American University (Washington DC)

Uni in the USA review

Don’t be confused by the immodest name; just because it calls itself “American” doesn’t mean it’s going to give you an experience typical of the US. In fact, if there’s anything characteristically American about this liberal, multi-national hotbed, it’s that it doesn’t conform to the stereotypes the name implies – just like the country itself.

One of the big three DC schools (alongside Georgetown and George Washington), American University provides its students with fantastic educational opportunities – not just for the politically minded (although it was ranked the most political by the Princeton Review) but for everyone who wants to participate and take advantage of the super-charged capital of the world’s most important country.

University Man/Woman

Students are happy and engaged at AU. For better or for worse, the college is extremely political, so even if you have no idea how American politics works, you’ll soon find yourself captivated by things like primary elections, Iranian diplomacy and Supreme Court nominations. Free–time political conversations are common, and don’t be surprised if you go out partying and find the night dominated by an argument over the best way to reform health care. “I didn’t care about politics until I got here,” said one international affairs major, “but now it’s my favourite subject.”

Still, students insist that you can have fun here even if your tendencies are more apathetic (or anarchistic). The large range of personalities and backgrounds means that you can always find people on the same wavelength as yourself, while in general everyone is strikingly well–balanced in regards to work and play. A healthy Greek life guarantees that you’ll find all the unhealthy activities you could want, while the energised atmosphere means that the student body’s active nature is extended to non–political realms, in particular theatre and the arts. “We’re busy people, but we’re social,” said one junior.

More than 1,200 of the students at AU are international, with almost 150 countries represented. The joke is that when someone from another country wants to study in the States, they type “American university” into Google, and pick the first one that comes up.

Whatever the reason, the international atmosphere is a big draw for US citizens and non–citizens alike, and everyone loves it. The international students coming to AU are complemented by the large numbers (more than half) of students who leave to go overseas with the study abroad programme, another big draw. (There are more than 100 AU Abroad programmes.)

Hitting The Books

Though academics are rigorous and challenging, “it’s not cutthroat like George Washington, [and] you can probably pass if you just coast your classes.” The work ethic is alive and well here, but it doesn’t feel forced – people work hard at subjects they enjoy because of genuine interest.

As well as politics, public affairs, and the best international studies department in the world, AU excels in the arts and has famously good business and law schools too. While it has the capacity to offer a top–notch range and quality of courses, the college is still small enough to foster a close relationship between pupils and profs. Students report an excellent out–of–class contact with their accessible teachers, which greatly enhances the learning experience.

The other notable thing about the professors at AU is that they mostly have come to teaching from “the real world”. That is to say, they have incredible first–hand experience of what they’re teaching. This brings not only an extra depth to classes but some great contacts for graduating seniors who want a leg up in some of the most competitive industries in the country.

In fact, you don’t even have wait till you graduate. AU students are famous for securing internships with congressmen or lobbyists, helping run election campaigns, or leading protests – and generally gaining plenty of experience of their own while they’re at college.

Social Life

“The great thing about AU is you’ve got your campus life, plus you’ve got your DC life,” said one contented student. You can feel like you’re at college when you’re in the relative seclusion of the campus, but the glory of the nation’s capital is always there at your feet. It’s hard to tell whether the campus or the city life is the more vibrant.

On campus you’ll find all the activities – student organisations, student media, student government (particularly strong here, as you might imagine), and student performances. There’s almost any group available that you might want, and if doesn’t exist, you can always start it. A number of famous speakers (mostly politicians) regularly come to speak. The university is also known for its fantastic community service programme which attracts many students, as does the Peace Corps.

Outside Those Ivory Walls

In town meanwhile, there’re even bigger fish to tackle. As one AU student put it: “it’s DC, man, it’s the most powerful city in the world.” And indeed it is, but it’s also one of the most fun. Whether you fancy a spin round the incredible Air and Space museum, a gig at the famous 9:30 Club or Black Cat, or just the legendary ‘midnight monument tour’, it’s all there for the taking. DC is full of cool little (and not so little!) bars and clubs of every description, not to mention great restaurants and a budding music scene.

Getting In

AT A GLANCE – Application & Test Options:
– Early Decision, Early Decision II, Regular Decision
– ACT/SAT Test-optional for international students

The admissions process is relatively straight forward, especially if you set up the online “prospective student portal”. On average slightly over half of applicants are accepted, but be warned that a fair chunk of the competition will have strong political resumes even by the time they leave high school.

Money Matters

The college is fairly good value for money (certainly a lot cheaper than its DC rivals). AU does not provide any needs–based aid to international students, but it does have some juicy merit scholarships, awarded “based on a combination of outstanding academic achievement, leadership and community service.” We know of one British student who recently received a scholarship offer from out of the blue, entirely unsolicited and based only on academic merit. Worth inquiring further with the financial aid department.

Famous Graduates

Tommy Lee Jones – actor (and former US Vice President Al Gore’s roommate)

Gary Cohn – Former President of Goldman Sachs, now Chief Economic Advisor to President Donald Trump

Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa – Bahraini Crown Prince






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