New Students FAQ

When I Come to the College of Engineering, What Can I Expect?

That's not a question that can be answered the same way for each of our new students. If you are a first-time freshman coming directly from high school, you should expect to have a transition period, perhaps a quarter, perhaps a year, during which your entire world may seem to be changing dramatically. You have thrust yourself into a world populated by many more students than you are used to, most of whom are proceeding toward a goal they do not feel very certain about right now, at a very much faster pace than you may be used to. It is appropriate to be excited about the start of your college experience and to feel emotions of uncertainty about the unknown.

If you are a transfer student from either a community college or from another four year institution, you have already tasted the college experience. You already may have gotten over "freshman shock" and you will most likely undergo a different kind of adjustment. While you are closer to your graduation than are freshmen, probably feel more certain about your chosen career direction than do freshmen, and have learned how to deal with bureaucracies better than freshmen do, you will discover that the way you navigated through your previous institution may not work here; the operating policies of the two institutions may be as different as night and day.

In either case, rest assured that you will make it through your transition period before next year's entering class starts! You should also recognize that, even though the engineering curricula are among the most difficult at Cal Poly Pomona, if you apply yourself and are serious about your education, it is very unlikely that you will get into academic difficulty; very few students leave the college for academic reasons.

Here's some of what you can expect:

  • You can expect to be challenged more than you have ever been before by your instructors, and that you will need more time to study than you have ever needed before.
  • You can expect that the grade point average you earned at your previous institution may be difficult to maintain here.
  • You can expect to assume more responsibility for your own progress and more diligence in attending to details than you have in the past.
  • You can expect the faculty to be available at their posted office hours to help you as appropriate, both in your coursework and in guidance and advising. You can expect to be treated with respect by the faculty and staff.

Can I, or Should I, Graduate in Four Years?

Many students begin their engineering studies expecting to get their degrees within four years if they begin as freshmen, and within two years if they enter as transfer students. What we've listed here is what a student who begins at Cal Poly Pomona as a first-time freshman must do to accomplish that goal; if you are a transfer student, you can estimate what it will require of you.

You must take the EPT, ELM and MDT examinations prior to your first quarter, and all scores must be adequate to place you in the first course of your calculus sequence (MAT 114 or 130) and in Freshman English I (ENG 104) during that first quarter.
You must complete an average of 50.5 quarter units each academic year in courses which satisfy your degree requirements, maintaining both a Cal Poly Pomona GPA and a major GPA each of at least 2.00/4.00.
You must remain in the same declared major in which you first enrolled.
You must enroll in courses in prerequisite order and pass each of them on the first attempt. (In some courses you must earn at least a specified minimum grade to attain entry into following courses.)
If you are receiving financial aid, you must meet the academic progress requirements of your assistance.
You must pay all your fees by the respective deadline dates.
You must satisfy the Graduation Writing Test before achieving senior status.
Can you do it, or more importantly, should you do it? If you can, good for you, but our experience is that setting a goal of graduating in four years may be neither realistic nor in your best interests. During your college career, other facets of life and personal priorities other than your educational ones often arise and must be satisfied. Many students find that meeting all their concurrent obligations in a balanced and healthy manner is a better way to proceed than trying to complete the curriculum in four years. The average time-to-graduation for an entering freshmen in the College of Engineering is between 5 and 5 1/2 years, so you can see that most of our students take significantly longer than four years.

Keep in mind that you are here to obtain an education, not just a degree. Obtaining an education takes time:

time to understand the material well enough to apply it,
time to repeatedly assess your career directions and your life's focus,
time to mature into a professional who accepts responsibility for his/her own actions and inactions, and time to learn to be member of a team.
Others in your family may be anxious about your obtaining your degree in four years. You and they need to discuss and understand, as early in your academic career here as possible, that finishing in four years may not a very important goal. Perhaps you should talk to your academic advisor about this issue as well. Remember, there are now more than 15,000 alumni of the College of Engineering; every one of them faced this challenge and successfully overcame it.

Any hints for Success in the College of Engineering?

The Faculty and Staff of the College of Engineering are available to help you achieve and remain in good academic standing, but you have to do your part! Here are some tips that students have found important for success.

Go to Class ... Every meeting... and don't fall asleep while you're there!
Get to know your professors, your academic advisor and several students in each of your classes early in each quarter.
Work hard, study smart, budget your time. Do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it! Turn in your work on time, every time. Make it reflect your pride in your work; after all your name is on it!
Form study groups, attend review sessions and get timely tutoring. Study at least three hours (don't cheat!) for every hour in class per week. Get help if you need it (tutor, etc.).
Consult your academic advisor before registering for any course. Also, always check that you have the necessary prerequisites for the course by the time the course begins; prerequisites are listed in the current university catalog.
Maintain a balance between studying and relaxation. Put studying before your social life, but allow yourself social/relaxation time. Study and play on weekends. Choose places to study and places to relax in and don't mix them.
Take care of your health ... eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.
Pace your studying over the course of the day/week/quarter. Read the syllabus and note when assignments and tests are due. PLAN AHEAD! Don't wait until the last minute to do homework or study.
Use a calendar or a planner to get organized!
Learn from your mistakes on tests and homework.
Make notes in your textbooks as you read, don't just underline or highlight. (You bought the book so it's okay to write in it!)
Don't be a victim of test anxiety. Good preparation will help relieve some of the stress.
Don't study while sleepy - take a nap, then continue.
Go to your student professional organization meetings.

Do I need my own computer? Which kind is best?

There are many computer resources on campus. The university has several hundred general purpose student computers in various "open" laboratories. Our Library has fifty computers as well as two hundred network jacks for student portable computer use. The College of Engineering has ten specialized computer laboratories that are used in courses and many of these are available outside class hours for student use. These labs often use specialized software that runs only when connected to our College server computers. The college has about 500 computers connected to our VLAN and more than a dozen servers. Almost every college laboratory has at least a few computers, and network connections are available in most laboratories and classrooms. This may sound like a lot of computers, and it is, but competition for these resources is still strong because there are 3,700 engineering students.

Students and parents thinking about a computer purchase should consider the following:

  • Students can more easily manage using a computer for assignments if they have their own computer at home or in student housing.
  • Students with Internet access (using an Internet Service Provider) can connect to the campus and access most of the campus resources.
  • Writing assignments, report preparation and spreadsheet calculations can be done on general purpose computers, either in laboratories or on the student's own machine.
  • No single computer will run all of the applications engineering students will use. They will learn to use many types.
  • Portable, laptop, computers add convenience but are more expensive and easier to misplace.
  • As software evolves and improves, new hardware becomes needed to access current features. Old software is no longer supported or used. We estimate that the current newer and faster model computer should serve the needs of students for three to five years.

What is the best way to study Math, Science and Engineering?

Studying topics in Mathematics, Science and Engineering (MSE) differs from studying topics in other disciplines. The reason many students find this material "hard" is that holistic understanding - the kind gained in studying the humanities - typically is insufficient in MSE. Knowing the details of physical processes and understanding how to apply theory to real situations are skills gained only in a methodical step-by-step cumulative way through problem-solving. In MSE many concepts build on previous concepts, and a poor understanding of one concept will likely lead to a poor understanding of future concepts. Studying MSE is in some sense analogous to learning how to play a musical instrument; regular practice is the only key anybody has ever found to mastering subtleties.

For many students becoming part of a study group facilitates learning MSE material; others find that studying alone is preferred. You need to find what works best for you, but our experience is that oftentimes grasping the material is easier when a group is attempting to succeed at it. For some students sophisticated group learning seems to make the difference between just "passing" and actually mastering the content of a course. Studying with others can help you stay motivated when the subject gets difficult, and as you discuss course content with fellow students, you also become more sophisticated in your technical communication skills - a trait that engineering employers value. Belonging to a study group requires active participation; each of the group's members needs to contribute, and each needs to ask questions. Each needs to realize all members of the group are interdependent. However, note the following comment: Group work is useful only as a technique to develop your individual strengths. To merely copy work from another student can be academically dishonest and, more importantly, does not help you LEARN the material.

Here are some study techniques that students have found helpful in retaining MSE knowledge in particular. The topics include the seven important aspects of learning MSE material:. These techniques should be reviewed periodically.

    The purpose of previewing is not to understand the material but to use the text to get a general idea of what the lecture will cover. Before class, briefly preview the text material that will be covered in the lecture. This should not be a very time-consuming process.
    • Get an overview of the material by reading the introductory and summary passages, section headings and sub-headings, and diagrams.
    • Look at the problems at the end of the chapter.
    • Make note of new terms and theorems.
    • Review recognized terms and definitions arising in the new material.
    • Formulate possible questions for class.
    When taking notes in class, listen actively and approach the lecture intending to learn.
    • Write down the instructor's initial remarks about the topic.
    • Note any principles, rules, or techniques that the instructor emphasizes.
    • Question your instructor during class about any unclear concept or procedure.
    • If you miss something in the lecture or don't understand what's being presented, then write down what you can catch - especially key words. Be sure to skip several lines so you can fill in the missing material later.
    • As soon as possible after class, summarize, review, and edit your notes.
    • Quickly read through your notes to get an overview of the material and to check for any errors or omissions.
    • Fill in any information - especially explanatory remarks that you did not have time to write down or that the instructor did not provide.
    • Use the margin of your notebook or the back of the opposite page to summarize the material, list key terms or formulas, and rework examples. You can also use this space to list cross-references to the text.
    • Note any relationship to previous material, i.e., write down key similarities and differences between concepts in the new material and concepts in previously learned material.
    • Review your notes at regular intervals and review them with the intent to learn and retain.
    Do not expect your instructor's presentation and that of the text to necessarily be similar either in content or in emphasis. One is never a substitute for the other. Rather, you should consider the lectures and the text as two independent but supplementary sources of information.

    Reading for understanding and reading for entertainment are two entirely different activities; the former is active, the latter is passive. Reading for understanding requires an amazing amount of energy to be effective, because it requires concentration and absorption of the material. Reading actively is tiring! Consider the following procedures when reading the text:
    • Briefly preview the material just like you did before the lecture. Get an overview of the content and the questions at the end of the chapter again.
    • Read actively to understand. Try these techniques.
    • Formulate questions before you read (from lecture notes or from previewing) and read to answer those questions.
    • Know what every word and symbol means.
    • Translate abstract formulas to verbal explanations.
    • Analyze the example problems by asking yourself these questions:
      1. What concepts, formulas, and rules were applied?
      2. What methods were used to solve the problem?
      3. Why was this method used?
      4. What was the first step?
      5. Have any steps been combined?
      6. What difference or similarities are there between the examples and homework problems?
    • Further analyze the example problems by using the following procedures:
      1. Explain each step using your own words.
      2. Write these explanations on paper.
      3. Draw your own diagrams to illustrate and explain problems.
      4. For practice, write down example problems from your book, close your book and try to work the problems.
      5. Check your work with the example to find what concepts, rules, or methods you are having trouble with.
    • Check to see how the material relates to previous material. Ask yourself these questions:
      1. How was the material different from previous material?
      2. How was it the same?
      3. What totally new concepts were introduced and how were they applied?
    • Stop periodically, take a short break and recall the material that you have just read.
    Solving problems is usually the most important aspect of MSE courses. You must, therefore, spend much of your study time either working or studying problems. When working a problem, follow these steps:
    • Read through the problem at a moderate speed to get an overview of the problem.
    • Read through the problem again for the purpose of finding out exactly what the problem is asking for well enough to be able to state this in your own words.
    • If appropriate, draw one or more diagram(s) and include the given data.
    • Read each phase of the problem and write down (symbolically or otherwise) all information that is given.
    • If possible, estimate the magnitude of the answer you would expect.
    • Devise a tentative plan to solve the problem by using one or more of the following tactics:
      1. Try to form relationships among all facts given. (Write an equation that includes what variable you're trying to solve for.)
      2. Try to think of every formula or definition that might be relevant to the problem.
      3. Try working the problem backwards! Ask yourself "What do I need to know in order to get the answer?"
      4. Try relating the problem to a similar example from your textbook or notes.
      5. Try solving a simpler case of the problem using extremely large or small numbers; then follow your example as if it is an example from the text.
      6. Try breaking the problem into simpler problems. Work part of the problem and see if it relates to the whole.
      7. Try guessing an answer and then try to check it to see if it's correct. The method you use to check your answer may suggest a possible plan. If you are making no progress, put the problem aside and return to it later.
    • Once you have a plan, carry it out. If it doesn't work, try another plan.
    • Check your solution. Check to see if the answer is in the proper form. Insert your answer back into the problem. Make sure your answer is "reasonable"; compare it with your estimate.

    During the problem solving process, it is often helpful to say out loud all of the things you are thinking. This verbalization process can really help lead you to a solution. Don't be embarrassed about talking to yourself ... many good engineers do!

    After you have worked a problem, analyze it. This can help sharpen your understanding of the problem as well as aid you when working future problems.
      • Focus on the processes used (not the answer) and ask yourself these questions:
        1. What concept, formulas, and rules did I apply?
        2. What methods did I use and why those methods?
        3. How did I begin?
        4. How does the solution compare with worked examples from the textbook or my notes?
        5. Can I do this problem another way?
        6. Can I simplify what I did?
      • Explain each step using your own words. Write these explanations on your paper.
    Tests and examinations have different purposes than do homework assignments. Homework is often used to demonstrate to you how to apply theory and also for you to hone your problem-solving skills; tests are used to demonstrate whether or not you really understand the material. If you have followed a study approach as suggested above, your preparation for exams should not be overly difficult. Consider these procedures:
    • Quickly review your notes to determine what topics/problems have been emphasized.
    • Look over your notes and text. Make a concept list in which you list major concepts and formulas which will be covered.
    • Review and rework homework problems, noting the procedures applied.
    • Note similarities and differences among problems. Do this for problems within the same chapter and for problems in different chapters.
    • Locate additional problems and use them to take a practice test. Test yourself under conditions that are as realistic as possible (e.g., no notes, time restriction, random sequence of problems, etc.). Also try to predict test questions, make up your own problems and practice working them.
    Analyzing returned tests can aid your studying for future tests. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Did most of the test come from the lecture, textbook or homework?
    • How were the problems different from those in my notes, text and homework?
    • Where was my greatest source of error (careless errors, lack of time, lack of understanding material, uncertainty of which method to choose, lack of prerequisite information, text anxiety, etc.)? If you can't identify exactly what errors you're making, request some time with the instructor to go over the test.
    • How can I change my studying habits to adjust for the errors I am making?

How should I Manage my Time?

Time management is important for all college students, but even more so for engineering students, who often carry a course load considerably heavier than other students. Here are some helpful ways to manage your time, as suggested by practicing engineers who have successfully gone through the curriculum.


The first thing to determine is whether or not there are enough hours in the week to do everything you need to do. Here's a table that might help you estimate your time commitment:

How much are you committed every week?
Hours per Week
+ How much sleep do you need? =
+ Be sure to set aside enough time for recreation - TV, friends and family, sports, etc. (at least 10 hrs) =
+ How much time do you spend commuting to campus and to a job? =
+ How many hours are you employed? =
+ Be sure to count time to eat =
+ Be sure to count time to do your laundry, errands, etc. =
+ How active are you in extracurricular activities? =
+ Don't forget the hours you spend in Class and Laboratory =
+ Hours required for Study (should be at least three times the hours on the previous line, don't cheat! ) =
Total Time Allocated =

Remember that the Total Number of Hours per Week = 168

Do you have a surplus of time or are you overcommitted?


Let's presume the table above shows that you are not overcommitted. Next you need to allocate your time so you don't become overcommitted. You need to make a schedule. There are many schedule forms available in the bookstore for just this purpose. There's also one in the Student Handbook given out at your Student Orientation Services (SOS) day.

A schedule can work like a charm in cutting down on tensions, worries, and daydreams. Far from making a "robot" of you, a time schedule frees you from making top-level decisions constantly, thus allowing you to make the best use of your time.

  • Many effective schedulers habitually plan their day at a regular time - five to ten minutes in the morning or before going to bed the night before.
  • Allow larger blocks of time for learning new material, grasping concepts, drafting a theme, etc. Divide these large blocks of time into definite sub-periods the length of your concentration span (20 minutes? 30 ? 10?)
  • As you begin work on each sub-period, jot down the time you expect to be through; when you finish, reward yourself with a brief break, move around, grab a bite to eat...whatever feels good.
  • Use short periods of time (15 to 30 minutes) to review. It is especially wise to spend a few minutes reviewing immediately BEFORE a class involving a discussion or recitation. Immediately AFTER a lecture class, spend a few minutes reviewing your notes.
  • Schedule harder study tasks when you are most alert and can concentrate best. Study the hardest courses first, then go to the courses you enjoy more.
  • Do some studying daily - DON'T let your assignments pile up!
  • Plan to really learn the first time; the rest of your study time should be spent reviewing through recitation, discussion, making up and answering possible test questions, etc.
  • Don't try to allocate ALL your time...know what needs to be done and how long it will take you. It's how you use your time that counts.
  • Don't forget FUN! Be sure to allow some time for recreation .