American University - Comments and Student Experiences|
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.
Faculty all have posted office hours, which they hold to but sometimes are gone to attend conferences or panels. I wouldn't call it excessive, or even to a point that annoys me. That being said, it does happen. Classes DO have busy work, particularly in 100-level classes (many of which are Gen Ed requirements). You have to pick between that or professors assigning harder work like you were going to major in it, and then getting a B or C in a Gen Ed. Most professors of Gen Ed requirements KNOW that everyone in the class is taking it to graduate, and doesn't hold it against the students and punish the class with unreasonable material. That being said, the Gen Ed requirements here take up a lot of time. (2 classes in each of 5 fields of study, two writing classes and a math class = a little over 40 credits (out of the 120 required to graduate) because science/math classes have labs. If that bothers you, don't apply.
The campus is in one of the safest parts (NW) DC. It sits right next to affluent, suburban Chevy Chase, MD and Embassy Row. There are occasional saftey reports, but normally it's because someone was being severely careless and walking alone at 2 in the morning, several blocks from campus. The campus is pretty -- it's not Georgetown which looks like Hogwarts, but it isn't GWU which looks downight depressing.
University resources. Here's some negatives. The library is a joke -- and any time I want to study, I go to the WCL law library. Admissions, Housing and Dining, and Financial Aid are HORRIBLE to work with. It would take me two or three times emailing them to get answers to simple questions, if they answered me at all. I called Admissions when I was applying to confirm that my application was complete and was told that it was. I waited four to six weeks and did not receive my acceptance/denial letter. I called again to ask where it was and they said they were missing things from me, and so had not even begun to review my application. While faculty and advisors are fantastic, the rest of the administration is a pain to work with. Housing and Dining charges you for silly things (Eg. If you're a girl on floor 1 and a sink in the boys bathroom on floor two gets damaged...the entire building gets charged) Student Health Center is also a joke if you need anything beyond a yearly checkup -- if you're a girl the flu sounds like morning sickness from pregnancy, and a cold is most likely strep or bronchitis.
BUT the Career Services Office is outstanding and combined with the Alumni base around DC, they are very helpful in placing students in internships year after year.
The People: I find there are two kinds of people at AU. People who think AU is a great place to be (sometimes, but not even mostly -- to the point of arrogance in thinking that AU is an ivy-esque school). And people who are jilted for not getting into Georgetown. They're politically aware, and you will be out of conversations if you don't read the news.
Social Life: It is relatively easy to make friends at AU, but you have to try. I think a lot of people come in at orientation thinking that just because they are present, they will make friends. It doesn't work that way. I also don't understand why people are a complaining about it being a Dry Campus -- you all have backpacks and there are several liquor stores within 5 minutes of AU. Parties are all at the Frat houses and Off campus, but again, if you take initiative...it's really easy. AU also has over 250 clubs and organizations, plus Greek Life.
I also don't know why people complain about the distance to the metro. Don't wait for the shuttle, it's a grand 4 BLOCKS to metro from AU. If you're with friends it's also very safe to walk back late at night. It only takes 25 minutes to get from AU to Metro Center which is as downtown as it gets and is in walking distance to the National Mall, stores, etc. DC is a walking city. WALK. There are things to do every. single. night. Sign up for coupon services -- they'll get you half off deals and tell you when things are happening. There are free concerts at the Kennedy Center, nightclubs, food tours... no one here should EVER be bored unless they're lazy.
Pro: AU and DC has all the resources you need to be happy and succeed, but they aren't going to do it for you.Con: The bureaucracy, if you have too many run ins, will make you crazy.