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Admission Requirements

If you are an international candidate, please see the English language proficiency section below for more information regarding alternative testing options during the Fall 2020 recruitment cycle.

SPA Welcomes Your Application!

Thank you for your interest in applying to a graduate program at the School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University. Applications for Fall 2020 are now available. Master’s degree and graduate certificate program application files are evaluated on a rolling basis, while the doctoral admission process occurs once per year. Before applying, carefully review the application deadlines and admission requirements. Application questions may be directed to

Application Deadlines

February 15
Priority deadline for first round consideration for Fall merit awards. Merit awards are not offered to Certificate students.
May 1
Final international student deadline for Fall admission
September 15
Priority international student deadline for Spring admission and merit award consideration
November 1
Priority deadline for first round consideration for Spring merit awards and final international student deadline for Spring admission

After the posted deadlines, applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis until the respective term or degree program is full. If you are interested in merit aid consideration, we strongly encourage you to submit your application before the priority deadline.

BA/MA combined programs are open to current AU undergraduate students only.

The final international student deadlines refer to applicants who require a new F-1 or J-1 visa. Current international students at another academic institution in the U.S. on an F-1 or J-1 visa can be admitted after these dates and will transfer their SEVIS record to American University. For more information on the SEVIS transfer-in process and/or international student deadlines, contact


June 1
Priority deadline for Key Executive Leadership MPA merit award consideration, fall admission
November 1
Priority deadline for Key Executive Leadership MPA merit award consideration, spring admission

After the posted deadlines, applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis until the respective term or degree program is full. If you are interested in merit aid consideration, we strongly encourage you to submit your application before the priority deadline.

Executive programs have different application procedures-the websites for each program will tell you more.

January 11, 2021
Fall Deadline (Fall Admission ONLY)

Since the dual degree programs require applications to both the School of Public Affairs and the Washington College of Law, the admission requirements for both schools must be met, including the application deadlines. Please refer to WCL Admissions for their priority deadlines. Please click here for SPA priority deadlines.

Application Requirements

The graduate application to SPA is available online, and can be saved and completed at your convenience. We strongly encourage you to submit the application form as early as possible and to allow time for your supplemental documents to be received by the application deadline.

The non-refundable application fee for SPA graduate programs is $65. This fee may be 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).

All applicants to SPA graduate programs must possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution by the date of anticipated enrollment at SPA. Applicants are required to submit transcripts from all institutions attended. For admissions review purposes, SPA requires applicants to upload unofficial transcripts from each college/university attended. Prior to enrolling, all admitted students are required to submit official transcripts confirming degree conferral. If the transcript that you submitted with your application did not include your final semester(s) of coursework, our Office of Graduate Admissions will need a final official transcript (showing your final grades for these courses) prior to your first semester as a SPA graduate student.

Visit the Transcript section of our FAQ to learn more about U.S.-based transcript requirements.

Learn more about international transcript requirements here.

Your personal statement is an opportunity for the Graduate Admissions Review Committee to get to know you, so it should be a well-written and carefully crafted discussion of your relevant qualifications and experiences. We ask for an essay of between 1.5 to 2 typed pages for master’s degree applicants and approximately 5 typed pages for PhD applicants. 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.

All of SPA's master's programs (except for the MS in Data Science program, for which it is optional), the combined bachelor's/master's programs, and the graduate certificate in Women, Policy & Political Leadership require two letters of recommendation. Three letters of recommendation are required for all PhD programs.

Your recommenders must submit their letters directly to the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions electronically via the online application recommendation request form. In the online application, you will be prompted to identify your recommenders and their contact information. Please notify your recommenders that they will receive an e-mail prompt to submit their recommendation online.

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.

Requesting more than the required number of recommendations is not encouraged, unless the Graduate Admissions Review Committee has asked for an additional recommendation. Friends or family members should not provide your recommendations.

Note: Recommendation letters can be requested only after the application has been submitted and the application fee has been paid.

Visit the Recommendation Letters section of our FAQ to learn more.

Your resume or curriculum vitae serves as a major source of information about your background and experiences, so we encourage you to be detailed and thorough. Your resume or CV should be updated, free of grammatical errors, and in a well-composed layout. At a minimum, it should include educational background, employment and/or volunteer experience, special skills and attributes, and academic and/or professional honors and affiliations.

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 & Policy

Submit official test scores from the GRE (institutional code: 5007) to the School of Public Affairs. 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. Additionally, the GRE is optional for alumni who have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher from American University before entry to their anticipated master’s degree.

GRE Waivers

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 the PhD programs regardless of work experience or AU alumni status.

To apply for a GRE waiver, please complete the waiver request on the online application or send your resume OR CV to with a written request. 

Other Standardized Tests in Lieu of GRE

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. There are no other exceptions.

Minimum Required GRE and Superscoring

We do not require a specific minimum GRE. Prospective students may contact the SPA Office of Graduate Admissions at 202-885-6230 or to inquire about average GRE scores of previously admitted applicants. We take 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 for each test in order to be considered.

Additional Requirements

Due to recent event and travel restrictions caused by the Coronavirus, American University understands that English language proficiency testing may be difficult or impossible in your area at this time. As such, we are temporarily accepting Duolingo in lieu of a TOEFL or IELTS score as part of our admissions process. The minimum score is 120. More information may be found about this examination at

Strong proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English is critical for your academic success as well as your full participation in all aspects of graduate student life at American University. 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.

For more information, please visit the Test Scores section of our FAQ or our International Student Admission Requirements.

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

Applicants to SPA's executive programs—the Key Executive Leadership MPA and the MS in Organization Development—are required to schedule personal interviews with the program director. You’ll be invited to interview after a preliminary review of your application is completed. 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 further instructions.

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. You'll need to schedule these appointments well in advance, to leave ample time to complete your application. To meet with an SPA undergraduate advisor, please schedule an appointment online or by calling 202-885-6200. Your graduate advising appointment should be scheduled after your undergraduate advising appointment.

If you are applying to a dual degree program between the School of Public Affairs and the Washington College of Law (WCL), you must submit a separate application to each school and indicate dual degree program interest on both applications. You should submit a full application with all of your supplemental materials and your standardized test scores directly to the Washington College of Law. In addition, please submit only the online application for SPA. All supplemental materials supplied to WCL will be shared with and reviewed by SPA once complete. Admissions decisions are independent, and you will receive separate decision letters from WCL and SPA.

Dual degree students do not qualify for SPA merit-based aid until a candidate plans to enroll as a full-time student in the School of Public Affairs. Based on the most usual dual degree design, this is not until their second year or second fall term on campus.

How to Submit Supporting Application Documents

Electronic submission of documents through the online application is strongly encouraged. If you need an alternative way to submit supporting documents, such as official transcripts or other items incompatible with online upload, 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 received.

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
SPA Graduate Admissions
Office of Enrollment
4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 218
Washington, DC 20016-8001
Via Email Via Fax

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

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Still Have Questions?

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