Monday, October 23, 2017

D.C. Universities for Poli Sci and IR wonks—George Washington and American

I just returned from several days spent in Washington, D.C. where I toured two campuses known for their programs in politics and international affairs.  Both schools offer attractive opportunities for students wishing to explore a variety of majors in the context of our nation’s political epicentre, but their atmospheres and advantages differ.  Here are my impressions:

My tour guide on a lovely, fall October morning was a junior International Relations major from my hometown of San Carlos.  Enthusiastic and informative, she showed a group of prospectives from all over the country around the bustling Foggy Bottom Campus, a stone’s throw from the State Department and the National Mall, where the ultimate Frisbee team holds its practices.  The George Washington University Hospital is located right at the Metro stop making it easily accessible for pre-meds who seek health volunteering opportunities. Our guide gushed about opportunities to hear lectures from famous politicians at the Elliott School of International Affairs, joining a sorority (one third of GW students are active in Greek life) and the perk of private bathrooms in all student housing.  She also enrolled in a financial literacy class at the business school where she completed a project teaching financial literacy to middle school students through helping them run a lemonade stand.  Next term our guide will study abroad in Spain—about 40% of GW students study abroad during their undergraduate career.
Some highlights of George Washington’s programs and statistics:
--Students enroll in a primary school at GW selecting from one of seven choices: the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of the Arts and Design, the School of Media and Public Affairs, the School of International Affairs, the School of Public Health, Engineering and Business.
--GW has a second campus called Mt. Vernon, about 2 ½ miles north of Foggy Bottom, a more traditional, quieter suburban environment where students can either live or take classes and the locus for some of GW’s signature programs like Women’s Leadership and University Honors.
--The Global Bachelor’s program offers students a chance to study abroad for up to three semesters to gain international experience and adapt to different cultures.  It starts spring semester sophomore year with a term at Fudan University in Shanghai.
--GW is a large school, about 10,000 undergraduates; its current admission rate is about 46%, and its price tag is pretty high, though it does offer significant merit aid for high performing students.  3 years of on campus housing are guaranteed.
I visited American University rather early on a Saturday morning so the contrast in atmosphere I felt with GW was perhaps exaggerated.  However, the campus is removed from the hustle-bustle of D. C., as it is located several Metro stops NW in the area called Tenleytown.  I walked through a leafy, upscale neighborhood passing a few diverse groups of students to approach the campus. There I strolled through a lovely, green quad surrounded by modern and traditional buildings and residence halls.  Like GW, American’s stellar programs include political science and international studies as well as communications.  Though not physically in the center of the capital, American nonetheless brings many big names on campus to speak and as visiting professors from politicians to pundits. 
Here are some features that distinguish American University from GW:
--American University has six schools for undergraduates: Arts and Sciences, Business, Communications, Education, International Service, and Public Affairs.It is easy to take classes in any of the schools or to switch majors from one school to another.  Students are not required to enroll in one school as at GW. Three-year bachelor's degree programs are available in international studies, public health, and politics, policy, and law.
--AU’s Washington Semester program is quite strong and students from campuses all over the U.S. participate.
--AU’s female/male ratio is about 35/65 percent.  Approximately 60% of students study abroad choosing from more than 150 programs and the vast majority of students participate in internships, many of course in the D.C. area.
--In recent years, AU has become more selective; its current admission rate is about 30%.  Thus it offers less merit aid than previously, but it has also increased its financial aid packages.

Overall, the main differences between GW and AU center around campus vibe.  Both schools offer fantastic education and experience for international relations, political science and media studies.   If you want to live and attend school in the center of action and you don’t seek the advantages of smaller classes and close faculty interaction, GW may fit the bill.  American University might appeal more to students who still seek access to political action but prefer to live and study on a more intimate and less frenetic campus.

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