Frequently Asked Questions

Insights from the CAED Ambassadors About the Academic Programs in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED), Housing, Cal Poly, and SLO County


FAQs About the College:

Is it easy to switch majors inside of CAED? What about if I want to switch out of the CAED? 

  1. It depends on what major you’re switching from and switching to. Impacted majors such as architecture and architectural engineering are very difficult to switch into. These majors have limited seats and change of major requests are not always approved. Many of the courses are sequential and core classes begin 1st year, which means that students who want to switch in these programs will usually have to spend an extra year or two at Cal Poly, depending on when they decide to switch majors. Other majors in CAED are much more accommodating to a change of majors. 
  2. Switching out of CAED to another college is generally easy, you just have to make sure that there is room available for you when you switch. The change of major process is typically fluid, and you usually start taking core classes right away. 


Learn more by meeting with an advisor in the CAED Advising Center and your department:

What does an accredited professional degree mean? 

Our accredited programs prepare students to work right after graduation! This means students do not need to go to graduate programs before they can start working in their profession. 

What is the work-life balance as a CAED student?  

CAED students tend to spend more time on campus and in studio than the average student at Cal Poly due to the nature of the fields. With that said, it is less overwhelming in practice and once you get used to studio culture. Professors and other students are always there to support you throughout the quarter and with time management, "all-nighters" are not quite as common as people make them out to be.

Are materials expensive or are there used materials my child can use for free or rent out? 

That depends on what studio and major you are in. If students have financial situations in which they need materials, most professors are willing to help out and let students borrow equipment. The college also maintains a program to provide some free materials. Projects also don’t require students to buy expensive materials. Students can build a model completely out of recycled materials and still have “A” quality work. Budgets usually don’t limit students’ ability to output a quality project. 

How diverse is the College of Architecture and Environmental Design itself? 

The departments in CAED are very highly ranked, interesting students from all over the nation, and all over the world. There are many out-of-state students who get in, and there is a higher than average amount of foreign exchange students in our programs. 

Do I have time for a job or other extracurriculars? 

Balancing time is key when entering college. Some students are able to rush a sorority or fraternity, get a job on campus, remain on the Dean's List, and have time to be with friends. It is all about getting your priorities straight and developing a strategy that works best for you.  Living, studying, exercising and working on campus contributes to this balance.


Architectural Engineering 

What is the difference between Architectural Engineering and Civil Engineering? 

Architectural engineers work more with structural projects and focus more on architecture and the built environment. Civil engineers work with civil projects including land manipulation (regarding hills and mountains), bridges, and the natural environment. While both professions are design related, they both focus more on the mathematical and technical aspects of projects compared to the Architects and Landscape Architects who focus more on the design aspects of the projects. Another big takeaway from this is that Architectural engineers work with Architects, and Civil engineers work with Landscape Architects. 

What is the difference between Architectural ENGINEERING and Architecture? 

While Architectural Engineers and Architects work alongside each other in the field very often, they complete different tasks. Architectural Engineers are in charge of making sure that structures are structurally sound and that they are realistic for construction. Architects focus more on concepts and design. Cal Poly students in the ARCE (Architectural Engineering) Department have more courses in structure, seismic studies, and physics than students in Architecture. Architects have more design studios and less structures courses than those in ARCE. 

What’s the difference between Structural Engineering and Architectural Engineering.  

They are pretty much the same thing with both engineering structures. However, Architectural engineering is more focused on Architectural structures (ie. buildings), while some Structural engineering programs may be broader and focus on a wider range of structures. 

Are there study abroad programs in ARCE like there are for Architecture? 

Unlike Architecture, ARCE students are not required to study abroad. However, ARCE has a 5-week summer study abroad program in Lithuania that many students take part in.



Do you really have to stay up all night sometimes?  

To get the most out of your education, you may need to put in additional hours at the expense of sleep but being in studio with your friends makes it a fun and unique learning experience.  Time management in encouraged and staying up all night is not.

What kind of projects do you work on in studio? 

All sorts! Depending on the professor and the quarter, you may be working on small- scale housing or large-scale civic or commercial, or anywhere in between. In the first year, all projects are nearly the same from professor to professor for cohesiveness, but in the second year and upwards, projects are unique to the professor, and you might start to find it helpful to ask around about what projects each professor will be doing to see if you want to study with that professor.

How much do textbooks/materials/use of the shop and other resources cost? 

Architecture studios don’t require textbooks! However, students do have to pay for their materials. For first year, professors usually provide the materials for the final project. However, study models are usually made with materials not provided by the college, so students either have to go buy their materials but many students can scavenge materials from other studios, recycling sources, or old boxes! Usually students don’t pay more than $200 per quarter on materials unless the project requires students to construct large-scale models. Seniors have a way of sharing some of their materials and tools near graduation. 

What is the student to professor ratio in classes/labs/studios? 

There are usually between 18-30 students. The small studio sizes ensure that students have the time and connection to speak with their professors. There are also very large lectures as part of some courses.

Should I be learning all these programs before the 1st year studio? 

You are not required to know any programs before you enter Cal Poly’s Architecture program. There are workshops that you can take to learn different programs. Around 2nd year, you will start to use more programs including Rhino in Sketchup, so having those skills before you come to Cal Poly can help you in the future. 

Is studying abroad a mandatory part of the Architecture program?  

The study abroad options are highly recommended but are not required for 4th-year ARCH students. There are a variety of options: traditional study abroad (with varying lengths of time), co-ops, internships, and on-campus studios. 

The Architecture Department also has domestic study programs in San Francisco, Los Angeles (Cal Poly’s LA Metro Program) and in Washington, D.C./Alexandria, Virginia (AKA the WAAC Program).  

More at:


City and Regional Planning 

What can I do with the City and Regional Planning degree?

You can have input on how cities and towns are designed. You are helping communities function and for citizens to live better lives. Careers can include local government, urban design, environmental and international law, real estate and development, city planning, climate change, social policy, and public health. A planning degree can open doors to all kinds of possibilities.

What are CRP studios like?

The studios are a project-based lab where students are scheduled to spend 12 hours a week. Students usually spend extra hours on their projects. The projects are always completed in a group with at least two people. Each quarter, the studio progresses into a more complex assignment. In the third year, you actually get to work with a city and assist with the design of a new development for them.

Do you necessarily have to work for a city?

No. Planners do many types of jobs all of which involve accommodating community change. You can work for a private firm that involves disciplines such as healthy communities, school planning, or consulting. There are also a variety of non-profit groups to spark community change.

How is city planning related to the College of Architecture and Environmental Design?

Planners are kind of the middle person between engineers and architects. They work with engineers and architects to plan for the location of new developments. They anticipate how a city will function and how it will feel and look as it begins to be developed. Planners focus on how buildings will fit together aesthetically, how linkages for streets and electricity will be placed, how the environment may be affected, how the economy changes, and how demand for services change through time.


Construction Management

What kinds of recruitment or industry relations opportunities does the construction management program offer? 

There are many industry relations opportunities. These opportunities are why Cal Poly’s construction management program sometimes has a 100% employment rate within 6 months after graduation, and the highest initial pay rate compared to the other departments within the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

Can I get a minor in Construction Management? 

Yes, absolutely! Many students in CAED pursue a minor in CM because of the career opportunities that it opens. It is a relatively easy minor to fit into your schedule, it’s about 2-4 extra units a quarter, and many of the courses are offered during the summer as well. 

Does CM have a study abroad program?

Yes! CM has a study abroad program in Prague in the Czech Republic, and can take 8 academic units or two classes that contribute to the major (or minor). Most students primarily take these courses during their 3rd or 4th year.

Are there clubs for CM? 

Yes, CM clubs are very festive and very active in their department. There are 11 student clubs in the department including BIM (Building Information Modeling), Women in Construction, Associated General Contractors of America, CM Entrepreneurs, and more. The Association Schools of Construction Club has a tri-tip BBQ very frequently and there are many ways to be involved with these clubs on our campus.  


Landscape Architecture 

What is Landscape Architecture? How’s it different from Architecture? 

Landscape Architects are architects of the landscape, and work on all outdoor space. Architects focus on structures. 5% of Landscape Architects pursue residential design. Landscape Architects are the link between build-forms and landforms and frequently work alongside Architects.

Architects design structures, but Landscape Architects design spaces by studying the psychology behind how people use a space, how people feel in a space, how people engage in and with a space. Both professions are design professions. Architects take on structural roles and take more math classes, but Cal Poly Landscape Architects take on a variety of design classes that focus on different design processes. Simply put, Architects design on the vertical plane, Landscape Architects design on the horizontal plane. 

What is studio culture like and do students really not get much sleep? 

Studio is a project-based lab where students are scheduled to spend 12 hours a week. However, students usually spend extra hours on their projects. All-nighters are not encouraged, and many students avoid these with good time management. 

What is the student to professor ratio in classes/labs/studios? 

Design studios usually have no more than 25 students. The small class sizes ensure that students have the time and connection to speak with their professors. 

How much collaboration is there between majors within the College of Architecture and Environmental Design? What classes do students take with other majors in the college? 

Landscape Architects seldom work alone. A lot of Landscape Architects in real-world work with Architects and Cal Poly’s Landscape Architecture program recognizes that. Students are taught the importance of being able to collaborate with other types of design professionals, and students have the option to take an interdisciplinary class with Architects and Architectural engineers.  In some years Cal Poly’s Landscape Architecture program is ranked as the No. 1 large program of its kind in the nation according to a survey by DesignIntelligence.

Housing on the Cal Poly Campus


Is it better to live in the CAED dorms or not?  

For more success, Cal Poly clusters student living into “Learning Communities, ” many of them based on major and/or college. Living in the CAED dorms or not provides two different, but both excellent experiences. When living in the CAED dorms, you can easily make friends with your classmates, get help on studio projects, and have someone to walk home with from the studio. Living outside of the CAED-based dorms, you get to meet a wider variety of people and can establish a greater work/home separation.

What is the housing situation like? Do I live with people in my major? 

You can choose your housing community on your housing application! Most students in CAED are in the same dorm with each other, but some students decide to choose different living communities. Visit Cal Poly’s Housing page for more information on the link below. The nice thing about living with other CAED students is that you’re always in close proximity to help. Everyone’s working on homework at the same time because most of the due dates are the same for most classes. The community rooms are great spaces for group meetings for homework study sessions!  

More about Housing at:


Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, a facet of the county’s SLO Life 

What is there to do in SLO County for fun? 

Downtown SLO is a really active place with lots of spots to shop, eat and spend time. There are also regular concerts and shows at the Fremont Theatre, Mission Plaza and other venues. Students can walk to the downtown area from campus, and Cal Poly tuition includes greatly discounted access to the local bus system, and on-campus Recreation Center.

Nearly every Thursday night in downtown SLO is the popular SLO Farmers’ Market, one of the largest in the nation, located near the SLO Mission Plaza, creek walk, clubs, and world famous Bubble Gum Alley.

For nature lovers, there are many hiking trails, a few of them right next to campus alongside the Poly Canyon trail up to the CAED’s Poly Canyon Experimental Practices Laboratory, host to student-built structures and the annual Design Village Competition.

Other popular outdoor spots are the local beaches and surfing at Avila, Pismo, Morro, Cayucos and Montana De Oro. They average just a 20- to 30-minute scenic drive.

Also, in SLO County are the one-of-a-kind Madonna Inn, and architectural jewel, Hearst Castle. Honoring the castle’s architect, the Julia Morgan Collections reside close by the CAED in Cal Poly’s Kennedy Library.

Are there sports or extracurriculars that I can do on my own time? 

Absolutely! Each quarter there is a new intramural term, which means that you can join a team (or play alone depending on the sport) every quarter. This also means that you don’t have to commit to intramural sports if you have a heavier workload during the quarter. Also, our campus has numerous clubs. There are hundreds to choose from, and many of the departments in the College of Architecture and Environmental design have their own student clubs!

Find a Cal Poly Club:

Are the SLO city buses and Rec Center included in your tuition, and are they free to students?

Yes! Students have integrated bus passes in their student cards for SLO city bus system. The Rec Center is also free to use for all Cal Poly students. You will just need to register your hand print for easy entry.

More Cal Poly FAQs at:

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