American University

American University

Washington DC

7900 UG   5400 grad students


Right on the edge of DC, 2 minutes from Embassy Row sits American University. It is a cosmopolitan school that is very strong in international affairs and political science. A good deal of its character is derived from its ideal location a short distance from Washington’s centers of government, art, business, research and commerce.


The admissions office, in the Katzen Arts Center, with its curved walls, colorful signs, and elegant recital hall is new and shiny, but it lacks a feel of traditional education.  It’s more like a stylish, modern office building than a polished old library. Chartered in 1893 by an Act of Congress, American University is an independent co-ed school founded by the Methodist Church. It was the first racially integrated college in the District of Columbia. It was also the first to accept women into its halls of learning.  AU is located in the small wealthy suburb of University Heights, 5 miles from the White House. AU sits on an 84-acre campus on a tree lined street just minutes from the Tenleytown metro. A free shuttle system runs regularly to the metro, which provides students with a 10-minute trip to downtown DC.  Traditional architecture dots the small campus with a nice-sized quad as the central feature. In the warm weather students can be seen on the campus studying, socializing, and throwing Frisbees. There is a large amphitheater where such performers as The Capital Steps, a popular local political comedy troupe, Blink 182, and the Dali Lama have spoken or performed. Presidents visit the campus on occasion. The campus is a federal arboretum with flowers blooming brightly in the nice weather. The 5-year old Katzen Arts Center not only houses the admissions office. It is a rambling mass of concrete that also houses a museum, a café, performing arts spaces, and a museum store.


The students of American University are outward-looking students.  At many more “inwardly-focused” schools, students are said to live in the “College X Bubble.” In a school with a “bubble,” students’ lives revolve mainly around campus without much awareness of the rest of the world.  The opposite is true at AU. While students reportedly love the school and enjoy the community, these students live and learn together with their sites set upon DC and beyond. Living and often working in Washington DC is an integral part of the school’s personality. Internships are abundant in such places as the National Institute of Health, Capital Hill, World Bank, and throughout the think tanks of DC. Eighty percent of students participate in at least one internship. There are many classes that don’t meet on Wednesdays so that many students can have internships on Wednesday in the city. AU also has excellent career planning.


As far as diversity goes one indicator is how at the entrance to each dorm there are many international and local newspapers. Ninety-eight percent of students are from outside of DC. 63% of students are women and 37% are men. Although the Methodists founded it, American is not a religious school today at all.  There are 23 faith groups on campus, (including a large Jewish population.)  The school is totally secular. American University is one the most politically active campuses in the US. AU students are proud to be compassionate and respectful of differing views according to a university junior. There is a club called the “Club Kennedy Union” which brings in speakers from both Republican and Democratic parties to speak. The community is accepting of the gay community.


All freshmen live on campus. Dorms are guaranteed for the first 2 years.  There are dorms that are primarily for freshmen, but sophomores are sprinkled into the mix. There is off campus housing for upperclassmen in renovated apartments nearby. There is a “University College” which is a type of dorm where students have seminars and programs combining class work with trips to DC. This type of dorm brings the students closer together socially and academically. One must apply to this program.   AU has a large sports complex with a pool other various sports facilities. Dining facilities are abundant with everything from McDonalds to sushi dotted throughout the campus. There are 15 places to get coffee.


Most students seem to love the school and the social scene. There is a Greek system comprised of 12 fraternities and 12 sororities and in which 10% of men and 10% of women participate, but there are no fraternity or sorority houses on the actual campus. Students can join as a surefire way to make friends, or they can easily ignore Greek life. American University is NOT a party school. The campus is considered a dry campus. If a student is caught with alcohol, his or her parents will be contacted. There aren’t many parties on campus on weekend nights. The parties that do occur are closed to anyone but invited guests. The parties that do happen on campus are usually found in the dorms. Most of the nightlife happens in DC or at off-campus parties.  In DC the opportunities for all kinds of activities are endless. One AU tradition is to trick or treat on Halloween at the houses of ambassadors where candy can be had from all over the world. Also, American brings in excellent speakers and politicians to campus.  Many Presidents have spoken there.


There are several Scholars Programs and the Honors program, which offer more cohesive and academically intense experiences at American.  Students in the Honors Program live together, take seminars together, and take some regular classes together.  They also have their own special academic advisors. Students must apply to the various programs. It is very competitive to get into these programs.  I believe on 25 students in each class are in the Honors Program. Students with a cumulative 3.6 GPA at AU can self-nominate for the honors program. Honors students also have a senior capstone project.


There are 7,900 undergraduate students and 5400 graduate and professional students. Student to faculty ratio is 13:1. AU prides itself on being small enough so students can have easy access to their professors. The average class size is 23.  Introductory classes can get up to 75 students. All classes are taught by professors. Professors are sometimes former ambassadors, CEO’s, or political figures. There are 7 schools/colleges on campus.


  1. The Kogod School of Business for the study of accounting, business administration, business language and culture studies, and business and music. This is the oldest school of business in the District of Columbia.


  1. The School of Communication for the study of communication, film/media arts, journalism, public communication and foreign language and communication media.


  1. The College of Arts and Sciences for the study of art, education, humanities, and the natural and social sciences.


  1. The School of International Service –the largest of its kind in the US. Within this school there is a new 3-yr BA Global College Program. One needs to go abroad and do summer classes to complete this program. International studies, which the most popular major, is in this school.


  1. The School of Public Affairs houses the 2nd most popular major, political science. Majors in law and society, justice, and CLEG (communication, legal Institutions, economics and government) are available.


  1. The School of Professional and Extended Studies


  1. The Washington College of Law


52% of classes have fewer than 20 students.

47% of classes have 21-49 students.

2% have more than 50 students.



There is a lot of academic flexibility between schools.  Students can take classes in, get minors in, get second majors in, and even effortlessly transfer into a different school. Students can create their own majors.  When applying, a student indicates his academic interests, and then he is admitted to the applied to school based on those stated interests. The university prides itself on valuing an interdisciplinary philosophy to learning. Ten general education classes are required to assure that graduates have received a broad-based education. These general education classes can be chosen from a list of hundreds of classes that will all fulfill the gen-ed requirements. American University focuses on teaching over research. Currently there are 25 Masters/Bachelor programs that take 5 years to complete.


American University has a healthy study abroad program. Sixty percent of the student body studies abroad.  Eighty-one percent of students take advantage of the really good internship possibilities that are unique to Washington DC.


AU participates in the NCAA Division I Sports with basketball, soccer, cross-country, lacrosse, field hockey, diving, wrestling and volleyball. There are club and intramural sports for anyone who wants to play sports in a less competitive environment.


The cost-of-attendance is $63,000.  American University gives good merit aid to quite a few of its admitted students.  All students are considered for these awards. Ten percent of students with no need are awarded merit scholarships. The average award is $15,200. Only 48% of students with need get their full need met.  The average need award meets 90% of demonstrated need.


In admissions, American first looks at rigor and grades on the transcript. They then evaluate scores for students who submit them.  Test scores are optional at American. Next is the essay.  One counselor rec and one teacher rec are considered.  Also considered is the extracurricular resume. As reported by admissions, a student doesn’t have to be the president of the club, but they want to see participation. They are looking for active learners and students who’ve been involved in their communities.


Class of 2021

29% accepted overall

85% ED

Average High School GPA: 3.64


Standardized testing

Test optional in admissions

Mean SAT 1260

ACT      26-33 enrolled,   27-31 admitted,  28 average enrolled


69% of students were in the top 10% of the freshman class

88% were in the top 25% of the freshman class

98% were in the top half of the freshman class.


Freshman retention rate: 88%


4-yr grad rate:      76.4

5-yr grad rate:      81.2

6-yr grad rate:      81.7



























































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