College Road Trip to Washington, D.C.: American University

Syedah Asghar, a junior journalism major with a passion for social justice and service, jumped at the chance to get involved in American University‘s Community-Based Scholars Program as a freshman. The first-year living-learning community is focused on community-based research opportunities.

“It has provided me with a family,” Asghar says — one that lasted when her freshman campus experience was cut short by the pandemic. The Douglasville, Georgia, native worked with local high school students hoping to create a more inclusive environment. The project turned into a virtual summer internship during which Asghar planned a curriculum to help other universities implement similar service programs.

[Read: How to Get an Internship in College.]

This kind of experiential learning is common in almost every area of study at AU, where the curriculum is centered on connecting what students learn in the classroom to life in the real world, says Jessica Waters, dean of undergraduate education and vice provost for academic student services.

More than 90% of AU’s 8,000 students participate in at least one internship, and at least 65% study abroad in more than 130 countries. “AU Abroad Centers” in Brussels, Madrid and Nairobi are popular options.

“Being in D.C. offers so many opportunities,” says Victoria Kent, a 2021 biology and pre-med graduate from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Kent complemented her undergraduate research on the cellular biology of skin cancer with volunteer work she arranged at Children’s National Hospital under the guidance of a physician in the bone health clinic.

[Read Why Undergraduate Research Matters in College.]

AU’s picturesque campus — a designated arboretum with more than 4,000 trees — appeals to students looking for the perks of a city without the hustle and bustle of downtown. The enclosed 84-acre campus nestled in a residential district in Northwest D.C. fosters a tight-knit community, but students have access to resources and research options more typical of a much larger institution.

Six undergraduate schools and colleges offer more than 70 majors and programs. A big draw is the School of Public Affairs, which offers degrees in legal studies, political science and data sciences. The School of International Service, Kogod School of Business, School of Communication, School of Education and College of Arts & Sciences round out the possibilit ies.

Students wanting to combine different interests can choose from several unique interdisciplinary programs. The three-year Public Health; Global Scholars; and Politics, Policy and Law degrees are popular options to save time and potentially tack on a master’s degree.

Adit Roy, a senior from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, chose the Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics and Government major to gain a holistic view of public affairs, law and communications before pursuing law school. He’s taken classes in policy, education, writing and public health and has completed three internships — one with a political action committee; one with South Asians for Biden, a grassroots organization; and one with a political consulting firm.

Small classes — AU has an average class size of 22 and an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio — encourage connections between students and professors, and AU’s first-year experience program is designed to ensure that incoming students develop close relationships fast.

[See: Don’t Make These 10 Freshman Mistakes in College.]

All first-years take a two-semester class covering the transition to college and the topics of race, social identity and structures of power. All also take a first-year Complex Problems seminar, which teaches interdisciplinary approaches to solving societal problems. More than 130 options include Juvenile Injustice, Asteroid Apocalypse and Plagues, Plots, and People.

Outside of class, “there are a lot of ways for a student to be involved,” Asghar says.

The Eagles field 16 Division I sports teams. Arts groups, clubs and intramural sports teams, advocacy organizations, Greek life and political organizations are popular. During the 2020-2021 school year, the Kennedy Political Union’s roster of high-profile speakers featured Andrew Yang, Stacey Abrams and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

AU provides all students with a discounted public transit card so they have unlimited access to the city’s attractions, and a free shuttle connects campus to the nearby Tenleytown neighborhood’s metro station and shopping and dining.

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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2022” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.

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