American University is a private institution chartered by an act of Congress on February 24, 1893, almost a century after George Washington called for a “national university” to be built in the U.S. capital. AU is still primarily funded by the Methodist Church, whose aim it was to create a national learning institution and international think tank independent of the U.S. government.
American University was used in war efforts during the first half on the 20th century, such as for chemical weapons testing during WWI, which resulted in the ongoing clean-up efforts that began in the 1990s. After the end of WWII, the university acquired the Washington College of Law, famous for its clinical advocacy and international programs. During the 1950s, American University established three schools with out of existing programs of study - the Kogod School of Business, as it is currently known,which was the first business school in DC, the School of International Service and the School of Government and Public Administration. In later years, in an effort to provide a more well-rounded liberal arts education, The College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Communication were added.
Today, American University enrolls 5,866 undergraduates and 4,951 graduate and law students from 49 states and more than 140 countries, according to the university’s statistics. Most students major in international service or business and are extremely active in community service and politics. In keeping with its international character, AU is under a contract with the American University of Sharjah through August 2009, under which a select group of AU's college administration relocated to the United Arab Emirates to assist in establishing and accrediting the school of Sharjah.
American University is divided into two academic campuses in Northwest Washington, D.C. about a mile from the Tenleytown-AU Metro station. The main campus spans just 84 acres and is a protected arboretum, with much greenery tended to by both students and faculty. Surrounding the central quad are seven residence halls, academic buildings, and the Bender Arena that seats 5,000. The Tenley Campus, where summer interns, extra dorms, and administrative buildings are housed, is just half a mile from the main campus. The Washington College of Law is a separate building 20 minutes from the White House.
The main quad, 'The Dav' and MGC are the areas students really go to on campus. The main quad, the literal epicenter of AU, is where students play Frisbee, bask in the sun, and picnic among other things. There is also another, smaller quad, commonly referred to as 'the beach,' which is located on the south side of campus. Occasionally, when the weather is nice, the university sponsors big events out on the quad like whole-school barbeques, going all out on inflatable decorative hamburgers and the like.
'The Dav,' located within the School of International Service, is commonly regarded as the best and cheapest place to get coffee on campus and is always full of students looking to get their coffee fix or just hanging out. Although the couches are almost always full (sometimes with sleeping students) there is no doubt that the laid-back atmosphere is a nice one in which to unwind after a long day of classes.
The final spot students hang out is the Mary Graydon Center, commonly referred to as MGC. Although it isn’t such a 'cool place,' its central location makes it a popular meeting place for students to work on projects or grab lunch. There are couches and coffee tables, as well as regular tables and chairs, which are almost always completely full around exam time.
Overall, because the campus is entirely dry, most students just spend most of their time off campus. Given everything the city has to offer, it’s hard for the university to actively compete with its allure, so students are almost always off doing something else. Beyond that however, the quad between the buildings often hosts various different expos and interesting events. At the very least, the mall can make for a beautiful picnic location!
American University has a traditional campus, where students can take the Metro to bustling downtown with its nightlife, government centers and historic buildings, or escape to the nearby Maryland suburbs for some peace and quiet.
American University is located in the Northwest corner of Washington D.C. and much of the city and the surrounding suburban areas of Maryland are completely accessible for students. There is always lots of stuff to do in the city, ranging from visits to the Smithsonian Institution to Dupont Circle nightlife. Students at AU will never be bored with the school’s surrounding area!
The area most frequented by AU students is Dupont Circle. With awesome restaurants and clubs, it is certainly a part of the city that draws a lot of student attention. Similarly, Adam’s Morgan is another clubbing and nightlife center for students over 21 to visit. Occasionally, on designated nights, certain clubs allow students over 18 in, but they are not allowed to drink.
Another popular location for students to go is the Friendship Heights/Bethesda area. Located just one metro stop away from AU, this Maryland shopping and dining area is a nice place to go during the day and is very convenient for AU students. As far as shopping goes, there is a range of stores, from designer to discount, a 15 minute walk away where there’s something for everyone. Another shopping center AU students head to often is the Pentagon City shopping center, a giant mall that also offers just about everything.
The final area that AU students frequent is the National Mall area. From the Smithsonian to the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial, this is a much more educational, but still interesting place for students to go. With all the interesting exhibits offered in all of the Smithsonian and other museums, there is enough to keep students coming back week after week.
American University has many deep-rooted official traditions such as Campus Beautification Day, which is held annually in the beginning of April. Students and faculty get together for upkeep of the arboretum that is still feeling the effects of chemical weapons testing after WWI.
Thanks to its location and recognition, AU’s campus also regularly hosts national and world leaders as part of the Kennedy Political Union speaker series.
But it’s not all work and politics here - students go all out at the Founders Day Ball held in bustling DuPont Circle and vote for their king and queen on homecoming weekend. Every winter in an event known as “TDR Sledding,” students steal trays from TDR, the main cafeteria, and use them to sled down the snowy quad. TDR seems to be the target of most “unofficial campus traditions,” or perhaps it's just a lack of students who invest in their own dishes. During Amnesty Day, all plates and cutlery “borrowed” from the dining hall during the school year can be returned – without punishment.
David Gregory (1992) is NBC's Chief White House Correspondent
Star Jones (1984)is a former co-host of talk show The View
Willard Scott (1953) is a reporter on NBC's Today Show
Judy Sheindlin (1963) is host of the TV show Judge Judy
Chris Wylde (1998) is an American actor
The American University Eagles are members of the Division I Patriot League, a special northeastern division in its second decade of existence that places special emphasis on a high GPA when admitting students. The most popular teams are men’s basketball and track and women’s basketball and volleyball.
In addition to hosting many speakers, most notably Barack Obama, AU’s Bender Arena is located right on campus and is home to basketball and volleyball teams as well as an Olympic-size pool in the Reeves Aquatic Center. The soccer team at AU practices at Reeves Field which also has a six-lane track where George H. W. Bush used to run during his term as vice president. AU also has seven tennis courts and two basketball courts that both individual students and teams can use.
Although AU is not well known for its athletic prowess, the recent success of the men’s basketball team seems to have bolstered school spirit quite a bit. Although they advanced no further than round one of the NCAA tournament, it was the first time AU men’s basketball had ever made it that far.
The most popular major at AU by far is international studies. The SIS building is currently being rebuilt to be totally eco-friendly.
The most popular groups on campus by far are the College Democrats and Women’s Initiative.
10% of freshmen are admitted into the honors program with special housing.
Each year hundreds of AU students complete more than 10,000 hours of community service in Washington, D.C. before classes begin again in the fall.
The S.S. American Victory battleship was named after the university during World War II.
With almost 6,000 and a small campus, the cost of living in a regular AU dorm rivals that of the Big Apple. An average room cost is $8,258 per school year. On the plus side, there is laundry, a kitchen on each floor, and special halls for international, honors, community service, and special needs students. Dorm buildings are coed, with some single-sex floors. Although upperclassmen tend to look for off-campus housing in Washington D.C., most freshmen live on campus in doubles, sometimes triples in a period of high demand. Singles and suites offer more privacy for a heftier price tag.
Although about half of AU’s population chooses to live off-campus, given the extremely high cost of on-campus living, there are still a surprising number of dorms. On 'northside,'the quieter, more studious side of campus, there are three large dorms, Leonard, Hughes, and McDowell. These dorms are a little farther away from the rest of campus than those on 'southside,' which is one of the reasons they are regarded as the more 'tame' dorms. If you’re looking for a living environment where fire alarms aren’t constantly going off and frat boys aren’t passed out drunk in the hallway, you will thoroughly enjoy northside life.
The southside dorms are essentially one large conglomerate of buildings which are connected, but are regarded as three separate buildings: Anderson, Letts, and Centennial. Anderson and Letts are both very similar to the three northside dorms (except for their partying reputation and close access to bus/party pickups) however, Centennial is offered only to non-freshman students and boasts suite-style living. Whereas two and sometimes three students are assigned to a single room with only basic necessities in all the other dorms, centennial has two students to a room, connected by a private bathroom.
The final building that offers on campus housing is Nebraska. While it is the farthest from campus (it’s located across the street from the main quad and buildings but next to the arts center), it also offers suite-style apartments. Each apartment has 2, 3, or 4 single bedrooms clustered around a common area, each with its own private bathroom. While Nebraska is obviously more expensive, the privacy is definitely worth it for some students. Overall, while housing at AU is pretty expensive and isn’t anything special, it certainly isn’t a bad experience and the dorms offer wonderful opportunities to meet new people and get the full 'college experience.'