How to Write the Rice University Essays 2019-2020
Rice University is a private research institution composed of eight undergraduate schools, including a renowned engineering program. Rice’s residential college system coupled with its location in Houston provides students with the opportunity to experience a close-knit collegiate community within a broad urban setting.
Rice admitted a record-low 8.7% of its 27,084 applicants last admissions cycle. Students who are interested in attending Rice will need more than a solid academic performance and good test scores to stand out to the admissions committee.
Rice requires applicants to submit three short responses and an extended essay in addition to their Common App materials. Students applying to the School of Architecture will respond to two additional prompts in place of the extended essay. The Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars program requires a second application with three additional short essays.
Rice University Application Essay Prompts
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.
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?
Rice’s Residential College System randomly places students in one of eleven colleges and the majority of students live in their college for all four years. Rice considers diversity of perspective and experience fundamental to the Residential College System, so your response should demonstrate how you would contribute to this system and the broader Rice community.
As a result, your response should focus on your personal background and how your life experiences or cultural traditions provide you with a unique perspective. Your response should directly answer the question at hand, however, remember to “show, not tell.” A personal narrative is one way to successfully highlight your potential individual contributions to Rice’s community.
For example, instead of simply saying that you have an ability to view situations from multiple perspectives to gain insight, describe a time where you displayed this skill. Did you resolve a dispute in a group project by explaining the other side’s point of view to both parties? If you want to discuss your deep connection and commitment to your culture, describe a particular event or custom that has meaning to you.
This question is similar to some Common Application prompts. However, you should use this supplement as a means to communicate something new about yourself to the admissions committee, so avoid discussing topics that you’ve already covered.
For example, if you wrote your Common Application essay about your love of theater, consider writing about your volunteer work for the Rice supplement. If your Common Application focused on your analytical mind, consider using this prompt to discuss your compassion for others.
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.
In terms of image selection, you may consider the implications of selecting a black and 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.
This prompt is a variation of the “Why Major” format that will become familiar as you apply to universities. However, unlike many other iterations of this question, Rice asks why you want to study architecture generally. While you can incorporate Rice-specific elements into your response, the bulk of your essay should address your interest in architecture as a discipline.
This essay asks you to reflect on your personal research and experiences. The strongest responses to this prompt will involve personal narratives rather than abstract theories or musings. Using unconventional examples–such as the architecture of your local bus station–can help your essay stand out.
You can also take a longitudinal approach by explaining how your passion for architecture unfolded over time. For example, you could begin your essay by describing your sense of wonder the first time you saw Fallingwater. You could then transition into how this experience inspired your personal research into architecture. Your essay could conclude by explaining how you grew to understand the skills a good architect needs, such as attention to detail.
Rice Architecture is the smallest professional school at the university and the program places great emphasis on fostering a close-knit community of thinkers. This prompt gives you the opportunity to explain how you can positively contribute to the Rice Architecture community through your novel perspectives.
Although it is tempting to give a grandiose response to this question, the best essays will allow your genuine interests to highlight personal qualities. Writing about your desire to bring about change in your community sounds impressive, however your response will likely fall flat if you do not actually have an interest in community outreach.
Writing about an everyday interest or hobby in an unconventional way highlights your creativity and allows your essay to stand out. For example, you could write about how baking requires both logical precision and inventive imagination through your experience creating your own recipe. You could use your fascination with Lord of the Rings to draw parallels between Frodo’s journey and your own journey.
Your essay does not need to focus on architecture or architecture-related pursuits. The rest of your application will discuss your academic pursuits, so use this space to provide a more holistic picture of yourself.
This prompt is essentially a combination of the “Why Major?” and “Why College” questions used by many universities. Your essay should provide compelling reasons for your decision to participate in this program and convey your commitment to attending medical school.
Rice emphasizes a broad undergraduate education that includes liberal arts. Your essay should discuss the importance of humanities within medicine in addition to the hard science topics required by the typical pre-med track. Your essay should also center around personal experiences rather than abstract musings or theoretical ideas given the prompt’s focus on aspirations, experiences, and relationships.
For example, instead of centering your piece around the theoretical importance of medicine in society, write about how your pediatrician’s comforting bedside manner made you feel safe when you were young. Connect this experience to a future doctor’s need for knowledge of the social sciences and humanities. Instead of writing only about the thrill of medical innovation, write about the first time you saw a medical device such as a pacemaker positively contribute to someone else’s life.
Taking a longitudinal approach to this essay will allow you to show the depth of your passion for medicine. Use your high school classes or extracurricular activities to reinforce your longstanding interest in attending medical school.
For example, you could begin your essay with a childhood memory of watching your grandfather recover at a hospital thanks to a doctor’s careful attention. You could then discuss how you learned more about biology in high school and joined your Health Careers Club to learn more about the medical community. You could close out your essay by explaining your goal to become a surgeon and how you believe the Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program will best help you to achieve this goal.
This prompt allows you to show the admissions committee personal qualities that may not be conveyed by your traditional application materials. In addition to academic excellence, the Rice/Baylor Scholars program looks for students who are compassionate and socially conscious. The best essays will use their passions to highlight these personal qualities.
Although you may be tempted to choose impressive interests such as fundraising for cancer, you should choose an activity you regularly do as admissions counselors will likely be able to see through inauthentic answers. An everyday activity conveyed in a unique manner can showcase your creativity and help you stand out among the competition.
For example, a student who enjoys watching documentaries could talk about how the films help him have a more multifaceted understanding of the world. A student who enjoys running could discuss how participating in marathons helps her develop discipline and long-term planning skills.
Avoid discussing academic topics in this portion of your essay. Your application will leave you with plenty of opportunities to discuss your intellectual pursuits. Use this space to show how your individual skills and perspective will benefit the Rice community.
Topic choice is crucial in responding to this prompt. While your adverse experience should convey hardship, the bulk of your response should focus on your response to this adversity. For example, the loss of a parent is devastating, but your essay should focus on how you used your pain to inspire you to give back to others or connect more deeply with your community. Choose adverse experiences that allow you to meaningfully demonstrate self growth.
Carefully choose the details you provide about your adverse experience. Avoid discussing taboo topics such as personal drug or alcohol use. If you are writing about a sensitive subject matter, do not include unnecessarily graphic or macabre details as they may isolate your reader. Remember that the ultimate focus of this prompt is your perseverance, not a detailed account of your suffering.
Your essay does not depend on having an intensely adverse experience, as not everyone will have had one. This prompt uses adversity as a means to see your personal growth and development. For example, you could write about how your struggles in calculus initially shook your self-confidence, but you learned to seek help from others and place your self worth in areas outside of academics.
You should not fabricate an adverse experience under any circumstances. At best, admissions counselors will likely be able to spot your lack of authenticity and the quality of your essay will suffer. At worst, you could face serious repercussions depending on the severity of the fabrication.
Want help on your college essays to get into your dream schools? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses, as well as our Essay Manager.
Want more college essay tips?
We'll send them straight to your inbox.