American University College Visit Review

26818508806_10b8034ea0_zWe visited American University as part of the HECA International Relations tour of DC area schools.  My overall impressions remained the same as my previous visit, but there are several important changes regarding the campus facilities, admissions selectivity, financial aid and the School of International Service curriculum.


American University is adding three new residence halls and a new Design and Innovation building. 


American has seen a dramatic change in both admission and financial aid over the past several years.  The admission rate for regular decision in 2016 was 25% down from 35% in 2015 and 46% in 2014.  This dramatic shift was unexpected and largely due to increased applications and over-enrollment over the past two years. Additionally, its switch to meeting full demonstrated need positively impacted yield.

As American’s admissions counseling community understands their new reality, they have modified their approach to admissions. They look for good academics and good fit with American.

Demonstrated interest is also highly important, so much so that the admissions rate for Early Decision 1 was 89% and Early Decision 2 was 70% in 2016. AU offers the same amount of financial aid for ED kids as regular decision kids, and in some cases even more for ED students.

34 percent of the incoming class comes from the Mid-Atlantic region. AU is attracting a growing number of students from the West and South, especially TX, FL, and CA. California is the third most represented state on campus.

Academic Fit

Most admitted AU students have a B+/A- average.  Admissions always ask “Can you do the work?” AU wants to raise their retention rate from 89% to 94%, so the ability to admit strong students is paramount to reaching this number.  Admissions looks at the path students take within high school to see that they challenge themselves accordingly.

AU is test optional and approximately 20% of the applicants did not submit test scores which matched the number of admitted students who did not submit test scores (19%). Test scores are not a focus in admissions and they truly do not care if students submit them or not.  However, international students must submit a TOEFL score.

Overall Fit

Once admissions had determined that a student can do the work, then they look for students who are intellectually curious, active in their community, and passionate about something. AU students are involved in many things and good at multi-tasking.  Admissions doesn’t care what students are passionate about, but they do look for student who want to become knowledgeable Washington insiders.

AU students understand the power of DC and are ready to jump into it.  87% of AU students have internships and 60% study abroad. AU wants students to come in ready to create a four-year plan for their college experience.  American admits to the university so students can determine their major once they arrive on campus.

Financial Aid and Institutional Priorities

26852444415_67d18710df_zAU wants to increase diversity and access on a large scale and accordingly has put their financial aid money behind this initiative.  AU shifted its financial aid from merit aid to need based aid and now meets meets 100% of demonstrated need.  Currently 20% of financial aid goes to merit aid and 80% goes to need based aid.  In 2008, the ratio was reversed with 70% going to merit aid and 30% to need based aid.  As a result, there is much more socio-economic diversity among students with 20% of its student body receiving Pell grants and 25% of them are underrepresented minorities.

AU is one of the founding members of new Coalition application, which launched in April, 2016. They recently partnered with Shorelight Education to further their efforts on increasing socio-economic diversity.

AU has also initiated a number of alternative acceptances and programs to manage enrollment including a first semester gap program run by School of Professional Studies and a Mentorship program where students spend their first semester at the DC campus or at one of the international locations.  Interestingly, these programs do not provide financial aid.

AU still offers merit aid including five full ride scholarships, a very small honors college (25 kids), and merit awards ranging from $10,000 per year to $30,000.

School of International Service.

Given the focus of our tour, we had a great session with the Dean of the School of International Service (SIS) and got to meet a panel of students in the program.  SIS faculty changed the curriculum in 2013 making it a liberal arts program with a lot of flexibility initially culminating in a focused, capstone individual research project senior year. Students receive plenty of training along the way, spending their entire sophomore year doing research methodology.

All students participate in a robust first year seminar program capped at 19 students. Students learn how to read scholarly literature and extract an argument; they learn how to make an argument and engage in a dialogue with others.  (Perhaps Trump could stand to take this class!) Students also must take 2 years of a foreign language for SIS.

SIS offers eight thematic areas:

  1. Peace global securities and conflict resolution
  2. Global inequality and development
  3. Global economy
  4. Foreign policy
  5. Global policy and develop
  6. Public and global health
  7. Global governance
  8. Identity, race, gender and culture

Each has introductory gateway class.  SIS requires students to take classes in at least three thematic areas.  As a result, AU students become more deliberate about their study abroad choices to align with their interest within the program.  The advisors help kids determine what they really want and how they can find the right opportunity for them. Since IR changes every 10 years based on world politics, the goal of SIS is to impart students the ability to think, discern, analyze, and synthesize information.26758495082_da34f26c24_z

On our panel we met a journalism major who interned with an NBC News Affiliate in Austin.  She worked as a reporter and also worked for a news affiliate in London.

Another student interned at the Council for Islamic Relations as an Analyst.  She read all articles and flagged articles for anything that demonstrated unbalanced reporting or inflammatory bias and then put the information in a database.

The students said that half of their social life is on campus and the other half is in DC.  However, since it is a dry campus, most of the parties are held off campus.


American University is a great option for active, engaged, students who love being DC insiders and want a pretty, contained campus near a major city.

American University
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
Tel. 202-885-1000

American University
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