Colleges & Universities in San Luis Obispo, CA

San Luis Obispo, California is home to several excellent colleges and universities. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo offers students a vibrant college-town atmosphere, beautiful weather year-round, and easy access to California’s scenic Central Coast beaches and wineries. Here is an in-depth look at the top colleges and universities in San Luis Obispo.

California Polytechnic State University

California Polytechnic State University, commonly known as Cal Poly, is a public university located in San Luis Obispo. With over 22,000 students, Cal Poly is the largest university in the city.


Cal Poly was established in 1901 as a vocational high school. It became a two-year college in 1927 and began granting bachelor’s degrees in 1940. The university has gone through several name changes over the years, becoming the California State Polytechnic College in 1947 and finally California Polytechnic State University in 1972.


Cal Poly is part of the California State University system. It offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines, with a focus on undergraduate education. Popular majors include engineering, business, agriculture, and architecture. Cal Poly is renowned for its “learn by doing” educational model that incorporates hands-on learning into coursework.

The university is organized into six colleges:

  • College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences
  • College of Architecture and Environmental Design
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Liberal Arts
  • College of Science and Mathematics
  • Orfalea College of Business

Cal Poly has a selective admission process, admitting only 41% of applicants. In 2023, it was ranked as the #1 public master’s university in the West by U.S. News & World Report.

Campus Life

Cal Poly has a vibrant campus life with over 300 student clubs and organizations. On-campus housing is guaranteed for first-year students and accommodates around 40% of the total student population. Popular activities and traditions include Poly Escapes outdoor trips, the Week of Welcome at the start of fall quarter, and the university’s Learn by Doing moto.

Cal Poly athletics competes at the NCAA Division I level in the Big West Conference. Its sports teams are known as the Mustangs. Facilities include the 11,075-seat Alex G. Spanos Stadium for football and Baggett Stadium for baseball.

Cuesta College

Cuesta College is a public community college located in San Luis Obispo. It enrolls around 11,000 students annually.


Cuesta College was established in 1964 to serve San Luis Obispo County. It opened with just four temporary buildings and has since expanded to three campus centers – the main San Luis Obispo Campus, North County Campus in Paso Robles, and South County Center in Arroyo Grande.

Cuesta is named after the cuesta grade along the Southern Pacific Railroad that connects San Luis Obispo with the Santa Lucia Mountains.


Cuesta offers associate degrees, certificates, and career training programs. Students can complete lower division coursework to transfer to a four-year university. There are more than 175 degree and certificate programs in diverse disciplines like nursing, paramedic, engineering, viticulture, culinary arts, and more.

Notable academic features include:

  • Strong transfer partnerships with Cal Poly and other regional universities
  • One of California’s top associate degree nursing programs
  • Vibrant arts and music programs
  • Extensive workforce training through the Cuesta College Business & Entrepreneurship Center

As a Hispanic Serving Institution, Cuesta has robust programs to support Latinx and Chicano students.

Campus Life

Cuesta has a close-knit college community centered around its student government, clubs, and events. The Associated Students of Cuesta College represents students’ interests and organizes activities. There are clubs for interests ranging from theater to engineering to LGBTQ+ support.

Athletics teams compete in the Western State Conference as the Cuesta College Cougars. The San Luis Obispo campus has a newly modernized athletics complex with aquatics, tennis, soccer, softball, and baseball facilities.

Allan Hancock College

Allan Hancock College is a public community college based in Santa Maria, California with a satellite campus in Lompoc. It serves over 11,000 students in northern Santa Barbara County.


Allan Hancock College was founded in 1920 as Santa Maria Junior College. It was later renamed after its founder, California oil industry pioneer G. Allan Hancock, who was born and raised in Santa Maria.

The current Santa Maria campus opened in 1954. The Lompoc Valley Center was established in 1998 to provide greater access to residents of North County.


Allan Hancock offers associate degrees, certificates, career preparation programs, and transfer programs to four-year universities. There are over 100 fields of study. Popular majors include criminal justice, nursing, business administration, viticulture, journalism, and culinary arts.

Of note is the Pacific Conservatory Theatre, which offers an associate degree in theatre arts. Students gain professional experience putting on productions at the on-campus Marian Theatre.

The Allan Hancock College Roundtable Symposium showcases student research projects every spring.

Campus Life

The Santa Maria campus of Allan Hancock College has a close-knit college community. The Associated Student Body Government plans events like Homecoming, Spring Fling, and Academy Awards screenings. There are clubs for interests ranging from engineering to LGBTQ+.

Athletic teams compete in the Western State Conference as the Allan Hancock College Bulldogs. The Santa Maria campus has gymnasium, pool, football, soccer, softball, and baseball facilities.

Cal Poly Continuing Education

In addition to its main academic programs, Cal Poly offers continuing education opportunities through Extended Education.


Cal Poly Extended Education provides programs for professional development, career enhancement, and personal enrichment. Offerings include certificate programs, courses, workshops, test preparation and more.

Popular programs include:

  • Certificate in Human Resources Management
  • Certificate in Marketing
  • Certificate in Meeting & Event Planning
  • LSAT Test Preparation
  • Programming courses
  • Wine industry seminars
  • Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for seniors

Open University

Through Open University, community members can take regular Cal Poly courses without being admitted as matriculated students. Open University is available on a space-available basis with instructor approval. It allows accessing Cal Poly courses for professional development or preparation before applying for degree programs.

Charter College

Charter College is a private, for-profit college with a campus in Orcutt, just outside San Luis Obispo. It offers career education in healthcare, business, information technology, and trades.


Charter College is part of Charter Career College, a network of over 20 campuses across the Western United States. The Orcutt campus opened in 2007.


Charter College Orcutt offers associate degrees and certificates in:

  • Allied Health
  • Business Office Administration
  • Computer Networking Systems
  • Dental Assisting
  • Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration
  • Medical Assistant
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Welding

The programs emphasize hands-on training and preparing students for certification exams. Charter College promotes open enrollment, online courses, and accelerated programs that allow completing degrees in under 2 years.

Campus Life

The Orcutt campus is conveniently located right off Highway 101. Student resources include career services, tutoring, and financial aid. Campus activities are designed around the commuter student population.

Cuesta College North County Campus

Cuesta College’s North County Campus in Paso Robles provides access to Cuesta’s programs for northern San Luis Obispo County residents. It offers a range of associate degree and certificate programs.


The North County Campus opened in 1998 in temporary facilities. A new permanent campus opened in 2016, providing more classrooms, science labs, and a library.


Students can complete most of Cuesta’s academic programs at the North County Campus, including:

  • Transfer degrees for transfer to Cal Poly and other universities
  • Career technical degrees in fields like agriculture business, nursing, paramedic, welding, and more
  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • High school equivalency and high school diploma programs

Shared programs with the San Luis Obispo Campus like theater, music, and dance involve travel between the two locations.

Campus Life

The North County Campus has a student life center, gym, library, and Promesa Cafe. It provides a small community college environment. The Associated Students of Cuesta College is active on both the San Luis Obispo and North County campuses.

Cal Poly Extended Education

Cal Poly’s extended education program provides continuing education opportunities through online courses, specialized certificates, test preparation, and professional workshops.


Extended education programs serve working professionals, businesses, and the local community. Offerings include:

  • Online courses in programming, business, marketing, writing, and more
  • Professional certificates in HR, project management, IT, and other subjects
  • Test prep for GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and other admissions exams
  • Professional development workshops and seminars

Programs are taught by Cal Poly faculty and industry experts. They provide flexible learning for career advancement.

Open University

Through Open University, community members can enroll in regular on-campus Cal Poly courses without admission as matriculated students. It provides a way to access Cal Poly courses and take the first steps toward a degree program.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers non-credit courses focused on personal enrichment for adults 50+. More than 300 courses cover topics from art, music, politics, history, and more.


From major universities to community colleges, San Luis Obispo offers quality higher education options to meet all students’ needs. Cal Poly and Cuesta College drive the quintessential college-town environment, while smaller campuses like Allan Hancock’s North County Center provide localized access.

Whether seeking an undergraduate experience, career training, or continuing education, the colleges and universities of San Luis Obispo provide exceptional learning opportunities.

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  • Take US-101 N 10 miles. Exit LOVR, turn left. Drive 3 miles, turn right on Prefumo Canyon. After 2 miles turn left to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon is on the right after 0.3 miles.
  • Take Monterey to Santa Rosa. Get on US-101 N, then CA-1 N toward Morro Bay. Exit Prefumo Canyon, turn right. Turn right to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon is on the right.
  • Head west on Monterey. Turn right Santa Rosa. Left on CA-1 N. Take Price Canyon exit to Prefumo Canyon. Turn right then left to Squire Canyon. 300 Squire Canyon on the right just past Dahlia Court.