American University - Comments and Student Experiences|
I couldn't give an accurate picture about the academics; I'm only in intro classes right now, and those, to be honest, are a joke. I showed up to one midterm high, having not studied at all, and still got an A [results not typical, study for your exams!!!]. However, for my own major of political science, I'm really looking forward to some of the upper levels courses. There are not many universities that offer undergrad courses like "Political Speechwriting," for example. The pickings for international relations courses are just as fruitful.
And while AU is known best for political science and IR, it has a number of other solid programs that for some reason it just doesn't talk up much, including the #13 pre-med program in the country, one of the top 50 business schools for undergrads, and a solid audio tech program featuring a $2 million recording studio (one of the best in the country on a college campus) tucked away in the basement of a building that hardly anyone ever goes into.
The opportunities that I've had here have been great too. In just my first semester, I was able to visit a bunch of different religious services (including a Zoroastrian harvest festival), record some tunes written by a composer friend in the aforementioned studio, and befriend a former member of Spain's parliament. DC is an incredible city, and if you know where to look, opportunities will fall into your lap. But you need to be willing to leave campus. There is never much that is going on there, and that's a good thing. You're in one of the most exciting cities in the world; you'd be dumb to not take advantage of that.
What I ultimately dislike about AU is the attitude that the administration instills in its students. I know lots of adults like to make this criticism, but it's students here are coddled, and it really hurts their development. I am a flaming progressive, a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter, and I still believe this to be true. Students here don't know how to work for stuff; they expect it to be done for them. They love protesting, but once they've gotten attention for whatever their cause is that week, they don't know how to do the less glamorous work that is necessary for lasting change. So they move on to the next trendy source of "oppression" and the cycle repeats itself. Put simply, AU is full of students who do the right things for the wrong reasons.
Now granted, any college is going to have a sizable population of students like this, but because AU markets itself as the most politically active university in America and does all it can to attract these ambitious, never-satisfied students, the majority of AU students are like this.
But my advice to you, reader, is this: ignore all of that. If you want to do good in the world, come to AU. Don't let the way other people think or do things put you off. AU is too big a place to have everyone be the same, even if there is a large, vocal population that try to convince you otherwise. Even if the picture that I just painted above sounds terrible, it isn't the path you have to follow. I'm using the opportunities I've been given to make positive changes in other ways, and you can too.
I struggled early on at AU because I couldn't find a community. I came from a really tight-knit high school where we all looked after each other to a degree and bonded over our dislike of the administration. AU doesn't have that, but, if you're willing to look hard enough, somewhere you'll find a tight-knit group that will support you (Greek life is a good place to start; don't buy into AU's smear campaign against it. While some frats are terrible, most of them don't haze and treat their party guests very well). Being a part of something bigger than yourself works wonders for mental health and can provide you with a sense of purpose. That's something you'll definitely need to find in college, no matter where you go.
I've found that at AU, many of us often forget to be happy. We're so caught up in the world's problems that we forget to take care of ourselves. So if you want to do well at AU, take time to laugh and have fun. Do stuff that you want to do, not just what you feel you need to do to advance your career or whatever.AU definitely isn't a traditional, crazy state school. It's certainly not for everyone. But you will get out of it what you put into it. Whatever you want out of your college experience, whether here or elsewhere, it's probably there. Just go after it. Don't wait for it to be done for you.
STUDENTS: Extremely competitive. Are you obsessed with politics? Were you one of those kids in high school who wanted to be class president or involved in student government? If so, this is a good match. If you weren't interested in those things (even remotely) then you should just take this school off of your list. I began college with the objective of doing really well in my classes, and even as someone who is competitive academically I couldn't take people seriously because they were so OBSESSED with becoming the next Francis Underwood. During elections for student government there were scandals of people being paid off to drop in the race, etc.
COST: I was paying full tuition, which is close to 65,000 a year with costs considered. My dorm room was extremely old, and clearly hadn't been remodeled since the 1960's... stains on the carpet, old furniture, etc. The elevators were broken every week. Food was bad, and staff was usually extremely rude at TDR (where you'll be eating with your meal plan). Lots of racial tension. The campus is very small, you can walk from one end to the other in less than five minutes. If you get a dorm room in Anderson/Letts, I pity you. They flooded during the first week of classes last year, and also during that time over seventeen people were taken to the hospital for various reasons related to drugs/alcohol. The RA's are strict, and they WILL catch you if you try to smoke weed or something in your room. Three students were expelled in the first two weeks for this reason.
CULTURE: This is not a party school. At all. DC in general is full of functioning alcoholics, and that's what AU is also about. If you do want to party, join a fraternity or sorority. Although they are off campus, you may have some luck there. To get to the parties you'll gather behind Anderson/Letts and wait for the frat boys to select you out of a crowd (if you're hot enough) so that you can get in their car and be driven to the frat house... which is usually tiny and not nearly as great as everyone claims. Yes, this is exactly as sketchy as it sounds.
The culture of the school was very PC. I found myself censoring some very neutral opinions in most classes because the student body lives in fear of their classmates, should they say anything politically incorrect. Get ready to use doublespeak for everything. People are judgmental and can be extremely rude. You WILL be judged on your appearance, because the competition to get internships is so intense, speaking of which...
INTERNSHIPS: It is an unspoken rule that as a student at AU you should have an internship every semester. Yes, you will be judged on the kind of internship you have. Ideally you should work off campus, downtown, and hopefully in government at least once. Otherwise, why are you here? Get ready to use the metro every day, even though it frequently floods/catches fire and the metro workers are extremely rude.
3/4 of everyone that I spoke to was either THINKING about transferring, ATTEMPTING to transfer out, or had given up, although they felt that they should transfer it was just, "too much work, and I'm already here anyway." Rarely I would meet someone who was happy that they had gotten in, but that was very rare. Most people at AU were rejected by their top choice universities such as Vanderbilt, Rice, Georgetown, etc. and are either resigned to their fate or using it as a placeholder school while they try to get out. 2/3 of my friends successfully left AU and of the remaining 1/3 those who couldn't leave for some reason ended up staying, although it wasn't because they loved the school.
I successfully transferred out. The university failed to send my transcripts out, however, and it was only after multiple calls to the dean that I was able to get the situation sorted. By then I had been rejected from most of my transfer schools due to American University's failure to send out the transcripts. This also happened to two of my other friends, and it was not resolved until our parents were involved and threatened the school with legal action. After this happened I received a call personally from the dean of my college (liberal arts) asking me why I wanted to leave, and even requesting that I reconsider my decision. My friends receiving financial aid who were planning to transfer did not receive such a call, however all my friends paying full tuition did. Coincidence? I think not.
The university does not care about you. It's a machine that is there to take your money. Despite spending big bucks on advertising and marketing (many people I meet at my new school mention having applied to AU) they do NOT live up to the hype. They continue to lower their acceptance rate to artificially inflate their reputation and standing, but I assure you, this is just a trick. They accept many students through programs such as the "Washington Mentorship Program" and joint programs between the University of Delaware/Maryland and AU that are not factored into their total number of "accepted students" or their statistics. The students who get into these programs are not allowed to use their financial aid until they matriculate as "full" students of American University, although they are living on campus, paying for dorms, paying tuition to AU, paying for meal plans, and living without restriction in the way that any other student would. I'm surprised that this isn't illegal, but AU has certainly found a loophole to exploit.
I am personally offended by the way AU treated me. They will make you pay for everything, and you will be disappointed by everything but the professors. Although the professors are certainly not impressed by the school leadership either.
In sum... do you want the college experience? Clubs, friends, sports, etc? Free T-shirts? Work hard, play hard? If so, don't go to American University (go to GW or Georgetown). If you want to work a job and classes full time with access to downtown DC, come to this school. That's pretty much the only reason why. If I could go back I wouldn't change my decision because I made some amazing friends and ultimately had some great internships in DC... however, I'm glad that I left, because I really would have regretted my college experience if I had stayed.