realm. It's not about the name of the school, but rather the professor and project team you're working on. For example, for something like hypersonic aerodynamics, a student is probably better at Texas A&M than Stanford. You go where the work that interests you is being done the best.

    Back to my previous question, what's the total debt required to choose CP over CU and how much of it will your daughter shoulder? Will it impact YOUR retirement? What major did she apply for at Cal Poly?
    edited February 7
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  • cmg2024cmg2024 24 replies5 threads Junior Member
    edited February 7
    @eyemgh Her debt load would be about 20k and she's interested in Materials Eng at CP. Biochem/Chem at CU. The other thing I like about CU is that it is a bit easier to change majors within Engineering College than Cal Poly. Aerospace would be tough but the others seem doable. Actually, really a reason I like Montana State. MSU offered good money, but not enough for that step down. D has pretty solid stats across the board (MCA @4520 by my best estimate).

    But we are actually going about it a different way - we are telling her she gets to pocket the money she doesn't spend and use this for getting her life started later. The logic being that she's got skin in the game either way. The scholarships she earns and the money she saves goes right into her account (regulated, of course) to start her life - be it investing, down payment on property, meaningful travel, etc. In other words smart, life-fulfilling stuff. Not new shoes or a car. :smile:
    edited February 7
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  • BarbaraCruzBarbaraCruz 25 replies7 threads Junior Member
    If you are only focused on starting salary (and 5 year ROI) then Cal Maritime wins every time
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  • GregmacdGregmacd 216 replies19 threads Junior Member
    eyemgh wrote: »
    The most recent median starting salaries for MEs are $63,000 and $73,000 at CU and Cal Poly respectively.
    So, if you can make $10,000 ($73,000 - $63,000) more a year at Cal Poly, you'll make back the extra $100,000 in just 10 years. And you'll make an extra $10,000 a year for the next 30 years until you retire for an extra $300,000

    I know the above is simple math, doesn't consider interest rates on loan, and where she will live after she graduates and the cost of living there, but it does appear cheaper in the long run to go to Cal Poly.

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  • GregmacdGregmacd 216 replies19 threads Junior Member
    edited February 7
    cmg2024 wrote: »
    Thanks for all the great answers. I'll see if I can track down @colorado_mom

    Last followup question - D (currently) plans to go to grad school. My understanding is grad students in engineering rarely pay for this schooling. This, of course, is assuming the did well at the undergrad level. I'm sure she'd try and play the prestige card at that level as much as she could - maybe a great UC school or Michigan or something along those lines.

    At that point does it really just become a case for undergrad of ROI combined with where she feels most comfortable?

    If the plan is to go to grad school for engineering, this could throw off the equation. You may need a higher GPA (like above a 3.5) to get a Research Assistanship and a free ride through graduate school. Cal Poly has a lot of smart students, I'm thinking that a MCA of 4520 is probably average. Thus, it might be difficult to acheive a really high GPA at Cal Poly. So, other ABET schools that are less competitive maybe someting to consider.

    For example, my D applied to Cal Poly for Dairy Science and is still waiting to hear. If she wanted to work immediately after getting her undergraduate, I would say Cal Poly all the way. But she is thinking about Vet school, and everyone is telling me that you need at least a 3.7 to get into Vet School. Thus, she is also considering UN Reno and Montana St, because Cal Poly can be a tough place to get high grades, but not so tough that you can'r graduate and get a job. I know.
    edited February 7
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  • GregmacdGregmacd 216 replies19 threads Junior Member
    If you are only focused on starting salary (and 5 year ROI) then Cal Maritime wins every time

    @barbaracruz Cal Maritme has a high starting salary like Cal Poly. But you have to be willing to go to a really small school and spend a lot of time on a ship.
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  • katliamomkatliamom 13319 replies169 threads Senior Member
    I believe the reason Cal Poly grads make more is because most stay in California, where salaries are higher. (As are the costs of living.)

    The Boulder engineering grad who then gets a job in California would have the best of both worlds: a higher salary and dramatically lower educational costs.
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  • GregmacdGregmacd 216 replies19 threads Junior Member
    edited February 7
    cmg2024 wrote: »
    ... The other thing I like about CU is that it is a bit easier to change majors within Engineering College than Cal Poly. Aerospace would be tough but the others seem doable. ...

    I don't think it's very difficult to switch majors at Cal Poly in the College of Engineering. I switched from Aerospace to Mechanical, and my wife switched from Computer Engineering to Electrical Engineering. It may be difficult to switch from an easier to get into major like Manufacturing Engineering to a harder to get into major like Computer Science/Engineering.

    My theory is that because Cal Poly admits by major, it tries to make you think it's difficult to switch majors, because otherwise everyone would apply to an easier major and then try to switch to a harder one. If that happened, Cal Poly would have 10,000 applications for Manufacturing Engineering and 1000 for Computer Science/Engineering. Then, most of the Manufacturing Engineering majors would try to switch majors resulting in chaos.

    So, the only myth about Cal Poly is that it is difficult to switch majors.
    edited February 7
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