University Honors Program

Live, Learn, Achieve


What is Honors at Cal Poly?

We encourage you to learn more about the Cal Poly Honors Program BEFORE submitting an application. You can learn more about the program by reviewing this list of frequently asked questions and speaking with former/current Honors students. You may also contact the Honors Program office for more information. The overlay curriculum for first-year students is linked here. You should understand that honors in high school is different from honors at Cal Poly. High school honors typically focuses on achievement and accomplishments. However, the university honors experience focuses on learning, active participation, community building, and service. In this case, it's all about the journey.  Cal Poly Honors students are:  excited to serve two programs (Honors and their major); intellectually curious and eager to engage in EVERY learning opportunity; focused on academics; excited to learn more about sustainability, global perspectives, equity, and justice; committed to serving others, including peers in the Honors community; planning to satisfy most of their General Education requirements through coursework at Cal Poly; ready to challenge themselves, accept occasional discomfort, take risks, and fail every once and a while. If this sounds appealing to you, then please consider submitting an application. If you understand what our program has to offer and are interested, then we are interested in hearing from you.

I'm trying to submit my application on-line, and I'm having problems?  What do I do?

We encourage students to use either Chrome or Firefox as their browser when submitting their application. All essay responses are limited by "character" count. We strongly encourage students to prepare and edit essay responses in a word processing program (WORD or similar). Make sure that all extra spaces and returns are deleted. Formatting does not come through when you submit. Then, copy and paste your final responses into the application. REMEMBER: The character count includes spaces. Check your count before submitting. Contact the Honors Program office if you continue to have difficulty.

REMEMBER the deadline for submitting applications during the year you apply.
You will receive confirmation that your application was submitted and accepted. You may not receive your confirmation email immediately, so please be patient.  We strongly encourage you to submit your application PRIOR to the deadline.  Late applications will not be accepted.

I've heard the Cal Poly Honors Program is moving through a transition period.  What does this mean?

Staff work continuously to improve the Honors Program and provide added benefits for participating students. We implemented a new Honors curriculum in Fall 2017. Students now entering the program are required to follow this new curriculum. Highlights of the new program include a yearlong first-year Honors experience (HNRS 161/162/163). This course sequence provides service and project-based learning opportunities and focuses on historical, social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The HNRS 161/162 sequence counts as a General Education (GE) Area D requirement. In addition, the new program includes a leadership course requirement (HNRS 261), a curriculum of at least 5 additional Honors elective courses (which may be double-counted toward GE requirements), and a focused Honors track involving research, international study, or community service. The improved program provides an even richer and more engaging Honors experience. A curriculum fact sheet is linked here.

May transfer students apply to the Honors Program at Cal Poly?

Yes. We admit several transfer students to Honors each year.  Transfer students in Honors follow a two-year curriculum. The flow chart an overlay curriculum for transfer students is linked here. Transfer students interested in applying should contact the Honors Program Office for more information.

How many students typically apply to the Honors Program for fall admission?

In recent years we have received about 600 applications for fall admission. We typically admit about 90 to 100 students from this applicant pool.

What process is followed when reviewing applications for the Honors Program?

Student applications are logged into an electronic database upon receipt. Cal Poly faculty and staff members review and score the applications following a standard process. Each application is reviewed by at least two persons.

What factors contribute to the decision for first-year admission to the Honors Program?

A student's responses to the essay questions on the application are the most important factors in admissions. Your academic performance in high school and the rigor of your high school record are also important. Standardized test scores are less important. High school class rank and recommendations are not considered. Before applying, you should understand what the Honors Program is and what it's not. Do your own research and determine if our program is a good fit for you and your goals as an undergraduate student at Cal Poly. If it doesn't seem like a good fit, then we recommend you do not apply. We are interested in serving and partnering with students who value learning, community, civic engagement, interdisciplinary collaboration, service, and breadth in their educational experiences. Our courses and activities focus on topics related to sustainability, equity, justice, and global perspectives.

If I apply to the Honors Program am I committing to come to Cal Poly?

Students who apply to the Honors Program for fall admission are not committing to Cal Poly. Application decisions are made each year by the last week in April to give students some time to evaluate their offer and meet Cal Poly's acceptance deadline of May 1.

When will applicants be notified about admission to the Honors Program?

Applicants will be notified of their Honors Program admission status by the last week in April and prior to May 1. Notifications will be sent earlier, if possible.

I was put on a waitlist for the Honors Program. What does this mean?

Being on the Honors Program waitlist means that an invitation to join the program may be extended to you in the event that space becomes available. Wait-listed students are typically notified of their program status by mid-May.  Based on recent recruitment and admissions cycles, students placed on our waitlist still have a reasonable chance of being accepted to the program.

What options do I have if I am not accepted into the Honors Program?

If you are not accepted but still plan to attend Cal Poly, you may apply as a continuing student applicant. You may submit a follow-up application at any time.  However, you must complete your first quarter at Cal Poly before your application will be reviewed. The Honors Program only accepts applications from continuing students in their first or second year at Cal Poly. Students must have a minimum 3.3 Cal Poly cumulative GPA when applying.

Will the Honors Program limit what AP credits transfer to Cal Poly? And, will all my AP credits make it harder to meet the program requirements?

Most Honors students have AP credits that carryover to Cal Poly. The Honors Program does not limit or restrict the number of AP credits that may transfer. We do not allow students to transfer AP credit for Honors course requirements. We cannot stress this enough as you consider applying to this program: Honors at Cal Poly is all about the journey and the learning that takes place as a member of our community.  There are many opportunities to satisfy Honors course credits (through general education courses, seminars, special HNRS courses and contracts, etc.). However, please remember the Honors Program is focused primarily on providing an enhanced general education experience. Therefore, most Honors courses are cross-listed with general education courses currently taught at Cal Poly.  These courses may be double-counted toward degree requirements.  For students with a significant number of AP general education transfer credits, it will be very difficult to satisfy the elective Honors course requirements in a timely manner (if at all). This is something you need to seriously consider when applying to the Honors Program.

Am I required to live in the Honors living learning community during my first year at Cal Poly?

Living in the Honors residence hall is not required for you to satisfy the Honors Program requirements. However, all Honors students are encouraged to consider this unique opportunity. During recent years, approximately 70 percent of our new first-year students lived in the Honors residence hall community in yakʔitʸutʸu. Please review information about costs and room layout on the housing web site. Students applying to the Honors Program will receive specific instructions on applying for Honors housing.

How many students are currently enrolled in the Honors Program?

Approximately 450 students are currently enrolled in the program.  Last year, 90 students accepted fall admission to the program. We admitted an additional 25 first-year students for admission to the program in the spring.  The Honors Program has grown over the past decade and seeks a steady-state enrollment of about 500 students.

What is the current breakdown of the Honors Program enrollment by college?

Students from all six of the Cal Poly colleges are enrolled in the Honors Program.  The current breakdown is as follows:  CAED (7%), CAFES (14%), CENG (23%), CLA (23%), CSM (21%), OCOB (12%).

What are the benefits of the Honors Program?

Many students say that their favorite aspects of the Honors Program are access to more intimate classroom settings and membership in a supportive learning community. Specific benefits are outlined in other pages of this website. We encourage you to explore and ask questions. Please do your homework to determine if this learning community is a good fit for you and your academic goals.

What courses am I required to take as an Honors Student?

The Honors curriculum is linked here. Many of the elective Honors courses fulfill General Education (GE) requirements and are substituted for required GE courses within your degree program.  In some cases, Honors courses may fulfill or support major requirements within your degree or minor requirements, if you pursue such an opportunity. Honors students are expected to complete their Honors courses in a timely manner. It is important to note that the Honors Program is a university-wide interdisciplinary program that focuses primarily on a student's general education experience. Cal Poly does not sponsor honors programs "in the major."

Are there GPA requirements for Honors students?

Yes, there are grade (or academic performance) requirements for Honors students. Student academic performance is evaluated and tracked on a quarterly basis. By the end of their first year, Honors students need to achieve a Cal Poly cumulative GPA of at least 3.3. The following year, students need to meet a 3.4 GPA requirement. For subsequent years, the GPA requirement is 3.5

Cal Poly seems hard enough. Will the Honors courses make it even more challenging?

Honors courses allow for more in-depth exploration of course topics through in-class discussions and high impact learning practices (e.g., service learning, research, project-based learning, etc.). Honors courses are challenging, but they are not structured to require larger amounts of homework and/or projects when compared with equivalent non-honors courses. Honors courses provide more opportunity for engagement with the instructor as well as highly motivated and like-minded peers.

Does participation in the Honors Program add extra units to my degree plan?

Yes, but not a lot.  Honors students who plan their schedules carefully and keep in regular contact with the Honors Program office will satisfy their Honors course requirements without needing to take a significant number of extra units. The Honors Program curriculum is designed to minimize extra degree requirements and should not delay a student's time to graduation. The curriculum includes some additional low-unit course requirements (e.g., HNRS 163, 261, 361, 461) that may or may not be degree-applicable, depending on your major. However, the curricular and co-curricular additions are modest and are designed to enhance program benefits while minimizing impacts to a student's degree schedule.  If you arrive at Cal Poly with a significant number of AP general education transfer credits and want to graduate from Honors, then you may need to add several additional courses to your degree plan. Please see the previous question that addressed this topic.

What is the Honors Orientation Course (HNRS 100)?  What is the Honors first-year experience (HNRS 161/162/163)?

The Honors Orientation Course was required for all new Honors students prior to Fall 2017. This course has been replaced with the first-year Honors experience (HNRS 161/162/163). This yearlong course sequence focuses on environmental, economic, historical, and social dimensions of sustainability. In this course, students participate in small discussions led by Honors students serving as learning assistants. Discussions, research, and interdisciplinary project work focus on elements of sustainable communities in a local and global context, resilience and systems thinking, introduction to research methods, and developing community within the Honors Program. The course sequence includes a service learning aspect, where students volunteer and partner with local community organizations.

Will Honors courses create more stress and anxiety for me during my first year of college?

When you join the Honors Program you join a community of students, faculty, and staff members who are available to support you as you work toward achieving your academic goals.  This support network can help you to be successful as you transition to life at Cal Poly.  You are required to take Honors courses during your first year of college.  However, Honors courses are designed to make your educational experience richer, not necessarily more difficult or more stressful.

Will I be able to study abroad if I am an Honors student?

Many students in the Honors Program take advantage of the study abroad programs that Cal Poly has to offer.  The Honors Program encourages students to study abroad and offers opportunities to earn Honors credit for the experience. The Honors Program offered it's first ever study abroad experience in the London Study Program - Summer 2016. We continue to plan for more study abroad experiences. Honors students have the option of designating study abroad or international experience as their required Honors "track".

What research opportunities are available to Honors students? 

Students may earn Honors credit while working on research projects at Cal Poly.  Each quarter, faculty members from across campus advise individuals and groups of students working on a variety of sponsored research projects. If students wish, they may submit their research abstracts to participate in the annual CSU Honors Research Conference. Honors students in the new program have the option of designating research experience as their required Honors "track".

Are any new Honors Program activities planned for next year?

The Honors Program will continue to implement pilot programs and new experiences during the upcoming academic year. Students should keep in regular contact with the Honors Program office to keep up-to-date on new opportunities.

How can I get more information about the Honors Program?

Please feel free to call us (805-756-7029) or e-mail us ( with questions or requests for additional information. Contact information and current office hours can be found here.


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