San Diego State University (SDSU)
San Diego State University (SDSU) is a public research university in the California State University system. The campus is known for its high levels of school spirit, strong athletic programs, and socially active student body. It is one of the best value colleges in the country: students here enjoy a four-year, big-university experience for the low cost of CSU enrollment and a quick, easy application. Forbes has ranked it highly among best value colleges. SDSU is a primary educator for the San Diego workforce, with over 60% of graduates remaining in San Diego to live and work.
The campus is located in a suburban community about 40minutes from San Diego’s Gaslamp District by trolley or 15 minutes by car. Students here enjoy excellent weather, great food in both the dining halls and off-campus, and a long list of recreational and competitive athletic programs to join in beautiful new facilities. Several of the dorms are brand-new or have been recently renovated, and offer amenities like quiet central quad spaces, pools, barbecues, and courts for basketball and volleyball. Several academic buildings are new, renovated, or modernized as well, reflecting the university’s commitment to investing in the quality of its facilities.
SDSU’s academic catalogue includes a range of courses, majors, and concentrations across a range of traditional liberal arts subjects as well as business, hospitality and management, and more. Students can enroll in an International Security & Conflict Resolution Major, which may be hard to find at other colleges. SDSU is strong in psychology, geography, geological sciences and public health as well.
SDSU supports the indigenous Kumeyaay Tribes of San Diego County through liaisons, outreach and collaboration efforts, community service work, and several unique academic programs.
- 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
Because of its size and the diversity of its student community, students with many different backgrounds and personalities can find their place at SDSU. As a large university, however, students most likely to thrive are those who are looking for a big-university experience with a strong athletic culture and a lot of options for recreational sports and activity. SDSU is an NCAA Division I school with nearly 20 varsity sports, including football, professional new athletic facilities for those teams, and a campus culture of celebrating school spirit and student-athletes. The school offers a large variety of opportunities for students to stay physically active at its rec centers, including the Mission Bay Aquatic Center operated jointly with UCSD (see Athletics for more information), and the beach is only 12 miles away, a quick trip by car, but more than an hour by public transit. The excellent, mild, Mediterranean weather in San Diego is also conducive to physical activity year round and will be attractive to anyone who likes sunny weather.
The campus is particularly accessible to extroverts and socially independent students, who are ready and capable to forge their own way in making friends and finding social outlets outside of class. While the campus has traditionally had a party culture, students who are looking for a less active experience can find it here because of the diversity of students. The campus may also be a good fit for students who are okay with the idea of taking longer than four years to complete their degrees, because SDSU’s majors are all impacted and it may be difficult to enroll in all of the major and General Education classes required to graduate on time. At the same time, however, SDSU offers a higher level of support services and accommodations for students with learning differences or disabilities than many comparable universities, though it should be noted that an application is required to access many disability-related services.
SDSU is an excellent option for students who are interested in a career in Hospitality & Tourism Management; the campus offers several concentrations to students, focusing on everything from hotel and restaurant management to tribal gaming operations and recreation administration. The campus also offers strong programs in Geography, Geosciences, and Business. For more information, see Academics below.
SDSU is recognized as a highly diverse university, enrolling a large number of students from marginalized communities. The campus employs a full-time Tribal Liaison to coordinate with the Kumeyaay Tribes of San Diego County, and is engaged in several ongoing efforts to collaborate on community support projects with the tribes and to meet inclusion goals for indigenous students. The university is also a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), offering increased support and resources for Latino/a students, and offers services and programs for undocumented students of any ethnic or racial background.
Students who may have challenges
All of SDSU’s majors are impacted, which makes it more difficult for students both to gain admission to the majors they want and to enroll in the classes they need each semester. The four-year graduation rate at SDSU is only 55%—though this number is lowered in part by the fact that around 25% of students commute to campus and generally take longer to graduate than full-time residential students. As a result, students who are committed to graduating within four years may need to work hard to plan a class schedule that can meet this goal.
SDSU is also known as a party school, which may not appeal to some students, but the campus is large and diverse enough for any student to find a social environment they feel comfortable in. However, the high degree of school spirit, sports-oriented atmosphere, and party-centric social life will be a visible presence throughout a student’s time here.
Students who are looking for a quiet or rural community may not enjoy SDSU’s suburban/urban location. Although you can reach downtown San Diego by the Trolley light rail system, the trip takes more than 30 minutes, which requires some planning and reserved time. However, it will be possible to commute to internships during the academic year Students who want or require a small, supportive campus are also likely to have challenges here, due the fact that this large, public campus cannot provide the resources necessary to guide every student through their academic program each step of the way.
SDSU has been in the news in recent months for its poor handling of an alleged sexual assault, committed by a group of star football players against a high school student in the local community. The administration's handling of the situation has not been forthcoming or straightforward, and has given the impression that the university prioritizes its athletes' career success and athletic reputation over the health and safety of other students or community members. Students or families who are concerned about these issues may want to consider colleges where the administration has a proven track record of putting health and safety first.
SDSU uses the Cal State application, which evaluates high school courses, course rigor, GPA, and a few additional factors, depending on campus, as well as residency for purposes of admitting with priority from the local admission area. Successful in-state applicants will have completed the California A-G coursework requirements with at least a C- or better, equivalent to a 2.5 GPA; non-residents must meet a minimum 3.0 GPA, under most circumstances. The average GPA for students admitted to SDSU is much higher than the minimum, at 3.9 (weighted). Students who are interested in completing an Honors Application for admission to the Weber Honors College (see Academics below for more information) must apply with a 3.7 GPA or above.
Students must also demonstrate progress towards their intended major, by taking high school courses relevant to it and demonstrating proficiency in them. The CSU application also asks for information about extracurricular involvement, though SDSU does not give extracurriculars as high a priority as grades and rigor. Special consideration is given to students who have overcome life challenges, taken college prep courses at their high school or community college, or who attend a high school within the SDSU local admission area. These last few considerations are common to many colleges and are taken within the broader context of the applicant’s many accomplishments and academic strengths.
For a list of the evaluation factors that SDSU considers or does not consider, see the sidebar at right (on desktop) or Quick Info section at the top of the page (on mobile).
SDSU imposes a fairly broad and rigorous set of requirements to transfer. Transfer students must have completed 60 or more semester units (90 or more quarter units); ACE, CLEP, and DSST credits are accepted. Transfer students must also have completed 30 units of general education, all major prep courses listed in the catalogue for the intended major, and meet and maintain the GPA requirement for the intended major. Finally, transfer students must complete the “Golden Four” requirements: a C- or better in a public speaking course, a first-year essay composition course, a persuasive writing course, and a college math course above the level of intermediate algebra.
Some majors have specific instructions. These include Dance; Music; Television, Film & New Media Production; Theatre Arts Performance; Nursing; and International Business.
How the application process handles majors
Every applicant to SDSU must identify an intended major during the application process, and newly admitted students are admitted directly into their approved major. Every major at SDSU is impacted, however, so not every student will be admitted into their first-choice major. Students have the opportunity to transfer into a new major once enrolled, but the process may be difficult, and will likely make it impossible for students to graduate within four years, due to the lack of availability of many classes each semester, especially for students not already admitted to the major.
Some majors have additional application requirements. Computer science and engineering majors give much higher preference to applicants with strong high school grades in math and science. Performance-based majors in dance, music, and theatre arts require students to pass an audition as part of the application process. Direct-entry nursing, a rare and popular program, has several additional requirements. Students must graduate from high school with a B or better in intermediate algebra, biology and chemistry, with labs. There is a strong preference for students with strong math and science grades, and students are required to graduate with a minimum 3.0 GPA in A-G coursework.
As a large public university, SDSU has large class sizes and a high student to faculty ratio of 25:1. Around 55% of undergraduate classes enroll under 30 students, while nearly 10% enroll over 100, making it very likely that most students will take several large classes during their time here. Class difficulty is about average, compared to other colleges around the country, while leaning towards the more rigorous end of the scale. There are options for both students who want more rigor, and also for students who need to take a slower pace, partly because of the long average time to degree.
One of SDSU’s more interesting academic offerings is its large Hospitality & Management program. The university offers several concentrations, including hotel or restaurant management, recreation administration, and tribal gaming operations. Students who are very interested in going into hospitality-related careers will find many opportunities to learn and specialize at SDSU.
The highest-enrollment division at SDSU is Business, enrolling 20% of all undergrads. Students have many business-related majors to choose from, including some unique programs. One in particular is the 4+1 program offering students a BA in International Business and an MS in Global Business Development.
The second-highest enrollment division is in the sciences, with 17% of undergrads. This division has many strong degree programs in geography and geological sciences, as well as a large number of biology concentrations. The university also has one of only three accredited schools of public health in California and a direct-entry nursing program (BSN), but not a medical school.
SDSU offers a wide range of courses and majors in many different academic fields, including all of the standard liberal arts subjects from math and the physical sciences to social sciences and humanities, and several rare or unique majors. See the sidebar on the right side of the page (on desktop) or Quick Info section at the top (on mobile) for a longer list of programs that SDSU offers and excels in.
SDSU touts itself as being #1 in California and #5 in the US for its study abroad programs, with over 650 on offer in over 50 countries. Students here can study anywhere in the world, through a number of different programs, including major-specific and research opportunities.
The Weber Honors College is home to SDSU’s interdisciplinary honors program, which offers students an Honors Minor in Interdisciplinary Studies. First year honors students, including those from the local admission area, live together in a Residential Learning Community (RLC) where they get to know each other well and are enrolled in the same introductory classes. Throughout their time at SDSU, honors students take small discussion seminars across an interdisciplinary curriculum. SDSU Merit Scholars are automatically admitted to the Weber Honors College; other eligible students may apply after matriculating.
Academic support is centralized through the Student Success Hub, where students can access the Student Success Handbook and find tutoring options for the courses they need help in. The university offers a Math & Stats Learning Center and a Writing Center to help students in those subject areas.
All first- and second-year students are assigned a Coordinated Care Advisor (CCA) who helps students plan academically and manage coursework. Third-years with a declared major and at least 60 semester units transition to working with an assigned major advisor in their department, who assists them through the remainder of their coursework.
Several of SDSU’s colleges have College Success Centers, which act as hubs for advising and other support specifically for students enrolled in those colleges’ programs.
- College of Arts & Letters
- College of Education
- College of Engineering
- College of Sciences
- Fowler College of Business
SDSU also offers specific support for its many student-athletes, including mentoring, learning support, tutoring, orientation, and academic resources.
Support for learning differences
SDSU offers a fairly broad range of support options for students with disabilities and learning differences through the Student Ability Success Center (SASC), but access to those services requires completing an application and documenting disability status before the start of term in a student’s first year on campus. The SASC staff is fairly large and covers a range of specialties.
Services and accommodations offered are fairly standard compared to other colleges, though the university places an extra emphasis on its support options for students with physical disabilities, including students who have low vision or are hard of hearing. Included among the academic support services are training opportunities for assistive technology, library and study room access, notetaker support, test accommodations, alternative media, academic advising, and more.
SDSU offers an intensive, individualized support services program called TRiO Student Support Services for students with disabilities. To participate, a student must be a US citizen with a documented disability, and demonstrate one of the following risk factors: low standardized test score for the verbal section; be at academic risk; not yet have met the SDSU writing requirements; have need for writing assistance; or need instruction with academic skills and strategies. The program requires an application, which is followed by an invitation to participate for selected students.
Students admitted to TRiO have access to academic advising, individualized writing and math assistance, peer mentoring and tutoring, workshops for writing and study skills, Writing Proficiency Assessment (WPA) preparation, graduate school advising, financial literacy advising, and guidance in completing FAFSA and seeking out scholarships.
SDSU also offers programs for mobility support and employment and internship assistance for students who are consumers of the California Department of Rehabilitation.
As a Cal State campus, SDSU is a relatively affordable option even before financial aid is considered, particularly for California residents or students commuting from within SDSU’s local admission area. Without financial aid, a Californian student living on campus can expect to pay under $130,000 for four years of education—though students may not be able to reliably graduate within four years because of the high demand for classes and impacted nature of all of the university’s majors. The cost is substantially reduced for commuting students; out of state students will pay more, but the cost is still about half as much as the full sticker price of a private college or university.
SDSU offers over 700 scholarship opportunities through its SDSU Aztec Scholarships program. A single portal and application are used to apply to all of these scholarships, making the process very easy for interested students. Once the Cal State application is submitted, SDSU will recommend scholarships from this pool to applicants based on eligibility assessed from data included in the application, though students are also free to search the portal themselves for scholarships to apply for. Once scholarship applications are submitted through the portal, a computer system filters eligible applications and forwards them to the scholarship committees for consideration. The portal is open from mid-April through early August, with a priority deadline in mid-May (dates vary year to year).
SDSU also offers a high-prestige scholarship program for its most high-performing applicants, known as the Merit Scholarships. Applications for these scholarships are offered by invitation only, and only to students from the local admission area. Eligible students must have a minimum 4.0 high school weighted GPA, and if selected may receive between $7,500 and $10,000 per year. Selected students are also automatically admitted into the Weber Honors College (see Academics for more information).
The Weber Honors College Scholarship is a separate scholarship program that offers $1,000 to $7,500 per year to a limited number of students who (1) apply by the priority consideration deadline and (2) and are accepted into the Fall cohort of the Weber Honors College. Only admitted honors students are allowed to apply for this scholarship. The Weber Honors College offers additional honors scholarships as well.
Another merit program is the SDSU Advantage Scholarship Program for a limited number of high-performing out-of-state applicants, requiring strong engagement in extracurricular activities. Lastly, the Presidential Scholars Program is an invitation-only program offering $40,000 over four years (or about $10,000 / year, depending on time to graduate).
Clockwise from top left:
Huāxyacac residence hall; Huāxyacac courtyard; Student store at Huāxyacac; Double room in Huāxyacac.
All images by Tom Bonner
Housing & transportation
SDSU requires all first and second years from outside the local admission area to live on campus in dorms. Honors students from the local admission area are also required to live on campus for their first year. Any student from the local admission area who wants to live on campus may also take advantage of an on-campus housing guarantee, if they so choose.
First year students live in 7 residences. SDSU has been engaged in a dorm modernization effort. Huāxyacac, for example, is a mid-rise dorm with a large grassy courtyard enclosed at its center, full of lounge chairs for students to read or relax in. It offers a beautiful new dining hall with excellent food. Other dorms have been similarly upgraded, though it appears that residence hall modernization is ongoing. Several of the dorms have access to a shared pool, barbecues, and court facilities for basketball and volleyball.
Sophomores participate in a randomized housing lottery, and may be placed in one of 12 residences dedicated to continuing students. Second-year students in campus dorms can participate in the Sophomore QUEST program for educational enrichment. The campus recommends that upper division students choose to apply for on-campus housing as well, but does not offer enough spaces for every student to live on campus.
The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Housing initiative offers Residential Learning Communities (RLC), Thematic Living Communities (TLC), and Affinity Groups. RLCs are a large group of residential communities inside the dorms where students live with others who share their extracurricular and academic interests or identity traits, such as ethnicity or race. RLC students take classes together with other students in their RLC, which helps build intentional, close-knit student communities. They range from communities for Black students (Black Excellence), queer and trans students (Pride House), and Latinx students (Nuestra Casa), to communities for students interested in surfing, entrepreneurship, or health professions, and others. TLCs are similar to RLCs, in that they bring together students with shared interests, but they do not enroll their residents in the same courses. These include Aztec Engineering, Extended Quiet Study, ROTC, and Substance Free.
Affinity Groups are dedicated spaces within residential communities that bring together students with common identities or experiences for the purposes of building community. These groups are for students who live outside the dedicated learning communities. They include the Black, Latinx, Pride, APIDA, and First-Gen Affinity Groups.
Most other undergraduates live off-campus in the local community in apartments or houses with friends, in Greek houses, or, in the case of commuting students, at home with family.
SDSU is served by a station on the Green Line of San Diego’s MTS Trolley system, connecting it to downtown and the marina area via Mission Valley. A trip from campus to downtown takes about 40 minutes. The Green Line also extends east to El Cajon and some shopping areas. The 215 Bus provides an alternative route downtown via Balboa Park, home to the San Diego Zoo and several other attractions.
To travel outside of the suburban region where SDSU is located, in order to visit cities not served by the trolley system or into wilderness areas, students may want to have a car. Due to the high number of commuters, many SDSU students drive to and from campus. SDSU is situated just off of the I-8 freeway.
For transit around campus, SDSU offers the Red & Black Shuttle service.
SDSU is a university with strong campus spirit and lots of ways for students to show it. Many students attend sporting events, including the NCAA Division I football program’s games at the home Snapdragon Stadium in Mission Valley, three stops away from campus on the Green Line Trolley. Snapdragon Stadium is also a popular venue for concerts and professional sporting events unaffiliated with the university.
The university has a reputation as a party school, but students who want a quieter social life will be able to find connections here too. Greek life involves a relatively small proportion of the student body—around 11% of undergrads—but is active and forms a hub for party culture and weekend social life. There are 47 Greek chapters at SDSU.
SDSU offers over 300 student organizations to choose from, as well as performance opportunities through the Dance, Music, and Theatre Arts departments for students who are interested. They offer several performance opportunities for casual students as well as students majoring in those artistic fields.
The food at SDSU is known to be excellent, both in the dining halls and in the grocery stores and restaurants surrounding campus. Students also have access to El Cajon and Downtown San Diego via the Green Line Trolley and 215 bus that stop at campus for more options.
SDSU offers Army and Air Force ROTC on campus, and partners with the University of San Diego for Navy ROTC.
SDSU has a strong athletic program, both for varsity student-athletes and for the broader student body. The university is an NCAA Division I (FBS) school for 17 teams (6 men’s, 11 women’s); the football team competes in the Mountain West Conference. The campus has recently completed a brand-new stadium, Snapdragon Stadium, sponsored by Qualcomm to house varsity football and women’s soccer, as well as the San Diego Legion of Major League Rugby. The stadium also hosts world-class professional athletic events, such as the World Lacrosse Championship. Snapdragon Stadium is located in Mission Valley, just three stops from SDSU’s main campus along the Green Line of the San Diego Trolley.
SDSU offers dozens of intramural sports, rotating each season, for undergrads. Intramurals are very popular at SDSU, and spots on teams fill up fast. The program is relatively competitive compared to other universities, where intramurals may have a more recreational and casual feel. The university also offers 22 competitive club sports for students who want a more rigorous competition environment without joining a varsity team.
Students can exercise recreationally at one of the many facilities available at the Aztec Recreation Center (ARC). ARC offers climbing walls, weight training, courts for basketball, squash, and other sports, a large track, a quiet lounge, and fitness classes. Additional facilities are available to students for recreational and athletic swimming, tennis, and more. Membership is included with SDSU enrollment.
The Mission Bay Aquatic Center is a facility in Mission Bay in Downtown San Diego, where students and community members can participate in water sports, take classes, and participate in or sign up to lead youth programs. Members can surf, boat, and do other activities in Mission Bay and on the Pacific. The facility is jointly operated by SDSU and UCSD.
SDSU does not require domestic students to carry health insurance, though it is recommended, and SDSU offers assistance in obtaining health insurance or Medi-Cal coverage. International students and American Language Institute students are required to carry health insurance.
Student Health Services provides basic healthcare to students, and is funded by a mandatory health fee. Some specialty care services, in particular osteopathy and orthopedics, require additional specialty fees. Services include primary care, sexual and reproductive health, lab testing, a pharmacy, physical exams, radiology, and injections and immunizations.
Counseling & Psychological Services provides mental health care to students. Students can receive a wide range of services, from individual and group therapy, to workshops, biofeedback, and appointments with a staff therapy dog. There are resources here for undocumented students, and a Bounce Back Retention Program for 1 academic unit offered to students on academic probation. The Center for Well-Being provides a quiet space for students to relax and process using a variety of tools and techniques, including a chalkboard wall, journaling supplies, massage chair, board games, and an “alpha chair” designed to provide stimulation to increase the brain’s alpha waves.
Students at SDSU must complete ten graduation requirements to earn a bachelor’s degree:
- Freshman competency, a writing and quantitative reasoning requirement based on coursework or standardized testing;
- Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement (GWAR);
- Major & minor requirements;
- American Institutions requirement, including US History, US Constitution, and California government;
- Foreign language requirement;
- Ethnic Studies requirement;
- Unit requirements;
- Residence requirements, entailing completing a minimum of 30 units at SDSU, half of all upper division requirements at SDSU, at least 6 upper division minor requirements at SDSU if applicable, and 9 units of upper division General education within the CSU system;
- A minimum 2.0 GPA requirement across for measurements: cumulative GPA for all courses, SDSU GPA for all courses at SDSU, major GPA for upper division courses required by the major, and minor GPA for all units taken for the minor if applicable;
- General Education requirement, including 49 semester units across three sections: 9 units of communications and critical thinking, 31 units of traditional liberal arts subjects called foundations, and 9 units of explorations courses.
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San Diego, California
Motto: Leadership Starts Here
Mascot: Aztec Warrior
NCAA Division I FBS
Public research university
5,000 graduate students
2,000 full-time faculty
25:1 student-faculty ratio
26 average class size
283 acre campus
Mediterranean climate with warm summers, mild winters, and a high proportion of sunny days
High school GPA
Geography & residency
Does not evaluate
Letters of recommendation
Test scores (SAT/ACT)
Talent or ability
First-year fall admission
Submission accepted October 1 through November 30
First-year spring admission
Submission accepted August 1 through August 31
Regular Decision only
Transfer for fall semester only
$32,000 / year
California resident total cost
$44,000 / year
Non-resident total cost
$8,100 / year
Out of State Tuition
$20,000 / year
Housing & Meal Plan
$20,000 / year
~ $4,200 / year
Percent of financial need met (average)
$3,550 / year
Amount of merit aid awarded to students without financial need (average)
Percent of undergraduates without financial need receiving merit aid
Notable Majors & Programs
Art majors awarding BA in Liberal Arts & Sciences
Many Biology concentrations
Exercise & Nutritional Sciences Programs
International Security & Conflict Resolution Major
Jewish Studies Major
BS Nursing (direct-entry nursing)
BS Public Health at the School of Public Health
- International Business (#11 in US)
- Entrepreneurship (top 40 in US)
- BA International Business + MS Global Business Development (4+1 program)
- and others
- BA, emphasis in Environment, Sustainability & Policy
- BA or BS, emphasis in GIS & Technology
- BA, emphasis in Human Geography & Global Studies
- BS, emphasis in Water, Climate & Ecosystems
- and others
- BS, emphasis in Engineering Geology
- BS, emphasis in Environmental Geosciences
- BS, emphasis in Geophysics
- BS, emphasis in Hydrogeology
- BS, emphasis in Paleontology
- and others
Hospitality & Tourism Management
- BS, emphasis in Hotel Operations & Management
- BS, emphasis in Restaurant Operations & Management
- BS, emphasis in Tribal Gaming Operations &
- Recreation Administration Major
- Recreation Administration, emphasis in Sustainable Tourism
- and others
- BA Urban Cultures & Societies Specialization
- BA Urban Planning, Design & Management Specialization
- BA Urban Political Economy & Public Policy Specialization
- BA Urban Sustainability Specialization
Equity & Inclusion
- Transfer housing guaranteed: No
- Separate transfer housing: No
- Transfer admission rate: 30%
- Accepts ACE, CLEP, DSST transfer credits
- 60% of undergrads are students of color
- Among the top 30 US universities for racial/ethnic diversity
- Office of Faculty & Staff Diversity
- Mandatory faculty diversity commitments
- Residential Learning Communities
- Affinity Groups
- Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI)
- Tribal Liaison with Kumeyaay Tribes
- Native Resource Center
- Model of Indigenous Diversity & Inclusion
- Native American & Indigenous Scholars Project
- Tribal Programs, Initiatives & Collaborations
Top photo: Hepner Hall at SDSU, by Jeff.
Bottom photo: Student Services West, by Jim Brady.
Wikimedia images in public domain or displayed under Creative Commons license; other images provided by SDSU.