3 Aug 2019

My Experience at AUC: A Review

As promised, I am writing a review of my experience at AUC—including the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I have given similar feedback in the evaluation form I was sent, so the information presented here has already been communicated via the official channel. Instead, this blog post is written partly as an introspective essay, and partly as a guidebook to future AUC students.

The Good

The best thing about AUC is the student community. The environment is co-operative: think MIT rather than investment bank. Some students are academically gifted and help other students, but even the weakest AUC students possess something uncommon—initiative. Entrepreneurialism is cliché, and it’s not the best description here; we AUC students don’t start companies (this is not a thing in the Netherlands) but we do organise events, sing, write, go to festivals, and chair lots of committees.

The curriculum is interdisciplinary, at least much more so than at comparable universities. The course is demanding and hard, but also intellectually satisfying. The AUC faculty teachers are really good—I studied under a lawyer who is foremost in his field of environmental law, for example. One of my teachers is a prominent climate scientist in the Netherlands; another is a best-selling writer and human rights advocate. All of them are good teachers as well as academics; they’re obviously passionate about interacting with the students, and the students are happy to ask questions or pose criticisms.

We have graduates from Stanford, Cornell and Leiden in the faculty. The number of AUC students that obtain master’s degrees from the likes of Oxford, Cambridge or HEC is remarkable given that AUC only graduates about 300 students a year.

The Bad

Academically, the programme suffers from two problems: there’s too much work (and stress), and the quality of courses offered by outside professors is too variable. I won’t name courses or professors here, but one course I took at AUC was more like a high school class than a university-level class at one of the country’s most prestigious schools.

The workload is a well-known issue—AUC themselves basically admit it—and the stress takes its toll on many students. A survey reported by our student newspaper indicates that mental health issues are probably pretty common, and stress is the foremost issue in student life. Speaking personally, it’s not just the amount or the difficulty of assignments that’s stressful—though some exams and assignments were difficult, and sometimes I did have an awful lot of assignments. It’s also the way the assignments and exams are structured: the assignments are usually due at midnight. Not infrequently, on weekends. Exams can be early in the morning (I had one at 8:30am) or as late as 6–7:30pm.

The AUC experience is chaotic, in other words. It also doesn’t help that university’s administration is likewise chaotic and disorganised: the rules are many, important information is not always communicated on time, and some very bizarre decisions are taken with respect to retakes or grade equivalencies from semesters studied abroad. I myself contested an economics paper grade, and ended up having to write a new paper over the summer. Not fun.

The Downright Ugly

The ugliest thing about AUC is not actually AUC, but rather, DUWO—the company responsible for student accommodation. All AUC students have to live in the dorms, so there is no way to avoid dealing with this bunch of losers. Their incompetence verges on the comical, and I could write a long litany of all the things I hate about them. This is but a brief list, covering the greatest iniquities:

  • Repeated breakdowns in the hot water system. Sometimes this lasted a couple of hours in a localised part of the dorms, but once, all of the dorms didn’t have hot water for 2 or 3 days.

  • Repeated breakdowns of the lift: good luck getting your bike to the 3rd or 5th floor.

  • Lack of communication, and stubborn idiocy on the other end of the line.

  • Electronic keys that stopped working.

  • Poor quality washing machines. They didn’t allow us to use our own washing machines, either.

  • A bathroom with no light fixtures or ventillation; a linoleum floor that was always dirty even if you just cleaned it.

If I had to pick one ugly thing about AUC, however, it would be the way they deal with struggling students. As of 2020, students who need an extra semester to graduate need to move out of the dorms and find housing on their own. Retakes are officially forbidden, so hope you don’t screw up an exam.

Conclusion

I ultimately enjoyed my time AUC, and survived the more difficult periods. I have just graduated cum laude with a high GPA—enough to meet the minimum requirements for Oxford. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend AUC to just anyone. It’s obvious that academic ability is required (any good university requires this), but the experience is also unnecessarily stressful. By the end of my studies, I was exhausted.

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