What Does it Take to Get into American University?

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American University’s acceptance rate is 31%. What does it take to get in?

 

Why, hello there, D.C.! Located in the picturesque city outskirts, AU’s nearly 7,000 undergraduates can easily access our nation’s capital anytime via a short metro ride. Beyond the school’s traditional strengths in political science, international relations, and global studies, AU also offers excellent programs in communications, business, and the arts. The newly-revamped core curriculum and plentiful local internship opportunities also add to AU’s increasing appeal. Last year’s acceptance rate dropped to 31%, so if this D.C. school is on your list, keep reading to find out what it takes!

 

Applying to American University: A Quick Review

 

American University accepts the Common Application or the Coalition Application. Two rounds of Early Decision are offered, so applicants who consider AU their first choice can apply by November 15 or January 15 for a binding decision. Regular Decision applications are also due by January 15.

 

To apply, be sure to send in all of the following materials:

 

  • $70 application fee
  • Completed Common Application, including two optional essay questions
  • High school transcripts (by way of the Secondary School Report)
  • Two letters of recommendation (one counselor and one teacher)
  • Mid-year report

 

If you wish to be considered for any of AU’s special academic programs, including honors and industry-specific communities, you must submit separate applications for those by January 15. This is also the deadline for specific scholarship applications to the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Program and the United Methodist Scholarship; applicants are automatically considered for all other merit scholarships.

 

Note that American University is a part of the test-optional wave, allowing students to bypass standardized test scores in their application process. This means that SAT or ACT scores will be reviewed if you have them, but leaving them out will not affect consideration for admission, special programs, or scholarships. That being said, we strongly recommend sending scores if you have them, especially if they’re strong; students who don’t submit scores are generally admitted at a lower rate than those who do.

 

American University Acceptance Rate: How Difficult Is It to Get In?

 

18,950 students applied in the fall of 2018, of which 5875 were accepted. This places the acceptance rate at about 31%, making AU highly competitive.

 

With these numbers in mind, we advise that you challenge yourself to a rigorous and comprehensive high school course load — while keeping your grades up, of course. You can also demonstrate interest in AU by visiting campus, attending information sessions, or contacting your admissions officer (find yours here!). Remember that the earlier you reach out and/or apply, the more interest AU will also demonstrate in you! 

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So, How Does One Get Into the American University?

 

While AU practices holistic admissions, these are the three most important characteristics they look for:

 

Academic Strength. If you decide to go test-optional, the only true indicator of your academic ability and potential lies in your GPA. Keep in mind that AU’s fall 2018 admitted applicants had a middle 50% GPA range of 3.47 – 4.00. Of those who did report standardized test scores, the SAT middle 50% was 1240 – 1390 while the ACT middle 50% was 27 – 32. Thus, your academic record must be quite impressive if you wish to gain admission to AU.

 

Rigor. Beyond an excellent GPA, AU needs to see that you are open-minded and able to take on a challenging courseload. Their minimum academic requirements include four years of English, three years of math (including two years of algebra and one year of geometry), and then two years each of laboratory sciences, social sciences, and foreign languages. Make sure that you not only fulfill these requirements but also take the most challenging classes available to you. (You might even consider taking courses at a local community college for bonus points.)

 

Demonstrated Interest. Do not underestimate AU on this one! The school is particularly sensitive to being branded a “safety,” and they have often turned away highly qualified applicants who show little genuine desire to attend. As such, if you consider AU a top choice, you must make that clear through your application materials and by being in contact with the school. If you cannot visit campus, be sure to attend info sessions, do informational interviews, and reach out to your admissions representative.

 

How to Make Your Application Stand Out


American University’s prime location and amazing opportunities attract scores of applicants every year. Here are some suggestions to boost your application:

 

Consider applying early decision. If (but only if!) AU is your top choice, you should definitely commit by applying early. Note that in 2017, the ED admissions rate was 85%, while the RD rate was barely 27%. Given how much AU loves applicants who seem genuinely eager to attend their school, this comes as no surprise. Even if you do not apply under early decision, you should still demonstrate interest in AU as early as possible to bolster your chances. The admissions office keeps track of your interactions with them, so make sure that you stay on top of all communications.

 

Answer the optional essays. We understand that you’re likely tired of writing supplements at this point, but these ones do matter. If it’s any consolation, there are only two AU essays: a 150-word “Why AU?” prompt that you should definitely answer (remember what we said about demonstrating interest?), and a 400-word prompt assessing your understanding of inclusivity. AU knows that if you actually want to attend, you’ll be excited enough to answer the optional questions, so please write them — and write them well. Good general guidelines include specificity, honesty, and storytelling, i.e. show, not tell. Detail why, exactly, AU is perfect for you, and show them that you’re an open-minded, culturally-aware person who will contribute positively to their community.

 

Be memorable by sharing your passions. Okay, so your transcripts are impressive and you’ve gone to every AU event in the area — what then? Well, the school knows that its most impressive applicants have real-life interests. These students are genuinely passionate about something, and they invest considerable time and energy in exploring those passions, whether it be volunteering for a political campaign or something as esoteric as stamp collecting. So, just be sure that somewhere in your application, you tell AU about whatever it is that you love most! What truly makes you tick is what the admissions officer will remember after reading hundreds upon hundreds of applications.


What If You Get Rejected?


That’s okay! Take a deep breath. There are plenty of schools out there and just as many paths to take for wherever you’d like to end up. Rest assured that with enough ambition and hard work, you’ll still find a way to get the opportunities or job or lifestyle you want. I’m also a firm believer that ultimately, the college you end up attending is where you’re meant to be.

 

If your heart is set on AU, though, there are a few options. The school does not accept admissions appeals, so we recommend against petitioning your decision. Nevertheless, they do keep a waitlist, and they accepted around 60% of their transfer applicants in 2016. While getting off the waitlist can be difficult, you may have a decent chance of transferring into AU after a year elsewhere — a process you can read more about here.

 

Another option is reapplying after a gap year, but this is much riskier than simply committing to another college. To see if a gap year is right for you, visit our posts, What Are the Pros of Taking a Gap Year? and What You Need To Know When Applying to Colleges After a Gap Year.

 

In most cases, however, we would suggest moving on. You might want to look into George Washington University, which has a slightly higher admissions rate and boasts a prime location in the heart of the city. If you’re interested in political science or international relations, two other local possibilities include the College of William and Mary or the University of Virginia. For help adjusting to a different path, read our post, Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (or Third, or Fourth) School.

 

If you’d like more personalized advice for getting into AU, consider CollegeVine’s College Applications Program! This program pairs you with an admissions specialist from a top school who can help you with every step of the application process: crafting your story, writing your essays, tracking scholarship deadlines, and more. 

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Lauralyn Lin
SAT Tutor at CollegeVine
Short bio
Lauralyn Lin is a first-year student at Wellesley College who hopes to major in the social sciences. She’s also a SAT tutor and marketing intern at CollegeVine, and spends any time leftover on ballroom dancing, reading, and pictures of her darling cat.