Exploring Colleges: American University

I learned a new word when I visited American University last April. Wonk.

According to Merriam-Webster, a wonk is: “a person who knows a lot about the details of a particular field (such as politics) and often talks a lot about that field.” According to American University, its students are wonks: smart + passionate + focused + engaged.

crosswalk to American campus and signWhile American University is technically located in DC, it is a 15-minute Metro ride from downtown. A free shuttle drives its passengers from the Tenleytown/AU Metro stop past the Department of Homeland Security to the 84-acre campus.

After a film about life on campus (one of the better ones we’ve seen) and a brief introduction by an admissions officer, my son and I followed our tour guide around campus, visiting a dorm and the quad. We learned a few statistics: not only is American University the largest school of international affairs in the country, its students are the country’s most politically active; 70 percent study abroad, and 84 percent complete an internship before graduating.

About half of the 13,000 students at American are grad students; in 2012, there were only 6,776 undergrad. The university’s 61 bachelors, 54 masters, 11 doctoral degrees, and JD are taught at its seven schools and colleges. The average classroom size is 22, and the maximum class size is 66, according to our tour guide.

Unlike urban George Washington University, American University has a campus feel. The main university buildings, including the library and the Kay Spiritual Life Center (which houses 25 different groups of faith), surround the Main Quad.


As we walked, students milled about, entering various buildings.


There was not the energy and excitement of a city campus, instead there was more of an academic feel. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons American calls its students wonks.


To be a wonk is to know (wonk spelled backward).

Trip taken: April 2013.

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