Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

Graduate Admissions

Frequently Asked Questions

As you begin exploring graduate study at the School of Public Affairs (SPA) and as you start your application, we hope you will find the following answers to frequently asked questions helpful. If at any point you need additional information, please contact the SPA Graduate Admissions Office at 202.885.6230 or email at spainfo@american.edu. We are here to assist you.


General Information

How can I find out more about the graduate programs offered by the School of Public Affairs (SPA)? How many credits are required to earn a graduate degree at SPA?

SPA offers 6 traditional, 1 online, and 2 executive master's degree programs, which range from 33 to 39 credit hours. Click on the program links below for detailed degree information.

Traditional master's degrees:

Online master's degree:

Executive master's degrees:

SPA also offers three PhD programs:

A PhD program in SPA requires 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).


What is the difference between the MPA and MPP degrees?

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree 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) degree 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.


What is an executive program?

An executive program is intended for mid-career or senior level professionals who wish to maintain employment while completing one of the school's degree programs on a part-time basis. The minimum level of work experience may vary by program, but all of the executive programs do require substantial work experience in the field, typically, a minimum of 5 years of full-time work in a relevant career. An executive program is traditionally delivered in a weekend format or non-traditional scheduling pattern. Our existing 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.


What is the difference between full-time and part-time status? Am I able to move back and forth between full-time and part-time?

Full-time student status is defined as registration for nine semester credit hours during both the fall and spring semesters, or by enrollment for four semester credit hours during the summer semester. Enrollments in all summer sessions during a calendar year will be added to determine the total summer enrollment. Half-time student status is defined as registration for five semester credit hours during both the fall and spring semesters, or by enrollment for two semester 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 during fall and spring semesters. Merit award recipients must also maintain full-time status. Any changes in registration from full-time to half-time status may impact financial aid award amounts. Please contact the Financial Aid office for further clarification 202.885.6100.


How do I transfer to the School of Public Affairs?

Transfer students must apply for the program through our online application. Application requirements remain the same for any student applying to one of our degree programs. The maximum number of credits that may be transferred from another accredited program into the traditional graduate programs at the School of Public Affairs is 6 credits. Exactly which credits and how those credits are applied, is determined by the Department Chair and academic advisor after a student has been admitted. Once admitted, those seeking to transfer credits should forward course descriptions and syllabi to the Chair of the program for consideration.

Application Process and Deadlines

When are the application deadlines?

Traditional Master's Programs:
First round consideration for Fall merit awards: February 15
Priority Fall deadline for international master's applicants: May 1
Priority Spring deadline for international master's applicants: September 15
First round consideration for Spring merit awards: November 1

PhD Programs:
Fall deadline: January 1 (Fall admission ONLY)

Executive Master's Programs:
Executive program deadlines vary. Please visit the program website ( Key Executive Leadership MPA or MS, Organization Development) for the application deadline.

Is there a final application deadline for the each term? When will you stop accepting applications?

The School of Public Affairs' Graduate Admissions Review Committee reviews master's and graduate certificate applications on a rolling basis throughout the year for Spring and Fall 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 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.

Can I apply to more than one program?

You may apply to more than one program within the University and/or the School. 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 202.855.6230 or spaapp@american.edu.

What joint programs does SPA offer and how can I apply?

For current AU undergraduate students, SPA offers combined bachelor's/master's programs with all six of the traditional master's degree offerings (Political Communication; Political Science; Public Administration; Public Policy; Justice, Law & Criminology; Terrorism & Homeland Security Policy). For more information, visit SPA's combined programs page here.

The School of Public Affairs (SPA) and the Washington College of Law (WCL) offer five dual degree programs. Click on the links below for detailed degree information:

You must submit a separate application to each school, indicating your dual degree program interest on both applications. You will submit all of your supplemental materials and your standardized test scores directly to WCL, 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, SPA and WCL.

When is the best time to apply for a combined bachelor's/master's program?

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.

Can the application fee for SPA graduate programs be waived?

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

  1. Applicants who have received a "fee waiver code" for attending an in-person or online recruitment event;
  2. Current AU employees, AU students (including BA/MA and BA/MS applicants), and AU alumni;
  3. Active duty members or veterans of the U.S. military;
  4. Active member of Golden Key or Phi Beta Kappa;
  5. Active or returned AmeriCorps, Bonner Scholar/Bonner Leader, Teach for All, Teach for America, Peace Corps participants;
  6. First-generation college students;
  7. 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;
  8. Graduates of a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) or Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

How do I check my application status?

If you have submitted an online application, you can use the email address and password you created when you started your application to log into your application account where you can track the status of your application. Please 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 Graduate Admissions Office at 202.885.6230 or email spaapp@american.edu.

Is the spring admissions cycle competition easier?

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.

Standardized Test Scores

Is the GRE required for admission?

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

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

Submit official test scores from the GRE (institutional code: 5007) to the School of Public Affairs (SPA). 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.

Can the GRE requirement be waived?

The GRE may be waived for admission to the master's degree and certificate programs listed above if the applicant has 5 or more years of full-time, professional, relevant work experience. Typically, internship experience is not counted towards the requisite 5 years of work experience. Please Note: The GRE is required for all applicants applying to the PhD programs.

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.

Can other standardized tests be submitted in lieu of the GRE?

The LSAT may only be substituted for the GRE for applicants to the Washington College of Law (WCL) and School of Public Affairs for dual degree JD/Master's and LLM/Master's programs. The GMAT may only substitute for the GRE for MPP or MPA applicants.

What is the minimum GRE score or GPA required to apply?

We do not require any specific minimum GRE or GPA. GRE scores and GPAs are considered alongside several other factors during the application review process. Prospective students may contact the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions at 202.885.6230 to inquire about average GRE scores and GPAs of previously admitted applicants.

I have taken one of the standardized exams more than once. Will you consider multiple scores?

Yes, 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 American University School of Public Affairs directly from the testing agency for each test in order to be considered.

Am I required to take an English language proficiency exam (TOEFL/IELTS/PTE)?

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

  • Submit official test scores from the TOEFL (institutional code: 5007), IELTS (request agency send by mail), or Pearson Test of English (university code: X1Q-K6-10) that meet the minimum score requirement:
    • TOEFL - 100 on IBT test, 250 on computer-based test, or 600 on paper-based test
    • IELTS - 7.0
    • Pearson Test of English - 68
  • Hold a baccalaureate degree or higher from an accredited university located in one of the following English-speaking countries where the primary language of instruction is English, then you have potentially met the English waiver requirement and will not submit a standardized English proficiency exam for admission consideration: 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, Sint 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 (MAP) with an overall GPA of 3.25 or higher.

What tests fulfill the English language proficiency requirement for international students?

The English language proficiency requirement can be fulfilled through either 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 (refer to the Application Deadlines section under Admission Requirements). Scores more than two years old are not accepted. Official test scores must be sent to American University School of Public Affairs directly from the testing agency ( TOEFL institutional code: 5007, IELTS request agency send by mail, or Pearson Test of English university code: X1Q-K6-10); score reports submitted by the applicant will not be considered official in order to complete an application.

American University School of Public Affairs requires the following minimum scores for all graduate degree and graduate certificate programs:

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

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

If I plan to take my test(s) after submitting my application, how should I complete the application questions regarding test scores? Should I wait until after receiving my scores to fill out the test section(s) of the application?

If you have already registered for any tests, please enter the test date(s) when asked on the application, and leave the test scores blank. Only enter test scores if you have already taken the standardized test(s). 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.

I had the official test(s) score(s) sent from the testing agency to American University School of Public Affairs and keep checking my application account for their receipt, but the score(s) are not marked as received. How should I follow-up?

Score report availability may vary depending on the test type and location. Please allow 2 weeks from your test date for SPA to receive your official test scores from a testing agency in the U.S., and 4-6 weeks for test locations outside of the U.S. Please contact SPA Office of Graduate Admissions at spaapp@american.edu if your official test scores have not reached us after one month, and be ready 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 availability if we are still unable to access it.

Supplemental Documents

I have started my application, but do not see a place to upload supporting documents or request letters of recommendation. How will I submit these materials?

You will submit all supplemental documents to support your application to SPA through the online application (excluding official test scores). The SPA application has three parts: 1) application form, 2) application fee, and 3) supplemental items. You will not have access to upload your supplemental items or be prompted to complete your online recommendation request forms until you have clicked "submit" on the application form and paid your application fee. You will not be able to return to edit your application form 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 SPA Office of Graduate Admissions.

What should I include in my personal statement?

Your personal statement is a very important part of your application. It should be a well-written and carefully crafted essay 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
  • ability and commitment to undertake graduate education at this time

How many letters of recommendation are required? Can I submit more than the required number of recommendation letters?

Three letters of recommendation are required for the Ph.D. programs. All of our master's programs (including combined bachelor's/master's programs) as well as the Graduate Certificate in Women, Policy, and Political Leadership require two letters of recommendation. Your recommenders must submit their letters of recommendation directly to the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions electronically 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 an additional recommendation.

Who should write my letters of recommendation? Can my recommendation letters be both academic and professional?

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.

Should I waive my right to view the letters of recommendation? If I want to waive my right but already sent my recommendation request, how can I go back to edit my answer to this question?

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 who reviews your application file will know for each letter 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 is able to edit 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.

I am required to submit a writing sample to complete my application. How many pages are required?

Two samples of your written work (1-6 pages) are required for application to the executive programs, MS in Organization Development and Key Executive Leadership MPA. One sample of your written work (12-25 pages) is required for application to the doctoral programs. Writing samples can be reports, memoranda, articles, or portions thereof.

Is an interview required for admission into the program?

Admission to either of SPA's executive programs, the Key Executive Leadership MPA or the MS in Organization Development, requires an interview with the Program Director. Applicants are 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 with ample time to complete their application. To meet with a SPA undergraduate advisor, appointments can be made through the online scheduler or by calling 202.885.6200. A list of SPA's graduate advisors is provided here. 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; any such interviews would be conducted via Skype. Applicants invited to interview will be contacted by the School of Public Affairs and given instructions on whom to contact to schedule the interview.

Applicants may request an informal meeting with a member of the admissions office by submitting the online request form. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you personally if you are available to do so.

Application Review and Decision Notification

How long does it take to get a decision regarding admissions?

Application files are NOT reviewed until all required documents have arrived. Some delays in review are the result of outstanding documents not yet received. We encourage you to revisit your completed application account to check the status of your application. You will receive a confirmation email from 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 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 email from 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 and released in mid-late March.

Can I defer my admission once admitted to SPA? 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 Graduate Admissions Office and upon receipt of your non-refundable $250 deferral deposit. To request a deferral, send an email to the Office of Graduate Admissions ( spaapp@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. You will be reconsidered for merit aid for the next admission cycle, although the award is not guaranteed. Note: BA/MA and BA/MS applicants cannot defer.

If I have been denied admission to SPA, can I reapply?

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 Graduate Admissions Office for advice on strengthening their applications.

I am an applicant to a dual degree program. What if I am admitted to SPA but not Washington College of Law (WCL)?

The admission decisions from each school are independent. Should you apply to a dual degree program and only be admitted 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 another.

Financial Assistance

What is a merit award, and how do I apply?

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 based upon a 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.

How do I apply for a guaranteed student loan? Do I need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form?

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) as instructed at www.fafsa.ed.gov. 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.

Non-Degree Admissions

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

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 3-5 business days upon completion of your non-degree enrollment form. Guaranteed student loans and merit awards are not available to non-degree students.

How many credits could I transfer into a master's degree program from non-degree graduate courses?

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

How do I apply as a non-degree seeking student?

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 attended
  • Meet with an academic advisor within the department you wish to study for course registration:
    • Department of Government: Robert Briggs
    • Department of Justice, Law & Criminology: Shelley Morris
    • Department of Public Administration and Policy: Janet Nagler

The preferred application deadline for non-degree domestic applicants is prior to the first day of classes in the semester 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 may not apply for non-degree OR certificate program admission within the School of Public Affairs for a minimum of one calendar year.

Will I have to reapply if I want to become a degree-seeking student?

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.



Request an Appointment

Submit Online

News RSS

Chief Hassan Aden, SPA/MPA ’09

#SPA80for80: Hassan Aden, SPA/MPA ’09

Hassan M. Aden, SPA/MPA '09, chief of police in Greenville, North Carolina, has served police departments for nearly 30 years and has used his "SPA experience every day."

More News