Cal Poly Humboldt
Cal Poly Humboldt is the third and newest of the California State Polytechnic Universities, and the northernmost university in the California State University system. The university is also one of the smallest CSU campuses, dating back to 1913, when it first served as a teacher’s college before becoming Humboldt State University. In the early 2020s, the CSU identified the need for a third polytechnic campus, along with San Luis Obispo and Pomona, making Humboldt its newest addition in 2022.
Humboldt has a long tradition of serving and preserving the environment, through research, education and campus policies. Located at the edge of California’s magnificent coastal redwood rainforest on the shores of the Pacific, this campus offers a wide variety of programs in wildlife care, ecology, marine biology and other environmental subjects. In addition, Humboldt is known for its service-learning programs that provide academic instruction through a community-service framework, giving students a grounded education that connects directly to classroom theory.
Cal Poly Humboldt has made the news recently for decisions targeting students who live in cars, vans and RVs who have until now been safely parking in campus lots overnight. New restrictions are forcing these students off-campus and have led to a backlash from student groups and faculty [LA Times: Nov 26 article; Dec 1 editorial].
- Students who thrive
- Students who may have challenges
- Successful applicants
- How the application process handles majors
- Academic support
- Support for disabilities & learning differences
- Housing & transportation
- Social life, recreation & campus spirit
- Graduation requirements
Students who thrive
The first factor that interested students should consider when thinking about Cal Poly Humboldt is its rural, coastal location. The cities of Arcata and Eureka are small: combined their population is under 50,000, and the entire county of Humboldt itself has only 136,000 residents. Much of the landscape around the campus is a dense, foggy redwood forest, with the cold northern California coast bounding the land to the west. Students who feel comfortable in a small community, on a boat, or in the woodland backcountry, are likely to feel at home here.
The campus itself is also quite small at only around 5,200 undergraduates, putting it at the lower end of the range both for CSU campuses and for public schools generally. Most other colleges around this size are private liberal arts colleges with higher average costs. As a result, students who want or need a small university environment and the affordability of a public school are well-suited to Humboldt.
Humboldt’s strong emphasis on environmental consciousness, outdoor education, and hands-on learning make the campus an excellent choice for students who thrive in these learning environments. Students here have the opportunity to take courses in oceanography, with boating field trips out onto the Pacific; scientific diving, including course time spent underwater in diving gear; and wildlife care, among a great many other environmental subjects. In addition to its strength in the environmental disciplines, students interested in a wide range of subjects can find their home here. Students can major in any of the traditional humanities and social sciences disciplines, including history, sociology, English, philosophy, visual and performing arts, and many others, as well as the natural sciences and business administration.
Beyond academics, students here have access to some of the most beautiful and pristine natural environments in the world, along with available rental gear from the university to make the most of their opportunities to explore the outdoors.
Cal Poly Humboldt also provides special admissions and retention consideration for unique and often underserved groups of students, including veterans and other mature students, foster youth, and Indigenous Americans, in particular those from the several tribes of California’s northern coast. Humboldt is also a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), providing extra resources for students from Latinx/Chincanx backgrounds, including undocumented students.
Students who may have challenges
Although Cal Poly Humboldt has excellent academic programs, especially in environmental fields, very high achieving students may feel under-challenged here. Humboldt’s focus is access, not selectivity, and the university generally admits students that they believe will be successful, as long as they meet the minimum Cal State admissions requirements. Therefore, higher-performing students seeking a more competitive academic environment may have a more compelling academic experience elsewhere.
Students who are looking for opportunities to explore cities or other urban spaces while in college also may not thrive at Humboldt, given its enormous distance from the nearest major cities. Students who have never lived in a rural environment should think hard about what they want and need from their time in college before committing to such a remote campus.
Additionally, the climate is very cool and wet, which will suit some students more than others. Students who would otherwise be a great fit for the campus, but prefer warmer temperatures, should consider visiting Humboldt during the winter or early spring to get a sense of the average climate.
Like many other public universities in California, Cal Poly Humboldt has struggled to provide enough affordable housing for its students. The campus does not guarantee four years of on-campus housing to its students, and the housing market in the city of Arcata is very tight, so it can be challenging for students to find a place to live. The LA Times has also recently highlighted the enormous challenges facing Humboldt students who live out of cars and RVs or who are unhoused [Nov 26 article; Dec 1 editorial]. The campus has taken a punitive and exclusionary approach to this group of students, which has led to protests from faculty and students.
Finally, although representation of Indigenous, and to a lesser extent Latinx/Chicanx, students at Humboldt is very strong, Black and some Asian communities are underrepresented, which may not be ideal for some students of color. If this is a concern to you, but you otherwise feel that Humboldt would be a good fit, Capstone recommends visiting campus in the middle of a semester to get a sense of the student body and what it feels like to be there. (Visiting campuses you’re interested in is a great idea anyways! Check out this Capstone blog article for more information on why campus visits are so important.)
Cal Poly Humboldt’s freshman admissions process seeks to admit all qualified students, with over 90% of applicants admitted. Currently (2022), none of the academic programs at Humboldt are impacted, meaning that all qualified freshman applicants may be admitted.
To determine qualification, applications are evaluated for academic weighted GPA (wGPA), which is based on grades earned in required “a-g” courses and can include extra grade points for up to 8 semesters of honors, AP, or community coursework. Eligible California residents must have an academic wGPA of 2.5 or higher, but California applicants with a wGPA between 2.00 and 2.49 may also be considered under certain circumstances. Students from counties local to Cal Poly Humboldt are given additional consideration, as are non-residents of WUE member states. Eligible non-residents must have a wGPA of 3.0 or higher.
Cal Poly Humboldt reviews applicants for progress toward graduation as well as completion of required core “a-g” coursework, including a minimum of 4 years of English, 3 years of math (4 recommended), 2 years of US history and government, 1 year of physical lab science, 1 year of biological lab science, 2 years of the same foreign language, 1 year of the same visual and performing arts, and 1 additional year of coursework in any of the previous categories. Interested applicants should verify their eligibility for admission.
The California State University system eliminated the use of SAT or ACT scores as part of the application process, although certain scores can allow matriculating students to waive out of required coursework.
Humboldt will admit lower-division transfer students (students who will not have achieved junior standing before transfer) and upper-division transfer students (students who will enter with junior standing). To gain admission as a lower-division transfer student, the applicant must meet all the freshman eligibility requirements, complete specific college coursework (a college English and a college math course with C- or better), have earned a college GPA of 2.0 or better, and be in good standing at their current college. To transfer as an upper-division transfer student, the applicant must be on track to achieve the following before matriculation to Humboldt: junior standing (60 semester units), specific required coursework (written and oral communication, critical thinking and math), at least 30 units of general education coursework, and a 2.0 or higher college GPA.
Humboldt students do a lot of outdoor learning.
All images from Cal Poly Humboldt on Flickr.
Left to right, from the top:
Klamath Basin Field Course on the Trinity River with the Yurok Tribe Fisheries Program, 2022;
Intertidal Survey Lab on Old Home Beach in Trinidad;
Geology 109 field trip to Trinidad Beach, 2013;
Oceanography 109 on Cal Poly Humboldt's research vessel Coral Sea, 2019;
Hydrology & Watershed Management lab take measurements during Wednesday Forest Labs, 2015;
Forestry 250 survey lab in Arcata Community Forest;
How the application process handles majors
In general, major is not considered in the freshman admission process because no majors are currently impacted. All students who are on track to graduate from high school, have completed all required coursework (see Successful Applicants, above, for more information), and meet the wGPA requirements will be successful in the admissions process.
With regard to transfer admissions, Humboldt considers major for upper-division transfer students, but currently the only impacted majors are nursing (RN to BSN) and wildlife, for which additional requirements must be met. Therefore, in most cases, applicants who meet all transfer requirements are likely to gain admission.
Cal Poly Humboldt is a public research university that offers a small-college learning environment. The average class size at Humboldt is only 25 students, which means that students have a more personalized learning experience than typically found at a California public university. Humboldt provides explicit learning outcomes for each of its bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, demonstrating that student learning is prioritized and standardized. A review of these learning outcomes reveals an emphasis on active student engagement in the learning process, practical application of learning, and learning across disciplines, providing coordination and connection throughout the learning process.
Cal Poly Humboldt offers more than 50 majors in a broad range of areas, nine Certificates of Study, more than 75 minors, 13 master’s degree programs, and education credentialing programs in educational leadership and elementary, secondary and special education.
For students interested in careers related to the environment or resource management, it would be hard to find a university with a broader range of offerings. Students can major in Applied Fire Science & Management, Energy Systems Engineering, Environmental Resources Engineering, Environmental Science & Management, Environmental Studies, Fisheries Biology, Forestry, Geology, Geospatial Science & Technology, Marine Biology, Oceanography, Rangeland Resource Science, Wildlife, and Zoology. Students in other majors have the option of choosing among 20 environment-related minors and five Certificates of Study. A great advantage of studying these fields at Humboldt is the proximity to the outdoor “classrooms” (forest, ocean, rangeland, etc.) immediately off campus. Strength in environmental studies is closely linked to strength in the natural sciences, including biology, chemistry and physics, which are foundation courses for environmental and resource science majors.
In addition to being a powerhouse of environmental study, Humboldt also has strength in many other disciplines, including child development, education, social work, and psychology.
Humboldt offers a unique 4-year combined BA and teacher credential for undergrads call the Liberal Studies in Elementary Education. Future teachers can complete all of their training and credentialing at Humboldt during undergrad, and the campus offers several credential programs and multiple Master's of Education degrees for aspiring teachers who have already completed undergrad. Psychology and social work majors can continue on into related master’s degree programs while at Humboldt.
Cal Poly Humboldt offers its students a variety of support services through the on-campus Learning Center. Humboldt students can receive help with executive functioning skills by working with peer coaches in the Academic Peer Coaching program or with professional coaches. Students who are struggling academically can seek tutoring in the Math, Science, and Engineering Tutoring Labs or receive help with writing in The Writing Studio. Humboldt also provides course-specific peer tutors.
Humboldt also offers Supplemental Instruction for some of the more rigorous courses taught at the university. Students who may need more support in these courses can register for an additional 1-unit Supplemental Instruction course, in which they will receive additional instruction and learn success strategies from students who previously took the course. Student instructors are carefully selected and trained. This highly supportive program increases student learning and reduces the risk of having to repeat courses or change majors due to academic challenges.
Support for disabilities & learning differences
The Student Disability Resource Center works with students to provide support services, “reasonable” accommodations, and auxiliary aids. The student is responsible for seeking services, and must provide documentation that verifies the disability to gain services. Working with the disability resource center professionals, students may receive reasonable modifications or accommodations, including accessible classroom furniture, alternate media (e.g., electronic texts, large print, text-to-speech technology), interpreting and captioning services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, academic advising and planning services, exam accommodations (e.g., extended time, quiet exam room, reader/scribe), note-taking services, priority registration or assistance with registration, and on-campus transportation. The center includes a limited staff of five as well as two American Sign Language interpreters.
Students who have challenges with executive functioning may have difficulty accessing and retaining disability services at Humboldt. Students with disabilities or learning differences may want to consider other schools unless they are very confident that they will be able to practice effective self-advocacy, manage their condition independently, and receive adequate and appropriate health care if needed while at Humboldt.
If you have any questions about how to evaluate schools for disability and learning difference support, or want help building a college list and navigating college admissions with these needs in mind, please reach out to Capstone for a free consultation. Carolyn Weirick and our other expert counselors are ready to answer all of your questions and help you find a path to a fulfilling college experience.
As a CSU campus, Cal Poly Humboldt is one of the most affordable college options in the country, both for California residents and for many non-residents, too. The campus gives students and their families several options for housing and meal plans so that the greatest number of admitted students can find a balance that fits within their budgets. For example, at the low end for $5,000 per year, students can choose to live in a triple room in a dorm without a meal plan, or at the high end, in a single room with a full meal plan for up to $20,000 per yea,r with many room, dorm, and meal plan options and combinations available. Regardless of the options chosen, however, the cost per year for both California residents and non-residents is low and competitive compared to other colleges of a similar size and quality.
In a given year, around 80% of Humboldt students receive some form of financial assistance. The campus’s Humboldt Scholarships offer $500 to $4,000 per year for academic excellence in general or in a specific program, such as nursing or mathematics. Humboldt First Scholarships are offered to students who graduate from high schools in California’s north coastal region—Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties—and includes a bookstore allowance. Select Division II athletes receive grants-in-aid each year. Overall, the financial aid office determines that a large majority of Humboldt students are eligible for some combination of federal, state, and institutional grants, scholarships, loans, and work study.
Housing & transportation
Currently, less than 20% of Humboldt students live on campus because there is not enough campus housing to accommodate all students. Many upper-division students prefer to live off-campus anyway, but it is important to be aware that there is a housing crunch in the Arcata area, which impacts the ability of students to secure affordable off-campus housing. The housing issues may get worse before they get better because, as the newest Cal Poly, Humboldt is expected to grow substantially over the next few years, and new housing construction is unlikely to be able to keep up with the growth.
In fact, as the LA Times has recently reported, the housing situation has already reached a crisis point for many students [Nov 26 article; Dec 1 editorial]. Students living out of cars, vans and RVs in campus parking lots have recently been ordered off campus by school authorities. With few safe off-campus alternatives to turn to, affected students have protested the restrictions alongside student groups and faculty. Plans to expand on-campus housing will not be realized for a couple more years, and when completed, the new dorms will be too expensive for many low-income students to afford.
Humboldt highly encourages freshmen to live on campus as a way to become better integrated into the campus community. Freshmen and some upperclassmen are housed in traditional dorms with single, double and triple rooms, a required meal plan, and communal bathrooms. After their freshman year, students also have the option of living in suite-style housing with six to 11 other students, with each suite having a common living room, kitchen and bathrooms. Meal plans are required. Humboldt also has campus apartments that house two to four students each, with optional meal plans because students can choose to cook for themselves. Some of the apartments are quite new and include a small grocery store to purchase food and other essentials.
With regard to transportation, most students get around Humboldt and Arcata by bike, skateboard or scooter. Students can also use the local public transit system for free with their student ID cards. Students who fly to Arcata can take the Humboldt County Airport Shuttle to and from the airport. Students may wish to bring a car to campus if they plan to take longer day or weekend trips out of the immediate Arcata-Eureka area.
Despite being a small campus, Humboldt offers a broad range of activities for its students. There are over 85 student clubs, four Greek houses for interested students, a campus theatre, extensive outdoor adventuring opportunities. The local Arcata community is a fairly quintessential college town, with many locally-owned shops, coffee houses, boutiques, bookstores, and grocery stores.
Lonely Planet and National Geographic have ranked the Humboldt region as one of the top places to visit in the US for outdoor adventuring, which Humboldt students can take full advantage of while here. The Center Activities Office rents out adventure gear to students, including kayaks, sleeping bags, surfboards, and more, and offers lessons to students who want to try something new. Humboldt students regularly go mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, camping, and surfing—all within minutes of campus.
Although Humboldt offers many on-campus activities to keep students busy, the natural world surrounding campus is the campus’s greatest strength and offering. The campus is dotted with stands of redwood trees, and Redwood Park and the Arcata Community Forest flank the east side of the campus, providing miles of trails and wilderness for students to explore. The campus is only 1.5 miles from Arcata Bay, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, and less than 6 miles from Humboldt Beach.
Cal Poly Humboldt is an NCAA Division II school in several sports:
Women’s Basketball, Cross Country, Rowing/Crew, Softball, Soccer, Volleyball, and Track & Field
Men’s Basketball, Cross Country, Soccer, and Track & Field
Many of Humboldt’s athletic fields, pavilions, and gymnasiums have been constructed or refurbished within the last 10 to 15 years, providing Humboldt students with excellent competition and recreation facilities.
The campus offers several competitive club sports and recreational intramurals for interested students. For unstructured physical activity, Humboldt’s Athletics & Campus Recreation Department provides a state-of-the-art gym with a 46-foot climbing wall, weight training facilities, aquatics center, all-weather track, and more. Additionally, all campus sporting events are free for students to attend with their student IDs.
Students can access Cal Poly Humboldt’s medical and counseling services by making appointments or walking into the clinic, and through telehealth or in-person appointments. The Student Health Center is generally open during regular business hours, but students can access a medical provider (including mental health) after hours using on-demand telehealth services. There are also two hospitals within the general vicinity of Humboldt for more urgent or emergent conditions.
Humboldt’s Student Health and Wellbeing Services include the Student Health Center Pharmacy and a relatively large staff of physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and medical assistants. In addition, the counseling team includes a psychiatrist, dedicated psychotherapists and outreach coordinators, and trainees doing their counseling and psychological services practicums.
Humboldt County is a medically-underserved area, meaning that there are limited primary care providers and medical and mental health specialists. The university recommends that students and their families research health care options in the area to ensure that required services are available and accessible before choosing Humboldt. Students with chronic or complex health conditions may want to identify a local doctor or team of doctors to provide and coordinate services.
Students can also work with (or become) Peer Health Educators (PHEs), which are paid staff positions in the Student Health Center. PHEs provide education about sexual health, nutrition, drugs and alcohol, body image and wellness practices. They also host workshops and other health and wellness events. For students who are interested in attending medical school, becoming a PHE can be an effective way to complete many hours of patient-interacting experiences, which are necessary to become a competitive medical school applicant.
In order to graduate, all Humboldt students must complete a minimum of 120 semester units, including 30 completed in Humboldt courses (for transfers). Students must earn a major and overall GPA of at least 2.0. All students must also complete all requirements for their major, and they must complete 48 units of General Education & All-University Requirements (GEAR).
The GEAR program includes 14 lower-division general education requirements, 3 upper-division general education requirements, and 5 all-university requirements, including the Diversity & Common Ground (DCG) curriculum. Any given course may satisfy two separate requirements, such as for both the major and GE or for DCG and GE, but not for two GE requirements.
GEAR covers a broad range of subjects, from communication and writing to math, sciences, humanities and self-development. Students graduating from Humboldt leave with a strong liberal arts education, as well as the unique skills and experience acquired in major courses and the campus’s hands-on learning programs, that will help them successfully continue into a professional career or graduate school.
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Motto: Discere Faciendo
(Learn by Doing)
Mascot: Lucky Logger
NCAA Division II CCAA
Public polytechnic university
520 master's students
314 faculty members
18:1 student to faculty ratio
25 students average class size
144 acre main campus
Two 15-week terms per year, plus summer sessions
Temperate, rainy climate with cool winters, and mild, foggy summers
High school GPA
Does not evaluate
Letters of recommendation
Talent or ability
Character or personal qualities
Race or ethnicity
First-Year & Transfer Application Deadline
November 30, 2023
Fall 2024 Admission priority deadline
January 31, 2024
Fall 2024 Admission final deadline
Submit October 1, 2023 to January 31, 2024
July 14, 2023
Fall 2023 admission application deadline for most transfer students
August 31, 2023
Submit August 1 to August 31
Regular Decision Only
$26,000 / year
California resident total cost
$35,000-$40,000 / year
Non-resident total cost
Member of Western Undergraduate Exchange
California registration fees
$7,900 / year
Base registration plus $396 / unit
Housing & Meal Plan
$13,000 / year
Transportation & Misc.
$3,400 / year
Health Services Fee
Included in registration fees
Percent of financial need met (average)
$1,450 / year
Amount of merit aid awarded to students without financial need (average)
Percent of undergraduates without financial need receiving merit aid
Notable Majors & Programs
Native American Studies
Liberal Studies Elementary Education
Multicultural Queer Studies
Redwood Forest Ecology
Fire Science Program
International English Language Institute
College of eLearning & Extended Ed (CEEE)
Equity & Inclusion
- Transfer programming: Yes
- Transfer housing guaranteed: No
- Separate transfer housing provided: No
- Transfer admission rate: 80%
- Accepts lower-division & upper-division transfers
- Transfer in Spring or Fall
- Campus & housing tours for transfers
- 15% of undergraduates are transfers
- Hispanic-serving institution (HSI)
- Dreamer Student Resources
- Free immigration legal services
- Supportive housing options
- Diverse student body
- Indigenous students well-represented
- Programs, centers, organizations for Indigenous, Latinx, ADPI, Black students
- Black, Asian students underrepresented
Other Inclusion & Equity
- Admissions consideration, services & financial aid for foster youth
- Childcare services for student families with sliding fee scale based on income
- Inclusive veteran housing
- Veteran Enrollment & Transition Services
95% of students graduate with practical career experience through serivce-learning projects, field research, study aborad programs, or other hands-on learning experiences.