How to Write the Rice University Application Essays 2018-2019

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Rice University, based in Houston, Texas, is a private research university that comprises eight schools, including the renowned George R. Brown School of Engineering. U.S. News and World Report ranks Rice at #3 in Best Undergraduate Teaching, and undergraduate life at Rice finds strong support in the residential college system. Admission is therefore very selective, placing the acceptance rate for Rice’s class of 2022 at 11%.


Applicants to Rice are required to submit a personal statement through the Coalition Application or the Common Application. To read about strategies for the Common App, check out CollegeVine’s 2018-2019 Common App Essay Guide.


In addition, students must submit three short responses and an extended essay (or two shorter essays for the School of Architecture).


Gaining admission to Rice is hence a tricky feat. But fear not — here is CollegeVine’s guide on how to tackle the Rice University application essays.


The prompts for Rice’s supplemental essays are as follows:

All Applicants:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 word limit)


With the understanding that the choice of academic school you indicated is not binding, explain why you are applying to that particular school of study. (150 word limit)


How did you first learn about Rice University, and what motivated you to apply? (250 word limit)


In keeping with Rice’s long-standing tradition (known as “The Box”), please share an image of something that appeals to you. See the Help Section for more information.

School of Architecture:

What aspirations, experiences, or relationships have motivated you to pursue the study of architecture? (250 word limit)

Outside of academics, what do you enjoy most or find especially challenging? (250 word limit)

All Other Schools:

The quality of Rice’s academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspective would you contribute to life at Rice? (500 word limit)

Read on for an in-depth analysis of how to write the 2017-2018 application essays for Rice University.


Rice University Application Essay Prompts

All Applicants – Short Essay #1

There is a breadth of intellectual opportunities here at Rice. Further explain your intended major and other areas of academic focus you may explore (150 words max)

For this prompt, you want to discuss the reason behind your intended major and why you want to study that subject at Rice. It is particularly important to avoid giving the reader the impression that your chosen major attracts you because of the associated monetary reward or prestige—this will come across as shallow, and your passion for it will be deemed unsustainable. Instead, consider what excites you about your intended field of study, as well as the specific dimensions of this subject that fit your strengths and ambitions.


Instead of mentioning the general advantages of a Rice education, such as the high standard of academic performance and the accomplished faculty, you should discuss explicit offerings such as the Century Scholars Program, which assigns participants a faculty mentor for guidance in undergraduate research.


If you’ve visited the campus, writing about the content of a lecture that you sat in on, or the reflections of current students in the same program can demonstrate your interest in the school. It would also provide a strong basis for your belief that you and Rice’s environment are a match. If you haven’t had such opportunities, do extensive online research to show that you’ve carefully reflected on your compatibility with Rice.

For example:


  • The School of Social Sciences emphasizes the professional development of students through the Gateway Program. If you’re interested in research, there are several social science institutes at Rice, such as the Shell Center for Sustainability and the Houston Education Research Consortium, that focus on understanding and solving specific social issues.


  • In the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, academic programs (such as the Department of Kinesiology) and research organizations (such as the Smalley-Curl Institute, specializing in nanoscience) offer opportunities in unique niches of science that lend themselves to important applications. Here, you will find out that those unique niches include everything from heterogeneous cell systems to plasmids in E.coli. This is the level of specificity that you should strive for.

All Applicants – Short Essay #2

What aspects of the Rice undergraduate experience excite you and led you to apply?

(150 words max)

The goal here is to strike a balance between discussing the academic advantages of Rice, and the sociocultural elements of Rice’s campus that dovetail with your personality and goals. You will especially want to avoid the pitfall of common sentiments here — instead of citing the low student-to-faculty ratio and small class sizes that the university’s website advertises (which is also found at other schools), dig deeper beyond the first sub-page on Rice’s website to find information that most candidates do not have.


Also refrain from repeating the benefits of the particular school and major you wrote about in the previous essays; although they may well be unique characteristics of Rice, this question asks for you to expound on how you embody the spirit of Rice as a cultural community rather than the academic benefits you may reap at the school.


While the social climate of any school is largely intangible and difficult to determine from the outside, you can discuss student organizations that particularly interest you, as well as aspects of the Rice community that are implied by their admissions materials. For example, if promoting interdisciplinary studies is a priority for you, referencing groups like the Houston Institute Club, whose mission is to “explore the intersection of the humanities with the sciences and technology,” could demonstrate how the culture of Rice satisfies that personal principle.


It is particularly helpful to reach out to current Rice students to get an idea of what their typical day and college culture are like. Questions to consider include: What is the extent of intellectual debate on Rice’s campus? What kinds of conversations do students have outside of the classroom?


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All Applicants – Photo Response

In keeping with Rice’s long-standing tradition (known as “The Box”), please share an image of something that appeals to you. See the Help Section for more information.

The most challenging yet comforting aspect of this prompt is that you can’t include a written explanation of the image you choose. Thus, you need to choose a picture that speaks for itself, or one that relates to something alluded to in your essays or Common/Coalition application.


While the latter approach can be useful if there is a vivid visual element to the experience described in an essay or extracurricular explanation, you should only take this route if there is a logical connection to the visual — otherwise it will feel forced. Responding honestly is the best strategy here, especially considering that the admissions committee is perfectly aware that this prompt is unorthodox.

Potentially effective options include:


  • Cherished childhood toys: For example, if you are applying to the George R. Brown School of Engineering, and robotics makes frequent appearances on your extracurricular list, you may consider submitting a photo of your very first LEGO set if it was what got you interested in building and engineering robots in the first place.


  • Inspirational scenery from your travels: If you devoted yourself to creative writing and literature in high school, you may consider sending a photo of an environment that you found creatively stimulating, or of a relevant quote displayed in a piece of public art. Examples include cafes, gardens, a bench in a park near your house, a corner in a nearby McDonald’s, etc.


  • Photos of your role models: If you are particularly dedicated to political activism, you may consider selecting a well-captured photograph of your role model in protest.


In terms of image selection, you may consider the implications of selecting a black & white image versus a color photo, and how the use of color and light in the image complements the subject. As in any essay, avoid clichés. Submitting a picture of a rice bowl is unlikely to impress anyone, since that is a predictable pun.

School of Architecture – Short Essay #1

What aspirations, experiences, or relationships have motivated you to pursue the study of architecture? (250 words max)

Although this may appear as a repeat of the “Why this major?” question above, there is a subtle yet relevant difference. While that essay asked for your rationale behind applying to the School of Architecture as opposed to other institutions, this one relates more directly to your relationship with the field of architecture itself. Further, the prompt’s phrasing suggests that strong responses will reference personal anecdotes, more so than theoretical appeals of architecture.


One option is to consider the character traits that define a successful architect, and write about experiences through which you developed these attributes. Some examples include attention to detail, creativity, efficiency, and spacial awareness. This method shows the ways in which you appreciate the process of daily work in architecture, not the just beautiful structures.


You can also draw upon memories of travels or buildings closer to home, as long as you avoid simple descriptions of the awe inspired in you by the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal. Even less famous monuments can have cultural weight. An essay that displays your ability to notice the value of architecture in less conventional places, such as the construction of a classroom or a chaotic train station, can help you stand out.

School of Architecture – Short Essay #2

Outside of academics, what do you enjoy most or find especially challenging? (250 words max)

Honesty is the best policy for this one. You might suppose that colleges want to see essays about “impressive” pursuits like fighting poverty or designing smartphone apps. However, a smart reader can tell if you are forcing yourself to write about such topics, which would be detrimental to your candidacy.


Hence, do not be afraid to write about sincere sources of joy, like pizza, or the daunting exercise of beating the final levels of your favorite video game. Beware though, successful essays about unconventional topics still require a connection to your intellectual and personal strengths.


Between multiple options that excite you equally, it is safer to write about topics that present you as actively doing something. Simply describing why you are the world’s biggest Game of Thrones fan is unlikely to give the reader insight into who you are as a person. But if you can somehow relate the character development of Arya Stark to your own journey, then it would be a compelling read.


This essay is an opportunity for you to show an unexpected side of yourself. Feel free to “geek out” here. Write about an engagement that truly makes you lose track of time.

All Other Schools – Short Essay

The quality of Rice’s academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspective would you contribute to life at Rice? (500 word limit)

A successful attempt at this longer essay requires a well-developed and nuanced response. Because the prompt emphasizes “personal perspective,” you can think of this as a parallel to the Common Application essay. Notably, the phrasing of this prompt invites a more direct answer than the extensive narrative solicited by the Common Application.


However, still remember to follow the “show, not tell” rule. It can be helpful to ask family and friends for their impression of who you are as a thinker and individual. What do they learn from interacting with you? What are the first five words they would use to describe you? What is their most indelible memory of you?


Ideally, these subjects should complement the focus of your Common App personal statement — if in that essay you wrote about your first solo in a jazz performance, it would be best not to repeat references to your musical development here.


In the sea of college applicants, it can be difficult to think of “unique” facets of yourself, but the good news is that it is not necessary to identify one trait that is unique in isolation. Rather, consider the combination of qualities you have to offer, as this exact personality composite is unlikely to be found in another applicant. Often, a personal story can provide strong evidence of your composition of attributes. For example, a prospective economics major who plays basketball may write about using game theory to predict the opponent’s choice of game play.


We at CollegeVine wish you the best of luck on your essays for Rice!


For information on application essays for other schools, check out CollegeVine’s database of essay guides.


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