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Frequently Asked Questions

As you explore graduate study at the School of Public Affairs (SPA) and as you begin the application process, we hope you will find the following information helpful.

SPA Programs & Academics

Visit our website at www.american.edu/spa/admissions/, call us at 202-885-6230, or e-mail us at spainfo@american.edu.

Our mailing address is:
School of Public Affairs Graduate Admissions
American University
Kerwin Hall, Room 306
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016

SPA offers six traditional, one online, and two executive master's degree programs, which range from 33 to 39 credit hours.

Traditional Master's Degrees

Online Master's Degree

Executive Master's Degrees

Doctoral Degrees

SPA also offers three PhD programs, which require completion of 72 credit hours if entering without an earned master's degree, or 48 credit hours if entering with a related earned master's degree:

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a professional degree for those who want a career in public service that involves management and decision making. This program develops skills used by leaders and managers to implement policies, projects, and programs.

The Master of Public Policy (MPP) is a professional degree that places an emphasis on evaluating analytical skills to solve policy issues. MPP graduates work with quantitative and qualitative information to develop, assess, and evaluate alternative approaches to emerging issues and challenges.

Our executive programs are intended for mid-career or senior level professionals who wish to maintain employment while completing one of the School of Public Affairs’ degree programs on a part-time basis. The executive programs do require substantial work experience in the field—typically, a minimum of five years of full-time work in a relevant career—however, the minimum level of required work experience varies by program. An executive program is traditionally delivered in a weekend format or non-traditional scheduling pattern. Our executive programs are all cohort programs, meaning that all participants move through the curriculum together and follow a prescribed set of requirements. For more information, please visit our Executive Programs Overview.

Full-time student status is defined as registration for nine credit hours during both the fall and spring semesters, or by enrollment for four credit hours during the summer semester. Enrollment in all summer sessions during a calendar year will be added to determine the total summer credit hours.

Half-time student status is defined as registration for five credit hours during both the fall and spring semesters, or by enrollment for two credit hours during the summer semester. Students who are registered for more than a half-time credit load in any semester, but less than a full-time credit load for that semester, will be considered half-time students.

International students on an F-1 visa must remain full-time status during fall and spring semesters. Any changes in registration from full-time to half-time status may impact financial aid and merit award amounts. Please contact the Financial Aid office for further clarification on financial aid awards, and contact the Office of Graduate Admissions at spagrad@american.edu regarding merit awards.

Transfer students may apply to any of our degree programs through our online application. Application requirements remain the same as for a first-time SPA student. Students may transfer up to six credits from another accredited program into our traditional graduate programs. The department chair and academic advisor will determine which credits will be accepted and applied after the student has been admitted. If you’re seeking to transfer credits, please forward course descriptions and syllabi to the chair of your department for consideration.

Admission Requirements

You must submit the online application and the $55 application fee, transcripts from all institutions attended, applicable test scores, your resume/CV, a personal statement (essay), and letters of recommendation. All required materials must be submitted before your file is reviewed.

For more details, please visit the Admission Requirements page.

Admission to SPA's executive programs-the Key Executive Leadership MPA and the MS in Organization Development-requires an interview with the program director. Applicants will be invited to interview after a preliminary review of their application is completed.

Applicants to the SPA combined bachelor's/master's programs are required to meet with their undergraduate advisor and the graduate advisor for their intended master's program prior to completing an application. Applicants need to schedule these appointments well in advance, to leave ample time to complete their application. To meet with an SPA undergraduate advisor, appointments can be made online or by calling 202-885-6200. Your graduate advising appointment should be scheduled after your undergraduate advising appointment.

In some cases, an interview may be required for applicants to other graduate programs in SPA; these interviews are conducted via Skype. If you're invited to interview, you will be contacted by the School of Public Affairs and given further instructions.

You may request an informal meeting with a member of the Office of Graduate Admissions online. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you personally if you are available to do so.

Two samples of your written work (one to six pages each) are required for application to the executive programs (the Key Executive Leadership MPA and the MS in Organization Development). One sample of your written work (12 to 25 pages) is required for application to the doctoral programs. Writing samples can be reports, memoranda, articles, or portions thereof.

We review applications holistically— GRE scores and GPAs are considered alongside several other factors during the application review process. Therefore, we do not require any specific minimum GRE or GPA. Prospective students may contact the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions at 202-885-6230 or spaapp@american.edu to inquire about average GRE scores and GPAs of previously admitted applicants.

Application Process

Traditional Master's Degrees

February 15
First round consideration for Fall merit awards
May 1
Priority Fall deadline for international master's applicants
September 15
Priority Spring deadline for international master's applicants
November 1
First round consideration for Spring merit awards
Varies
Online programs start in the fall, spring, and summer each year. Please consult an admission adviser for more information and deadline details.

Executive Master's Degrees

Executive program deadlines vary-the websites for each program will tell you more.

PhD Programs

January 8
Fall deadline (Fall admission ONLY)

The School of Public Affairs' Graduate Admissions Review Committee reviews master's and graduate certificate applications on a rolling basis throughout the year for fall and spring entry terms. Applications continue to be accepted beyond the priority deadlines on a space-available basis until approximately four weeks before classes begin for each term. Domestic and international master's applicants seeking the full range of merit award opportunities at SPA are always encouraged to meet the priority merit aid deadlines. PhD applications are reviewed only once per year for the fall entry term. The January 1 application deadline is firm; therefore, PhD applicants are advised to apply early to ensure that all materials are received by the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions before the stated deadline.

No. It is equivalent to fall admissions. For the spring admissions cycle, the number of applicants decreases and so do the number of students admitted. The acceptance rate, therefore, remains the same.

If you have submitted an online application, you can use the e-mail address and password you created when you started your application to log into your application account to track the status of your application. You’ll want to review your online application account to make sure we have received all of your materials. Only complete applications will be considered. 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 have been received. If you have any questions regarding your application status, please contact the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions at 202-885-6230 or spaapp@american.edu.

Electronic submission of documents through the online application is strongly encouraged. The SPA application has three parts:

  1. application form;
  2. application fee; and
  3. supplemental items

You will be able to send your supplemental materials, including online recommendation requests, only after you have clicked "Submit" on the application form and paid your application fee.

You will not be able to return to edit your application once you have clicked "Submit," so we strongly encourage you to check it thoroughly for any final changes before submission. You will be able to monitor your application progress and SPA's receipt of your supplemental materials via your online application account throughout the application process. Please do not send a hard copy duplicate set of any supplemental documents unless requested by the Office of Graduate Admissions.

If you need an alternative means to submit supporting documents such as official transcripts, you may mail, e-mail, or fax them to us in one of the following four ways. Please allow at least 10 business days for documents not submitted through the online application to show as receive.


Mailing address options for official transcripts
Via U.S. Mail (U.S. Postal Service) Via Courier Service (FedEx/UPS/DHL, etc.)
SPA Graduate Admissions
Office of Enrollment
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016-8001
USA
SPA Graduate Admissions
Office of Enrollment
4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 218
Washington, DC 20016-8001
USA
Via Email Via Fax
GraduateAdmissionsDocuments@american.edu

Note: Please do not send questions to the above e-mail address. It is for document submission only.
202.885.3991

Application files are not reviewed until all required documents have been submitted. Some delays in review are the result of outstanding documents not yet received. You will receive a confirmation e-mail from the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions notifying you once your application is complete and has been moved to the Graduate Admissions Review Committee for review. We encourage you to revisit your completed application account to check the status of your application.

We prioritize a 10-business-day turnaround on the review of master's degree applications once they are complete. The final admissions decision will be available on your application account, and you will receive an e-mail from the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions to let you know once an admissions decision is available. The review process for PhD applications begins in mid-January, and most decisions are made by and released in mid to late March.

You may apply to more than one program within American University and/or the School of Public Affairs. You will be required to submit a separate application and pay a separate application fee for each program to which you apply. Questions about which application materials may be shared across applications should be directed to the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions at 202-885-6230 or spaapp@american.edu.

You may defer for up to one year from your semester of admission with approval from the Office of Graduate Admissions and upon receipt of your non-refundable $250 deferral deposit. To request a deferral, please e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at spaapp@american.edu indicating the reason for your deferral request and the semester to which you want to defer. Please note that combined bachelor’s/master’s applicants cannot defer.

Any merit award granted for your original semester of admission cannot be carried over to your deferred semester. You will be reconsidered for merit aid for the next admission cycle, although the award is not guaranteed.

Students denied admission to SPA must wait one academic year from the date of their original application to reapply. Such candidates are encouraged to contact the Office of Graduate Admissions for advice on strengthening their applications.

As an applicant to a SPA graduate program, you will be asked to pay a non-refundable $55 application fee when you apply. This fee is waived for:

  • Applicants who have received a “fee waiver code” for attending an in-person or online recruitment event.
  • Current AU employees, AU students (including BA/MA and BA/MS applicants), and AU alumni.
  • Active duty members or veterans of the U.S. military.
  • Active member of Golden Key or Phi Beta Kappa.
  • Active or returned AmeriCorps, Bonner Scholar/Bonner Leader, Teach for All, Teach for America, and Peace Corps participants.
  • First-generation college students.
  • Recipients of eligible nationally or internationally recognized fellowship or scholarship programs, including FAMU Scholars, Fulbright Fellows, Koch Summer Fellows, McNair Scholars, Pickering Fellows, PPIA/IIPP Fellows, Rangel Fellows, and Truman Scholars.
  • Graduates of a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) or Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

Transcripts

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 SPA. Any transcript that you upload to your application is considered “unofficial.”

An “official” transcript is a document that has been prepared, authenticated, and sealed by the registrar at your college or university. 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 submit official transcripts with degree confirmation and certified translation (if applicable) at the time of application submission. Your application will not be reviewed until official transcripts from all international institutions attended have been received by our office.

In most cases, you can upload unofficial transcripts through the online application. Official transcripts must be sent directly from the institution in an unopened envelope.

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:

  • The institution name/logo is clearly displayed.
  • The grade report is printed directly from your institution’s online system (with your institution’s URL clearly visible on 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.

Each submitted transcript must clearly show the institution name, course title, course level (if applicable, e.g. 300, 400, etc.), grade earned in each course, number of credits earned in each course, and degree awarded (if applicable). If your degree is yet to be awarded, the transcript must have some indication of your enrollment in that degree program. An official transcript, confirming degree conferral and consistent with the transcript information provided in the original application, will be required of all incoming students prior to the start of classes. SPA reserves the right to rescind the offer of admission to any applicant who is not able to provide sufficient degree conferral information in their final official transcript.

Unofficial transcripts from international institutions may be uploaded for reference only. 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 international transcript requirements carefully before you proceed:

  • Original/Official Transcripts or Academic Records: Original/official transcripts or academic records are required and must reflect 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 the 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). However, you are welcome to submit an official evaluation by World Education Services (WES), Educational Credential Evaluators (ECE), or the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (ACCRAO) to help expedite the processing of your application.

You should submit transcripts from each institution where you completed more than one semester of full-time coursework, unless the course title, course level, grades, and credits earned at previous institutions appear on other degree institution 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.

You should submit transcripts from each institution where you completed more than one semester of full-time coursework, unless the course title, course level, grades, and credits earned at previous institutions appear on other degree institution 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.

Students who have attended institutions outside of the U.S. are required to submit official transcripts before their applications can be reviewed for admission. Admitted students with unofficial domestic or official, in-progress transcripts that do not show degree conferral will be required to submit official transcripts confirming degree conferral prior to enrolling.

Test Scores

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) general test is required for general admission to the following programs in the School of Public Affairs:

  • Graduate Certificate in Public Policy Analysis
  • MA in Political Science • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Public Policy (MPP)
  • MS in Justice, Law & Criminology
  • MS in Terrorism & Homeland Security Policy
  • PhD in Justice, Law & Criminology
  • PhD in Political Science
  • PhD in Public Administration

Official test scores should be sent directly to the School of Public Affairs (institutional code 5007). Scores must be less than five years old to be considered official. Submission of GRE scores for other SPA programs not listed above is optional.

The GRE may be waived for admission to the master's degree and certificate programs listed above if the applicant has five or more years of full-time professional and relevant work experience. Typically, internship experience is not counted towards the requisite five years of work experience. The GRE is required for all applicants to SPA’s PhD programs regardless of work experience.

To apply for a GRE waiver, please complete the waiver request on the online application or send your resume to spaapp@american.edu with a written request.

If you are applying for one of the dual degree JD/Master’s or LLM/Master’s programs through the Washington College of Law and the School of Public Affairs, you may substitute the LSAT for the GRE. MPP and MPA applicants may choose to submit the GMAT instead of the GRE.

Yes, we superscore. We will look at the best scores from multiple test attempts and take the highest score from each section of each test. Official test scores must be sent to the School of Public Affairs directly from the testing agency in order to be considered.

All graduate applicants to the School of Public Affairs, regardless of citizenship or residency, must demonstrate English language proficiency in order to be eligible for admission. To fulfill this requirement, applicants must satisfy one of the following criteria:

  • Submit official test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the Pearson Test of English (PTE) that meet the minimum score requirement.
  • Hold a bachelor's degree or higher from an accredited university located in one of the following English-speaking countries where the primary language of instruction is English: Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Bermuda; Botswana; British Virgin Islands; Cameroon; Canada; Cayman Islands; Cook Islands; Dominica; Gambia; Ghana; Grenada; Guyana; India; Ireland; Jamaica; Kenya; Kiribati; Liberia; Malawi; Micronesia; Montserrat; Namibia; New Zealand; Nigeria; Philippines; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Saint Maarten; South Africa; Tanzania; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; Uganda; United States; United Kingdom; or Zimbabwe.
  • Successful completion of American University's Master's Accelerator Program with an overall GPA of 3.25 or higher.

For more details, please visit the International Students Admission Requirements page.

The English language proficiency requirement can be fulfilled through the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Pearson Test of English (PTE). We strongly recommend that applicants make arrangements to take these examinations at least one month prior to the application deadline. Scores more than two years old will not be accepted. Official test scores must be sent to the School of Public Affairs directly from the testing agency (TOEFL-institutional code 5007, IELTS-request agency send by mail, PTE-university code X1Q-K6-10) in order to complete your application. Score reports submitted by the applicant will not be considered official.

The AU School of Public Affairs requires the following minimum scores for our graduate degree and graduate certificate programs:

  • TOEFL: 100 on Internet-based test, 250 on computer-based test, or 600 on paper-based test
  • IELTS: 7.0
  • PTE: 68

If your score is below the minimum, you should consider retaking the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE before completing your application. Applicants who do not meet the minimum score may be considered for American University’s Master's Accelerator Program.

For more details, please visit the International Students Admission Requirements page.

If you have already registered for any tests, please enter the test dates when asked on the application, and leave the test scores blank. You should enter test scores only if you have already taken the standardized tests. If you have not yet taken the tests or received the scores, you are not required to fill in the question regarding test scores in order to continue filling out your application.

Score report availability may vary depending on the test type and location. Please allow two weeks from your test date for SPA to receive your official test scores from a testing agency in the U.S., and four to six weeks for test locations outside of the U.S. Please contact the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions at 202-885-6230 or spaapp@american.edu if your official test scores have not reached us after one month. We’ll ask you to provide your unofficial score report and contact information. We may ask you to contact the testing agency to follow up regarding your score report if we are still unable to access it.

Personal Statement & Recommendation Letters

Your personal statement is a very important part of your application. It should be a well-written and carefully crafted essay of between two and five typewritten pages in length. You should describe in detail your personal and career goals, relevant employment experience, reason for wanting to study at American University’s School of Public Affairs, and ability and commitment to undertake graduate education at this time.

Three letters of recommendation are required for the PhD programs. All of our master’s programs, the combined bachelor’s/master’s programs, and the graduate certificate in Women, Policy & Political Leadership require two letters of recommendation. Your recommenders must submit their letters directly to the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions via the online application recommendation request form. Instructions are included within the online application. Requesting more than the required number of recommendations is not encouraged, unless the Graduate Admissions Review Committee has asked for additional recommendations.

Recommendations should come from supervisors and/or professors who know you well and can attest to your professional or academic abilities, as well as your potential for graduate study. Recent college graduates are strongly encouraged to include at least one academic recommendation source (faculty member) who can attest to their prior academic work and their potential for success in graduate study. Friends or family members should not provide your recommendations.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that students be advised of their rights concerning educational records, and this includes letters of recommendation. American University cannot require you to waive these rights, so you must decide if you wish to waive or retain your right to view each of your letters when sending your recommendation requests. The SPA Office of Graduate Admissions and the Graduate Admissions Review Committee that reviews your application file will know whether you have waived or retained access. Unfortunately, once you have answered this question on the recommendation request form, neither you nor the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions can change your answer. If you choose to do so, you may cancel the recommendation request, fill out a new request form, and resend it to your recommender.

Combined Programs & Dual Degrees

For current AU undergraduate students, SPA offers combined bachelor’s/master’s programs with all six of our traditional master’s degree offerings (Political Communication, Political Science, Public Administration, Public Policy, Justice, Law & Criminology, and Terrorism & Homeland Security Policy). Our Combined Programs page will tell you more.

Undergraduate students in good academic standing may apply for a combined degree after they have completed 75 credit hours towards their undergraduate degree, and, except in rare cases, by the end of the semester in which they have completed 90 credit hours.

The School of Public Affairs and the Washington College of Law (WCL) offer five dual degree programs:

You must submit a separate application to each school and indicate your dual degree program interest on both applications. You should submit all of your supplemental materials and your standardized test scores directly to the Washington College of Law, and those will be shared with SPA. You will receive separate admission decisions from each school. Please carefully review deadlines for WCL to ensure that they are met. Dual degree applicants are strongly encouraged to meet with an advisor from each school.

The admission decisions from each school are independent. Should you apply to a dual degree program and be admitted only to SPA, our offer of admission still stands, and you are eligible to proceed as a student in SPA. Note that admission decisions to one program have no bearing on or leverage with the other.

Non-Degree Admissions

Yes, non-degree status is available at the master’s level for those with an earned undergraduate degree from an accredited U.S. institution (or equivalent international degree). Review AU's Schedule of Classes for course offerings. Registration for courses is subject to space availability and confirmation of eligibility. Your non-degree enrollment form serves as your application and is reviewed outside of the School of Public Affairs by the AU Central Office. You can expect to receive notification with next steps in the enrollment process within three to five business days upon completion of your non-degree enrollment form. Guaranteed student loans and merit awards are not available to non-degree students.

To apply as a non-degree seeking student, please do the following:

  • Complete the non-degree enrollment form.
  • Submit official transcript(s) from every college you've attended.
  • Meet with the academic advisor in the department in which you wish to study for course registration:

The preferred application deadline for non-degree applicants within the U.S. is prior to the first day of classes in the semester in which the applicant wishes to enroll. Late application and registration is possible through the end of the drop/add period for non-degree students. An applicant who is denied admission to a master’s or PhD program within the School of Public Affairs must wait at least one calendar year before applying for non-degree or certificate program admission within the School of Public Affairs.

Up to 12 credit hours earned at American University as a non-degree student may be applied toward an AU degree program if later admitted to that degree program.

Yes. You must complete an application, submit all required supplemental materials, and receive an offer of admission in order to begin a degree-seeking program.

Financial Assistance

The School of Public Affairs offers graduate students both merit-based and need-based financial aid. Merit awards and donor-funded scholarships are administered by the School of Public Affairs' Office of Graduate Admissions. Need-based awards are administered by the American University Office of Financial Aid.There are also a variety of awards designated directly from American University and many opportunities from external sources. In addition, we support our nation's service members and their dependents through generous veterans benefits.

For more details, please visit the Fees & Funding section.

Applicants are considered for merit awards as part of the admissions process. SPA offers several different types of merit award funding, including tuition remission awards, donor-funded scholarships, and graduate assistantships. Merit awards are extended to strong applicants upon recommendation by the Graduate Admissions Review Committee. These awards are based on an assessment of an applicant’s credentials using traditional academic indicators (e.g., GPA, GRE scores, strength of recommendation letters, etc.). To be considered for a merit award, an applicant should submit a completed application by the preferred application deadline and answer yes to the question “Do you wish to be considered for a merit award” on the application. Awards are announced on an ongoing basis, with priority given to students applying for admission by the priority merit deadline. Response to award offers is due by the deadline stated on the award letter.

The federal government makes available low-interest-rate guaranteed student loans for eligible U.S. citizens and permanent residents. You do not need to wait until you are admitted to begin the guaranteed student loan process. To apply, complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be sure to list the American University (AU) FAFSA code, 001434, in the college release section. The phone number to the Financial Aid office at American University is 202-885-6100, if you have questions regarding the loan process. Graduate certificate applicants do not need to complete the FAFSA, as they are not eligible for financial aid.

Still Have Questions?

Please contact the Office of Graduate Admissions (OGA) at 202-885-6230 or spaapp@american.edu. We're here to help!