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Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to the questions we normally receive are provided below. If your question is not addressed here, please contact the Graduate Admissions Office at 202-885-1646 or send an e-mail to sisgrad@american.edu.

Admissions and Application
SIS Applicant Profile
Test Scores
Letters of Recommendation
Dual-Degree Applicants
SIS Programs and Academics
Jobs, Internships, and Study Abroad
Financial Aid

Admissions and Application

What are the requirements for admission?
The online application (and $55 application fee), transcripts from all institutions attended, applicable test scores, resume/CV, Statement of Purpose, and letters of recommendation. All required materials must be submitted before your file is reviewed. For more details, please click here to visit our Required Materials page.

How do I check my application status?

Once you have submitted an online application form, log into your My Account page and scroll down to review your list of missing and/or received Supplemental Items.

How do I submit Supplemental Items by mail/email?

If you mail any materials to our office, we suggest that you submit your materials together in one envelope (using a mail service that can track delivery to our office) to speed up the processing of your application. Due to the high volume of mail received by our office during this period, please allow 7 to 10 business days to process your application materials after they are received. If you have any questions regarding your application status, please contact the Graduate Admissions Office at 202-885-1646 or e-mail sisgrad@american.edu.

Send application materials:

By Mail:
SIS Graduate Admissions
Office of Enrollment
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016-8081

By Courier/Overnight service (FEDEX, DHL, etc.):
SIS Graduate Admissions
Office of Enrollment
3201 New Mexico Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016-8081

By Email (application documents only)

Do you offer formal admissions interviews?
We do not require nor offer formal admissions interviews as a part of the application. If you would like more information about SIS programs and the admissions process, we encourage you to RSVP for an informal information session with our office or attend an SIS event.

Can I submit a writing sample with my application?
You can submit a brief writing sample with your application, although it is not required for admission. The review committee will look primarily at your transcript, Statement of Purpose, your GRE scores, and your letters of recommendation to gain a sense of your writing and analytical ability. Any supplemental information, such as a writing sample, that you would like to include can be uploaded into the "Addendum" section of your online application.

Do I need to be proficient in a foreign language prior to applying to SIS?
Second language ability is not required for admission to SIS, though it can certainly improve an applicant's profile. Proficiency in a modern foreign language is required for graduation from most SIS programs. SIS does not offer academic credit towards degree completion for language courses.

Can I submit my application after the posted deadline?
Applications received after the posted deadlines are reviewed on a space-available basis. Applications received after the posted deadlines cannot be considered for merit-based aid. We encourage prospective students to apply by the posted deadlines to ensure consideration for the semester to which they applied. Applications completed after the deadline may be postponed to the next cycle for review depending on available space in the class.

Can I defer my admission once admitted to your school? Will I be able to keep my merit-based financial aid?
You may defer up to one year from your semester of admission with approval from the admissions office and upon receipt of your non-refundable deferral deposit. The deferral deposit is an additional $400 beyond the $400 enrollment deposit. The entire $800 deposit will be credited to your student account to be applied towards your tuition when you matriculate. To request a deferral, send an e-mail to the Office of Graduate Admissions (sisgrad@american.edu) indicating the reason for your deferral request and the semester to which you want to defer. Any merit award granted for your original semester of admission cannot be carried over to your deferred semester. BA/MA applicants cannot defer.

Are admissions decisions ever reconsidered by the Admissions Committee?
All admission decisions are final. Should you have any questions about how to improve your file for future admissions consideration, please contact our office within one month of the date of your decision letter.

I just completed my Master’s degree and would like to continue on to a doctoral program at American University. What do I need to know before considering the SIS PhD program?

  • Applicants that apply for both the PhD and MA programs will be reviewed separately for PhD and MA admission.
  • Students cannot transfer directly from MA to PhD. They must apply separately to the PhD program and be admitted. If admitted, up to six previously earned graduate credits may be recognized toward the PhD.

If I have been denied admission to SIS, can I reapply?
Students denied admission to SIS must wait one academic year from the date of their original application to reapply. Such candidates are encouraged to contact the Graduate Admissions Office for advice on strengthening their applications. BA/MA candidates may reapply the following semester as traditional MA students, and therefore must take the GRE examination.

If I have been admitted to SIS previously and wish to reapply, how do I do so?
Please contact the SIS Office of Graduate Admissions for guidelines.

I started a graduate program in SIS a few years ago, but never finished it. I would like to return and complete my degree. What is the process for re-applying to SIS graduate program?
Students should contact Graduate Advising at 202-885-1690 or sisgradadvising@american.edu.

SIS Applicant Profile

What is the average GPA for SIS students?
For the Fall 2014 application cycle, the median undergraduate GPA of admitted students was a 3.5 on a 4.0 scale.

What GRE scores do applicants typically present?
While the GRE is just one factor in the application process, we typically recommend applicants prepare thoroughly for the examination and do their best to maximize their score. SIS will take the best score from each section, regardless of testing date, provided that submitted scores are still valid. On the GRE testing scale (out of 170), admitted students for the Fall 2014 semester presented median scores of 158 on the verbal section, 152 on the quantitative section, and 4.3 on the analytical writing section. Please note that there are no minimum scores required to apply.

How much work experience does the typical SIS applicant have?
SIS recommends students have at least two years of relevant experience at the time of application. While this is not a minimum requirement, incoming students typically have substantive work experience in their area of interest. The median age for incoming students is 25.

Do I have to have completed a specific undergraduate major to apply to SIS?
No. We see applicants from many different backgrounds, with every major discipline represented. Applicants to SIS are encouraged to have completed at least 24 hours of coursework relevant to international studies. These may include courses on economics, political science, history, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy, among other disciplines.


SIS allows students to upload unofficial transcripts from most college, university, and other post-secondary institutions for admission review purposes. Special requirements and restrictions for submission of certain types of transcripts are explained below. If you have a question about your particular institution that is not answered here, please do not hesitate to contact our office prior to submitting your documents.

Can I submit unofficial copies of my transcripts?
In most cases, applicants can upload unofficial transcripts through the online application. Each submitted transcript must show the institution name, course title, grade and credits earned in each course, and the degree earned (if applicable).

Note that students who attended institutions outside the U.S. welcome to upload their transcripts into the online application portal, but are still required to mail official transcripts with degree confirmation and English translation (if applicable) before their application can be reviewed.

Admitted students who uploaded unofficial domestic transcripts will be required to submit official transcripts prior to enrolling.

What is the difference between an “official” and “unofficial” transcript?
An “official” transcript is a document that has been prepared, authenticated and sealed by the institution. To be considered official, a transcript must be mailed, unopened, to our office. Please note that students who have attended institutions outside of the U.S. are required to mail us official transcripts with degree confirmation and translation (if applicable) at the time of application. Your application will not be reviewed for admission until official transcripts from all international institutions attended have been received by our office.

An “unofficial” transcript is a document that has been opened and examined by the student or printed from an institution’s website before being submitted to SIS. Any transcript that you upload to your application is considered “unofficial.”

Can I upload an unofficial transcript printed from my university's web portal?
Although we strongly prefer that you submit unofficial copies of original paper transcripts (scanned and uploaded as PDFs), we will accept grade reports/copies of transcripts downloaded from your institution’s website, provided that:
1. the institution name is clearly indicated
2. the grade report is printed directly from your institution’s online system (with your institution’s URL clearly visible across the top of the document) and scanned into our system as a PDF. We cannot accept grade reports/transcripts that have been copied into Microsoft word or a similar text edit program.

What needs to be shown on my transcript(s)?
Each submitted transcript must clearly show the institution name, course title and level (if applicable, i.e. 300, 400, etc.), grade earned in each course, credits earned in each course, and degree earned (if applicable). If your degree is yet to be awarded, the transcript must have some indication of your being enrolled in that degree program.

I attended post-secondary institutions outside the U.S., can I still upload my transcript(s)?
Yes, however, you are still required to mail us official transcripts with degree confirmation and translation (if applicable) before your application can be reviewed. Please review the following complete list of transcript requirements carefully before you proceed:

  • Original/Official Transcripts or Academic Records: Original/official transcripts or academic records are required and must reflect with all courses taken and grades and credentials received. Transcript(s) need to be issued by the appropriate records office of the institution and must be stamped/authenticated. Transcript(s) must show courses and grades from all years of study, not just the final year(s).
  • Degree Confirmation:
    If you hold a degree from a post-secondary institution but the transcript from that institution does not bear the title of the degree and the date it was conferred, an endorsed/attested copy of the original diploma is required to be submitted along with the transcript. If you have yet to receive the degree, the transcript must have some indication of enrollment in that degree program.
  • English Translations:
    If the original transcripts or degree confirmation are not in English, original English translations must be provided together with the original transcript or diploma. Translations must come from recognized bodies such as university, embassy, overseas EducationUSA Advising Centers, or other certified translation agencies. Translations alone or unattested copies of any document will not be accepted. If you choose to upload an unofficial transcript to your application, translations must be uploaded with it.
  • Transcript Evaluation:
    If you attended a non-U.S. institution, one of our evaluators will do an assessment of your foreign transcripts and credential(s). External credential evaluations from WES, AACRAO or ECE are welcome but not required.

I transferred between one or more schools, do I need to submit copies of transcripts from every institution?
If you transferred credits between one or more institutions, separate transcripts must be submitted for each institution attended unless course title, level, grades and credits earned at each previous institution appear on the transcript(s) you submit to us. If our admissions staff is unable to assess your previous performance from the transcript(s) submitted, you may be asked to provide additional documentation before your application can be reviewed.

I studied abroad for one or more semesters, do I need to submit a transcript from that institution?
Students who have completed a study abroad program during the course of their undergraduate and/or graduate studies are required to submit copies of their study abroad transcripts if the course names, grades and credits earned abroad are not already reflected on the home institution transcript(s).

Test Scores

Under what circumstances do I need to take the TOEFL, the IELTS or the Pearson Test of English?
International applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE. Check the information for international applicants page for further details.

What are the institution codes for the GRE and TOEFL?
The institution code is 5007 for both the GRE and TOEFL. There is no department code or enter 0000.

What are your TOEFL, IELTS and PTE requirements?
The minimum TOEFL score for international students is 600 for the paper-based test, 250 for the computer-based test, and 100 for the Internet-based test (iBT). The minimum requirement for the IELTS is 7.0. The minimum requirement for the PTE is 68.

Can I take the GRE again to try and improve my scores?
We encourage candidates to take the GRE exam again to try to receive the best scores possible. We will consider the best scores you receive for each section of the exam.

How recent must GRE scores be?
GRE scores are valid as long as they were taken within five years of the application deadline. For example, if you are applying for the Fall 2016 semester, with an application deadline of January 15, 2016, GRE test results from January 15, 2011 to the present are valid.

Letters of Recommendation

Who should write my recommendation letters? Do the letters of recommendation have to be from academic sources? What if I have been out of school for a number of years?
For the MA program, we require that at least one of your two letters of recommendation be from a faculty member who knows your work well. We prefer to obtain information from recommenders who can evaluate your past academic performance and your potential for future academic challenges. Even if you have been out of school for some time, we still suggest that you obtain at least one academic letter of recommendation. For the MIS (mid-career executive) program, letters from professional sources are appropriate.

Can I submit more than the required number of recommendation letters?
If you would like to submit an additional letter, we will certainly add it to your file.

Can my recommenders submit their letters electronically?
Your recommenders are strongly encouraged to submit their letters online. Once you have clicked "submit" in your online application, you will be prompted to complete the "Recommendation Requests" in the Supplemental Items section. Here you will indicate the names and professional/academic email addresses of your recommenders. Personal email addresses of your recommenders should not be used for this purpose. This will generate an email to your recommenders instructing them on how to submit their letters online. When the recommendation letters are submitted, you will receive an email notification.

If absolutely necessary, you can have your recommenders mail in their letters, though you will still be required to submit their contact information in the online application. Should your recommenders prefer to send their letters via mail, you must fill out the recommendation cover sheet and send it directly to your recommender to complete along with the letter. Each mailed recommendation letter and cover form must be received in a signed and sealed envelope.

Dual-Degree Applicants

How do I apply to the JD/MA program?
For the JD/MA program, you need to apply through the Washington College of Law. Submit your application and all supplemental materials to WCL and then simply complete the online application for SIS indicating that you are applying to the JD/MA dual degree program. The law school will forward all supplemental items (transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.) to SIS.

How do I apply to the MBA/MA program?
For the MA/MBA, you must complete two separate online application forms, one for SIS and one for the Kogod School of Business on their respective website. Please indicate on each application that you are applying for the dual degree program. You can submit your application materials to one school and request that these materials be shared with the other school. 

As a dual degree applicant, you can submit results of either the GRE or the GMAT for your application. You should, however, consult each school for their respective list of admissions requirements. You will be considered and notified separately for each program.

What if I am admitted to SIS but not Kogod School of Business (KSB) or College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)?
The admission decisions of each school are independent. Should you apply to a dual degree program between SIS and KSB or CAS, and only be admitted to SIS, our offer of admission still stands and you are eligible to proceed as a student in SIS. Note that admission decisions to one program have no bearing on or leverage with another.

SIS Programs and Academics

How many credits are required to graduate from SIS?
It depends on the program. The total number of credits required by standard MA programs varies from 39 to 45.

I completed graduate courses at another university before applying to American University. Can I transfer these credits and will they fulfill degree requirements?

  • Students may request to transfer credit for courses taken prior to their admission to a graduate program at AU. The number of total credits transferred for a single degree program may be no greater than six credits. In no case may graduate credit be given for coursework designed as solely undergraduate by the institution where the coursework was completed. Proposed transfer courses must have been completed with a grade of B (3.00) or better and must have been completed no earlier than 5 years prior to the beginning of the semester in which the student is admitted to a graduate program at AU. Graduate programs may require that the proposed transfer course have been completed more recently than the 5 years prior and may limit the number of allowable transfer credits to fewer than six.

  • Courses taken at American University toward a graduate degree earned before admissions to a subsequent graduate program cannot be transferred but may be shared.

  • Graduate Program Directors may approve up to six credits to be shared or transferred for graduate students who are enrolled in a PhD Program and have earned a master's degree from American University or another institution.

Once I have applied into one academic program in SIS, can I change my field?
As admission decisions are specific to each program, students cannot change their programs during the admission process. Once admitted to a program/field, a student must stay in that program for one semester, at which point he or she can request a field transfer. Field transfer applications are handled through the Graduate Advising Office.

I have a few questions concerning registration and degree requirements. When can I meet with my academic advisor?

  • Students will have an opportunity to meet with the academic advisor for their program fields once they have paid their enrollment deposit. This first meeting can take place via phone or in person.
  • Students who have not paid their enrollment deposit but wish to know more about specific requirements are invited to e-mail the graduate admissions office (sisgrad@american.edu) with their questions and an academic advisor will make an effort to respond to specific questions.

Can I enroll for graduate level classes as a non-degree student?

Yes. Any request to register for non-degree graduate courses (that are not part of a graduate certificate) must be submitted to the AU Central Office. Non-degree students who later apply and are admitted to a degree program can bring a maximum of 12 credits taken as an SIS non-degree student into their academic program. Successful completion of non-degree study does not guarantee admission to a graduate program. For more information, visit the SIS Non-Degree page: http://www.american.edu/sis/advising-grad/non-degree.cfm

I am interested in registering for a course at another university within the Consortium. How do I register for this course?

  • Consortium registration is limited to courses that are not offered at AU.
  • Courses taken through the Consortium are treated as AU courses for registration, billing, financial aid, transcript, and GPA purposes.
  • All Consortium sources will appear on your AU transcript with the Consortium school code and course number.
  • Consortium registration is available during the fall, spring, and summer semesters.
  • SIS limits graduate students to no more than two consortium courses during their MA program.
  • Most DC-area colleges and universities are members of the Consortium. For a complete list, visit www.consortium.org.
  • For more information on Consortium registration, including how to register, visit the consortium registration page.

Can I waive the economics requirement if I completed economics courses while I was an undergraduate student?

  • Some programs offer an opportunity to waive one economics course when two courses are required, thus reducing the total number of required credits from 42 to 39. In other programs, previous economics coursework may allow you to substitute a more advanced economics course. Criteria for these options vary by program. Check with an admissions specialist for more details about the program to which you are applying.

I completed an undergraduate degree in a foreign language. Will my foreign language requirement be waived? What if I received a minor in a foreign language?

To satisfy the tool of research requirements (also known for most SIS programs as the language requirement), students must be able to conduct research in a language other than English. "Research" for the purposes of this degree requirement means reading comprehension. Students for whom English is not their native language may be certified on the basis of their native language, and English (the language of instruction for their graduate degree). All English language speakers will be required to certify proficiency in a language other than English. 


  • reading proficiency at the INTERMEDIATE level
  • ability to read an article written in the language with good comprehension using a dictionary only for specialized terminology

Visit the SIS Language Proficiency website to learn full details of how students meet the language proficiency requirements.

What is the policy for being a part-time student? Do I have to maintain a full-time status throughout my graduate program?

  • Full-time study at the graduate level equates to being registered for at least 9 credits (or 3 graduate courses). Part-time options are available. Please check with your admissions counselor at the time of application or your academic advisor at the time of enrollment for more details.
  • AU bills graduate students by the credit hour. Students only pay for what they have registered for in that semester, plus university and SIS fees as applicable.
  • Students must be enrolled for a minimum of 5 credits each fall/spring semester in order to be eligible for federal financial aid.
  • International students on F-1 and J-1 visas must register full-time each fall and spring semester.

Jobs, Internships, and Study Abroad

What are the career opportunities after graduating?
SIS students who have been active in pursuing internships and networks have excellent success in job placement upon graduation. SIS graduates go on to work in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. Learn more here.

Will SIS help me get an internship?
Absolutely. Washington, DC offers students a rich variety of opportunities to interact with professionals in a variety of career fields. Over 90% of our graduate students get at least one internship during the course of their time in SIS. There are several mechanisms for career/internship support in SIS. The AU Career Center is an excellent resource for advice, planning, job/internship openings, resume critiques, mock interviews, career fairs, and merit award assistance and advising. There are dedicated Career Center staff members who work exclusively with SIS students. Additionally, both your academic and your faculty advisors will be valuable in assisting with internship and career ideas and opportunities. SIS's 15,000+ alumni worldwide are also excellent resources. The Alumni Career Network comprises more than 2,000 alumni who have specifically volunteered to assist students in exploring the range of careers in international affairs.

What kind of study abroad opportunities do you offer?
SIS offers a wide array of study abroad programs. These include dual-degree partnerships, semester programs, summer classes, and internship opportunities with over 90 partner organizations overseas. Learn more here.

When can I register and earn internship credits?

  • Students can pursue internships for academic credit after completing one semester at AU.
  • Internships (including international and paid internships) registered for academic credit must be related to the student's academic program and be at least 85% substantive (e.g. research, report writing, etc.)
  • Internships cannot be registered or applied retroactively (i.e. a student cannot register a summer internship during the fall semester).
  • For more information visit the internship registration page.

Financial Aid

Under what circumstances is the application fee waived?

The application fee for SIS graduate programs is $55. The application fee is waived for:

  • Active duty members or veterans of the US military
  • Active or returned Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or Teach for America volunteers
  • First-generation college students
  • BA/MA applicants

What forms of payment are acceptable for my application fee?
If students apply online, the application fee can be paid by a major credit or debit card. If a student applies online but chooese to pay by check or money order, an online application fee code of PAYBYCHECK must be entered into the online application portal and students must follow up with a check or money order. The SIS application fee of $55 and all checks or international money orders must be made out to "American University." Do not, under any circumstances, send cash.

What is the cost of graduate tuition?
For SIS students, tuition is assessed on a per-credit basis. For academic year 2015-2016, the cost per credit is $1526 per credit hour for full-time and part-time students enrolled in standard master's programs. Other student fees are required. Graduate tuition is subject to increase on an annual basis. For a full list of information about tuition and fees, click here.

What is the difference between SIS merit-based scholarships/fellowships and need-based financial aid? How is each awarded?
SIS merit-based aid such as scholarships and fellowships at the time of admission through the School of International Service, and can be a combination of tuition remission, and/or research assistantship awards (paid as a stipend). Merit-based aid is highly competitive and about 20-25% of the incoming class receive some form of merit aid. Merit aid is need-blind and is awarded based on the same factors that influence the admissions process. There is no separate application for merit. All applications must be completed by the posted deadline to be considered.  

Need-based aid is administered through the AU Central Office (202-885-8000 or facounselor@american.edu). At the graduate level, it generally takes the form of a federal low-interest loan package. All eligible and interested students should fill out the FAFSA form upon application to SIS to begin the need-based financial aid process; there is no need to wait until you have an admissions decision from SIS. The FAFSA code is 001434.

What percentage of incoming students receive SIS fellowships? Is there a possibility that I could receive a fellowship as a continuing student?
The bulk of SIS aid is awarded to incoming students, though there are a limited number of fellowships available for continuing students.

Is funding available for international students?
International students whose applications are completed by the posted deadline are considered for all types of merit-based aid offered at SIS. Click here to learn a variety of internal as well as external funding sources for international students.

How do I obtain immigration documents from AU?
Please visit the International Student and Scholar Services office for detailed information.

Can I get on-campus housing as a graduate student?
Currently American University does not provide housing for graduate students. SIS connects newly admitted students to each other in a private online social networking community that often serves as a great resource for students moving to DC from out of the area. Visit the Housing and Dining Programs website for additional helpful information on off-campus housing.

Why SIS?

Click here to listen as members of the SIS community describe the distinctive features of the School of International Service in their own words.

Visit SIS in Washington, DC

Visit SIS

Come to the nation's capital to visit American University and the School of International Service. In addition to meeting with an admissions specialist, we offer a variety of events on campus including Open Houses and classroom visits. Learn more and RSVP here.