American University - Comments and Student Experiences|
The academics themselves are pretty solid at AU. Professors generally know their stuff and are pretty passionate about it. Like any other school, it has its share of subpar instructors. In four semesters there, I think I had an average of one bad professor per semester, but a lot of my qualms were with the way the courses themselves were structured, which profs can only do so much about, what with departmental oversight and all that jazz. Professors definitely expect a lot from you, but they're generally very friendly and willing to help. They don't usually publicly encourage students to come to office hours, but will always be happy to see you there.
Now onto the stuff that I dislike, finally.
The environment on campus is toxic, and only getting worse. I think the roots of it are three things:
1) AU brands itself as "the most politically active college in America." This in and of itself is not a bad thing, and is probably to be expected considering where the school is located. But it trickles into the academic side of things. No less than 2/3 of all undergraduates at AU major in either political science or international relations. Politics is discussed A LOT. It's what the school pours all of its marketing and resources into. Not even most students at AU know about the $2 million recording studio tucked away into a corner of campus that no one goes to, or that AU has one of the best pre-med programs in the country, among other things. That stuff is almost completely ignored. Politics dominates.
2) Ideological homogeneity. No less than 95% of undergraduates are politically liberal. Again, this in and of itself is not a bad thing. Most colleges these days are overwhelmingly politically liberal. That's just something that you have to accept as reality. But combine it with the dominance of political studies and topics, and you get an echo chamber. Lots of people saying the same things over and over and over. Not only is everyone liberal, but everyone is politically minded. It's impossible to escape it, so it can be a nightmare if you don't like it. I studied political science myself at AU, but because I was more interested in areas of political science that were not as widely discussed (i.e. I was a lot more interested in learning about why people voted for Trump than automatically and simplistically branding them as evil and constantly shouting "resist, resist, resist!" 24/7), I felt ostracized and was frequently told that I was "part of the problem" even though I myself am politically very liberal.
3) AU students are blind to their own classism. AU students often refer to themselves as "wonks," people who are extremely nerdy about one or more topics. It's common DC-area jargon. My small circle of friends and I had a joke that any time an AU student pointed out how you were blind to your own privilege or would ask you to walk back some seemingly harmless comment you just made, you were getting "wonked." It happened a lot. Many AU students will gleefully point out instances when you are overlooking your own privilege. Many of the more politically active ones will put out lists of demands for the administration to enact to make AU a place more friendly for marginalized groups, but if you look closely at these demands, the only class-related one is often something like a tuition freeze, or just making the school more affordable for low-income students. They completely overlook the many cultural differences between upper- and lower-class people. It never occurs to them that not only might AU be unaffordable, but it might also be a place that's just too alien for lower-class students to want to attend.
What ties all of this together and makes it all impossible to fix is that AU students, without even realizing it, are encouraged to be narcissistic. Personal identity and experiences are emphasized to a sickening degree. Any time any event, good or bad, happens on campus or off campus in the news, the first question you are encouraged to ask yourself, as an AU student, is something along the lines of "how does this affect me and my personal identity, my self-concept?" It's introspective in a really unproductive way. I remember walking around campus the day after Trump was elected and watching a group of students burning American flags on the quad, and one of them shouted something like "all of our unique identities no longer mean (expletive) if Trump is president." That's what gets me. You're in a bubble of a campus surrounded almost completely by people who think just like you, a place where you have almost all of the institutional power, and still you are afraid for yourself. What about the people outside of campus who can't enjoy the same protection? They need help. They're scared, and they have so much less agency to fix all of these problems than you do. But all you can think about is yourself and your "uniqueness" not "meaning anything" anymore. Boo hoo (again, I say all of this as a political liberal who chose AU largely because I wanted to be surrounded by people who thought like me, as my K-12 schooling was largely very conservative).
Fear governs so much more of the campus culture than anything else. AU Public Safety has to put out a campus-wide email any time "offensive posters" are found hung up somewhere on campus. It's just not the kind of place that is conducive to learning, even when the academics themselves are good. After two years, it got to be too much for my mental health. I couldn't take the constant pressure, not just to get an internship (as 90% of AU undergrads do), but to think like everyone else, to be an activist, a fighter. I'm too conflict-averse for that. I personally enjoy learning for the sake of learning, as an end itself rather than as a means to an end. I try to ask "why" more than "how." I try to let my path be governed through positive motivation rather than negative. If you're the same, definitely don't go here.
But maybe you're different. Maybe what I've outlined above sounds really cool to you. My values and experiences caused me to dislike it, but maybe yours will have the opposite effect. But I personally can't recommend that anyone go here. AU isn't doing any real good for anyone in the long run. Find a school that at the very least has a wider diversity of majors, like George Washington University--also in DC, but with a much more robust STEM program. Even that will help. You can still be politically active, but you'll be around people who view the world through a different lens, even if their political views are largely the same. And if you aren't super political, definitely don't come here at all. You will regret it, and that's only getting more and more true as time goes on. Then again, maybe fewer political types is what AU needs. Maybe that will help calm everyone down, reminding them that other stuff exists. I don't know. Go with your gut, don't listen to me.
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.
Are you a student and about to sign the very first lease in your li... more→