WPI vs Cal Poly SLO for Mechanical Engineering

Hey all! I was papa blessed to be accepted to both my top picks and I’m ecstatic, however now I’m really having trouble deciding which one I should attend!

I’m from California but after getting some really good school scholarships WPI adds up to only 3,000 dollars more a year than SLO (not counting travel and other misc costs). I thought it would be an easy choice for SLO, but reading up a bit more I’m not too sure.

I’m worried after hearing so many horror stories about huge class sizes and kids not being able to get classes. Hearing about how people end up taking 5 years to graduate (which would make WPI comparatively cheaper).

I really like WPI’s abroad program and how their terms work, though SLO’s location wins by a landslide. I also think WPI may be more suited to my hobbies of drumming and “maker” related activities.

Thoughts? Rebuttals? Anything else I may want to think about? The choice is really up in the air right now and it’s a bit daunting. Thank you for your help!

Thoughts: The New England weather is specifically designed to prepare WPI students for studies at Glacier National Park, Moscow, or Bar Harbor Maine.

Rebuttal: Not true as the weather was not specifically designed to serve that purpose.

It might help if you could speak to some CA students about weather issues. As an accepted student you may want to contact the admissions office and see if you can be connected with some WPI students from CA.

Pretend that something unexpected happened and you decided at the end of freshman year that straight ME was not really what you wanted. What would you options be?

If a student becomes excited about and emotionally involved in their educational activities they develop a deeper understanding of the subject. This is what projects are about. They are good vehicles for developing better judgements when designing solutions.

Activities outside of academic subjects also play an important role in the balance we all need. You might want to talk to students in related organizations.

YOU have two great opportunities.

A WPI Alumnus.

They are both excellent options, so this a tough choice.

You have a good handle on the pluses and minuses. WPI would offer smaller classes, a lower student-faculty ratio, and better odds of graduating in four years (College Navigator 4-year graduation rates: 80% WPI, 47% CP-SLO). Their Global Projects Program looks very cool; engineering programs and Study Abroad experiences don’t usually mesh well.

On the other hand, many people would prefer the weather and town environment of San Luis Obispo over Worcester. You might feel more comfortable in the larger, more traditional, and more gender-balanced campus atmosphere at SLO. WPI is much smaller and is likely to have a more nerdy male campus culture; female students are outnumbered by about 2-to-1. Californians overwhelmingly predominate at CP, but will be a small minority at WPI, so you would likely experience some culture shock.

I would suggest that Cal Poly is the “safe” choice for a Californian like yourself. WPI is definitely riskier; you would find it harder to adjust to the weather, environment, culture, and distance from home. On the other hand, there might be bigger payoffs if you can successfully make that adjustment. Attending WPI would make you bicoastal, which would give you a broader perspective and more professional flexibility than a West Coaster or an East Coaster who stays close to home. So you may have to gauge your own tolerance for risk.

Some examples of weird East Coast phenomena that you could potentially gain exposure to at WPI: “snow”, “lobster rolls”, “lacrosse”.

I’d double-check those numbers on gender balance at WPI. Just a few years ago, the student body was overwhelmingly male. The school, though, has made a very determined effort to achieve greater gender balance, and I believe the two most recent classes have had a much more balanced gender profile–very close to even last year, I believe (but confirm).

WPI was one of our favorite schools out of the dozens we visited (with multiple kids). We loved the campus vibe and were particularly impressed with the students. I hear nothing but great things about Cal Poly from alums, including my brother and a neighbor’s kid who is a freshman there. So congrats on having two great choices!

It seems like a bit of trade-off between a teaching approach that fits you well and probably smaller classes and a desirable schedule (WPI) v. the sun and blue ski and beach at Cal Poly, which also has a great program and great students. Go with what feels right to you.

Check the male/female ratio…WPI’s is pretty skewed male

Also, how do you feel about snow?

Last year’s class was 56/44 and trend is toward greater balance.


I simply looked at College Navigator, which shows a 66/34 split for total undergraduate enrollment for Fall 2016.

However, the latest WPI Common Data Set does suggest that the gender ratio is becoming more balanced. The CDS reports a 64/36 split for total undergraduate enrollment for Fall 2017. It also indicates a 57/43 split for enrolled freshman in Fall 2017.

For comparison, College Navigator shows a ratio of 53/47 at Cal Poly for Fall 2016 (although the ratio is probably less balanced in the College of Engineering specifically).

@corbett, yes, it is changing very quickly. We had looked at it just a couple of years ago and got to know it well (we have good friends in Worcester as well) and ratio was in the range you indicated, and probably is so for the current senior class.

The male/female balance is strongly influenced by the selected major. At 72%, Cal Poly SLO has a much larger population of NON-engineering majors than WPI does at 40%. They have been working very hard to encourage more women into the engineering fields. The representation of women at WPI (as noted above) jumped almost ten percent with the class which entered in the Fall of 2017.

Women do represent 66% of the WPI students majoring in the Biomedical Engineering. The largest number of Biomedical Engineering majors are concentrated in the ME direction, but WPI also offers Biomedical Engineering with focus in the Electrical or Chemical Engineering directions.

San Luis Obispo is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth but Cal Poly SLO is not a school where you will go to class for an hour or two and then surf for the rest of the day. At both Cal Poly and WPI your time will be spent in your dorm or library or lab or classroom busting your butt with awesome engineering.

If you go to WPI, you will come home to California for winter and summer breaks. Depending on where in CA your family lives, you could even live at home while doing summer internships at top companies (letting you bank a lot more cash).

WPI is the better choice if smaller class sizes and a better likelihood of 4 year graduation are important to you, and it sounds like you already think it will be a good cultural and academic fit for you. But do check to see if the numbers behind “it takes many students 5 years to graduate from Cal Poly” thing is because of classes being full or because of other factors like co-ops or changing majors. If Cal Poly has a better selection of the classes you like and you want to be closer to home, the scales should tip that way. You basically can’t make a wrong decision here.