How to Get Into American University: Admissions Data and Strategies

March 4, 2022

Washington, DC is an attractive locale for students looking to attend college in a bustling, cosmopolitan city with a bevy of recreational, cultural, and internship/pre-professional opportunities. Therefore, it makes sense that American University’s acceptance rate has dipped as low as 26% in recent years, a precipitous drop from the mid-2010s when admit rates were 20 points higher. A look back further into AU’s admissions history reveals even more about the university’s rise in selectivity:

American University Historical Acceptance Rates:

  • 1994: 77%
  • 2003: 60%
  • 2012: 44%

Given that American University is a now a very selective institution, it is important for prospective AU students to have:

  1. An understanding of the big-picture of American University admissions.
  2. Data to help you assess your chances of admission of more accurately.
  3. An idea of what the American University admissions committee looks for and strategies to improve your admissions chances.

To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:

  • American University’s Class of 2025 acceptance rate
  • American University’s ED acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, GPA, and class rank of accepted American University applicants
  • Admissions trends at AU
  • The demographics of current American University undergraduates
  • American University’s yield rate
  • How American University’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
  • Tips for applying to American University
  • How to assess whether applying to American University is even worth the $75 application fee (for you)

Many students applying to American University may also find the following blogs to be of interest:

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

American University’s: Overall Acceptance Rate – Class of 2025

AU received 19,675 applications for a place in the Class of 2025 which aimed to enroll roughly 2,300 students. However, official acceptance rate figures for this cycle have not yet been released. The most recent official figures come from the Class of 2024, which saw 20,036 applicants and a 39% acceptance rate. The prior year, for the Class of 2023, the acceptance rate was only 33%.

American University Early Decision Acceptance Rate

As much as any school in the country, American University will reward you handsomely for committing to them via binding Early Decision. If you are a borderline applicant (statistically) this is a great way to go. This statement is evidenced by an 83% ED acceptance rate for the Class of 2024. In total, 962 applicants applied through ED and 803 were accepted.

There are two rounds of Early Decision at AU. The ED I deadline is November 15 and the ED II deadline is January 15.

American University Admissions – SAT, ACT, GPA, and Class Rank

First let’s look at the academic stats for the admitted Class of 2025 (note: these numbers are higher than those for enrolled students). The mid-50% SAT range for admitted 2021-22 first-year students was 1310-1460 and the ACT range was 29-33. The mid-50% range for weighted GPA was 3.63-4.15.

Those who actually went on to enroll in the Class of 2024 (most recent data available) had an average high school GPA of 3.79. Thirty-five percent placed in the top decile of their high school class, 68% were in the top 25%, and 95% were in the top 50%. The median SAT score for enrolled students was 1310 and the median ACT composite score was 30.

Admissions Trends & Notes

  • American University has been test-optional for over a decade, so the policy there is not a temporary pandemic measure.
  • AU’s ED acceptance rate was 47 points higher than the regular decision rate.
  • 42% of the class was filled through the ED round.
  • Only 133 students were accepted from a waitlist of 1,657 individuals.
  • 50% of enrolled freshmen submitted SAT results and 31% included ACT scores with their applications.

Who Attends American University?

Let’s look at the demographics of current American University undergraduates:

  • Students represent all 50 states.
  • They come from 123 countries around the world.

As at any selective university, competition is toughest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Northeast & the West Coast). If you hail from a less populated state like Hawaii, the Dakotas, or Montana, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances.

Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown of current undergrads was as follows:

  • Asian American: 7%
  • Hispanic: 12%
  • African American: 8%
  • White: 53%
  • Two or more races: 5%

The breakdown by gender of all current undergraduates is notably split in favor of women:

  • Male: 37%
  • Female: 63%

With male students at AU being somewhat of an endangered species, one would assume that it is easier to get into the school as a male applicant. Yet, for the Class of 2024, the male acceptance rate from out-of-state was 42%–identical to the female acceptance rate.

International students make up 12% of the degree-seeking population at AU. The greatest number of students hail from the following countries:

  1. China
  2. Panama
  3. India
  4. Vietnam
  5. Spain
  6. United Kingdom

Yield Rate

American University’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was an extremely low 21% last year. This is due, in part, to the fact that AU is competing with the same pool of students as many elite institutions in the Northeast. As such, the university greatly values “demonstrated interest” (more on that in a moment). For comparison, other private institutions have the following yield rates: George Washington University (20%), Georgetown (44%), and Boston University (24%).

How American University Rates Applicants

There are only 3 factors that American University ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process and one may come as surprise: rigor of secondary school record, GPA, and—the surprise—the level of an applicant’s interest. The latter connects to the aforementioned low yield rate so AU is acutely interested in whether a given applicant is likely to actually go on to enroll in their school.

There are an additional 6 factors that American U views as being “important” to their evaluation of a candidate: the application essay, recommendations, and talent/ability, extracurricular activities, character/personal qualities, and volunteer work. They “consider”: test scores, first generation status, legacy status, geographic residence, racial/ethnic status, and paid work experience.

Straight from the American University admissions staff:

“The Office of Admission’s holistic approach to making admissions decisions has helped to identify candidates for admission who are a great fit for AU – including students who are intellectually curious and passionate about creating meaningful change.”

Additional Tips for Applying to American University

If you plan on joining the 20,000+ AU hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • American University weighs “demonstrated interest” as “very important” in the admissions process. Therefore, you will be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit (in non-pandemic times) contacted an admissions officer, etc.
  • A teacher recommendation is required. For tips on requesting a letter of recommendation, check out this blog.
  • American will be asking you for a mid-year report, so make sure to keep your grades up throughout senior year of high school.
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay required by AU. In the 2021-22 cycle, there was one prompt that every applicant must address:

Why are you interested in American University? (150 words)

Should I Apply to American University?

Unlike many similarly desirable/selective universities, American is not looking for reasons to say “No” to prospective students with reasonably strong credentials. However, if American University is your aim and you don’t have grades and test scores in their 75th percentile range (if electing to submit test scores), make sure to also have a rock-solid backup plan. All students need to make sure that they formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. You’ll definitely want to do this in conjunction with an admissions professional.