An Introduction to Colleges & Universities in Washington, DC

by Jessica Ponden
An Introduction to Colleges & Universities in Washington, DC

The White House is one of the primary landmarks people associate with Washington, D.C. Other must-see attractions include the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Monument, the Vietnam Memorial and the Smithsonian museums.

While many of these institutions have long been a part of the city's landscape, many new additions are also being made. A total of $9.7 billion worth of projects have been completed since 2001 and another $6.6 billion are under construction, according to the Washington, D.C. Marketing Center.

The United States Census Bureau estimates the 2005 population of the 61-square-mile DC metropolitan area to be 551,136 people. Most of those residents are highly educated. Forty-six percent of DC residents aged 25 and over have at least a bachelor's degree, according to Census Bureau findings in 2004. That is a higher percentage than any other state.

The area's core industry is government, which employs more than 230,000 people, according to statistics from the DC Marketing Center. Large, non-government employers include the Fortune 500 companies Fannie Mae, Pepco Holdings and Danaher, all headquartered in Washington. World Bank, Georgetown University, Washington Hospital Center and Howard University are also among the top 10 largest employers, as ranked by the Department of Employment Services.

Going to School in Washington, D.C.

When students in Washington, D.C. talk about parties, there's a good chance it has more to do with political affiliation than kegs. Many students attend school in the area to pursue a degree in political science or a related field. In fact, many of the city's colleges and universities have specialized programs that cater to those who aspire to a career in politics. There is, however, an assortment of public, private and professional schools in the city, which offer plenty of other courses of study, from drama to theology.

Washington, D.C. is home to several unique colleges and universities. The Catholic University of America, for instance, is the country's only higher education institution founded by U.S. bishops. Gallaudet University is the world's only university for deaf and hard-of-hearing undergraduates. And Georgetown University is the nation's oldest Catholic University. Other well-known schools include The George Washington University, which is the largest institution of higher learning in the city; and Howard University, a predominantly African-American university renowned for its special programs and labs including the Center for Urban Progress. The University of the District of Columbia is the only public institution of higher education in the city.

The following is a list of schools in DC from the Greater Washington College Information Center, a program of the Consortium of Universities of the Metropolitan Washington Area.

Private Colleges & Universities

Public Colleges & Universities

Professional Schools

The areas of study available are as varied as the schools. There is, however, a preponderance of government-related curriculums, as one would expect. American University's School of Public Affairs and the International Service program are good examples. They are the most popular at AU, with more than 2,000 undergraduates enrolled, said Clark Gregor, public information officer for American University and a graduate of the school.

Julie Green, assistant vice president of communications at Georgetown University, said government and social sciences are the most popular areas of study for Georgetown undergrads.

"Many students come to Georgetown because of the location," she said. "There are a number of opportunities available to them given the location. They can access an array of extracurricular activities, from internships at the White House or with a federal agency to cultural events at the Kennedy Center. Plus, they're surrounded by the nation's history."

Other benefits, she added, are the high-powered faculty and guests. Sen. Tom Daschle and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are both adjunct professors at the school and speakers have included everyone from heads of state to Billy Joel.

The George Washington University boasts similar attractions, plus it is located just four blocks from the White House.

"Students have the classroom, the campus and the city before them with countless opportunities," said Tracy Schario, director of media relations.

Another interesting note: George Washington University is recognized as the "Hottest School for Political Junkies," according to the 2005 Kaplan/Newsweek How to Get Into College guide.


The cost of a college education in Washington is hard to pin down. Most of the schools are private and, therefore, pricey. Financial aid is available, however.

Private Universities

  • Georgetown University - $30,163
  • George Washington University - $34,030
  • Southeastern University - $9,705
  • Howard University - $11,645

Financial Aid

Georgetown is a private institution with a hefty price tag for tuition, but there is also a need-blind admissions policy. This means students are admitted based solely on their merits without consideration of their financial situation. Upon acceptance, a financial aid package is designed to meet the student's need.

George Washington levies an even higher tuition fee - but there is hope for students of all incomes, thanks to the fixed tuition program which provides a flat rate for up to five years for full-time students. Entering its second year, the fixed tuition/scholarship program will provide an average of $21,950 in need-based institutional aid per incoming freshman. Nearly 60 percent of the incoming class will receive institutional aid.

"The University has been aggressively improving its competitiveness and national reputation on many fronts, including enhancing quality academic and research opportunities, recruiting and retaining accomplished faculty, and developing innovative programs such as fixed tuition," said President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, also a professor of public administration.

Financial aid can be sought no matter what institution a student chooses. Those looking to attend school in the DC area can access the DC OneApp online. The five-part process allows students to choose multiple types of aid programs. Forms can also be submitted and their status tracked through the website.

Another option is the DC College Access Program, a nonprofit organization that offers counseling and financial assistance to students who might not otherwise be able to attend college.

Students are also encouraged to fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).


Washington, D.C. is a hotbed for internships. Nearly all of the area's universities and colleges encourage students to take advantage of their proximity to world-renowned institutions.

Schario said internship opportunities are one of GW's biggest selling features. Students do internships with CNN, federal and international government agencies, Capitol Hill/Congressional offices and law firms, to name a few, she said.

There is a myriad of opportunities, Gregor added, no matter what a student's area of interest.

"We place students everywhere, from the White House to nonprofits to various corporations and everywhere in between," he said. "We use Washington, D.C. as our classroom. We're not just a university that happens to be in Washington, D.C."

In addition to consulting with an individual school's internship coordinator, there are several online sources to keep up to date on what is available:

  • The fund for American Studies offers internship opportunities including The Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems, The Institute on Political Journalism, The Bryce Harlow Institute on Business and Government Affairs, The Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Services and the Capital Semester program. More information is available online at
  • The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars has provided interns for thousands of organizations in government, business and the non-profit sector in Washington, D.C. for 30 years.
  • The Washington Internship Institute is a project of the Institute for Experiential Learning, offering internships entitled the Capital Experience, Building Democracy and Embassy and Diplomatic Scholars.

Employment in Washington, D.C.

It is projected that the city's employment rate will increase by 0.9 percent per year through 2012. This is according to a 10-year study completed by the Department of Employment Services. DOES Director Gregg Irish called the growth "quite respectable."

"The forecast shows the District's employment increasing 0.9 percent per year between 2002 and 2012, and adding 67,700 jobs throughout the decade to reach 791,735," he said. "This places the District at the center of one of the fastest growing regional economies in the country."

Gregor said DC is a great place to live and work, which is why so many alums of DC colleges and universities choose to stay, as he did. "I love living here because of the amount of activity and the cultural diversity," he said.

Green said 30 percent of Georgetown alums remain in the DC area. Also, about 45 percent of graduates from The Catholic University of America live in the Washington-Virginia-Maryland area.

The DOES report shows service sector jobs will remain on the rise, and there will be a continuing importance for college degree training. The area's unemployment rate as of August is at 6.4 percent. This represents a 2 percent over-the-year reduction, DOES data shows.

"It is important to look at unemployment statistics during a 12-month period to gauge the strength of the local labor market," Irish said.

Since August 2004, the labor force increased by 1,600, with 7,500 more residents employed and 5,900 fewer unemployed.

The District does provide career placement services through its One-Stop Career Centers, which are open to all residents. There are several locations which provide vocational assessment/planning, career counseling, access to labor market information and job search resources, job fairs, occupational skills training and job placement assistance.

Washington, D.C. offers students plenty of options, including where to attend school, where to get an internship, and what to do on a rainy day!

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