How to Write the Rice University Essays 2020-2021

Rice University is a highly-ranked 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 10% of applicants for the 2019-2020 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. 


Want to learn what Rice University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Rice University needs to know.

All Applicants:


Prompt 1: Please explain why you wish to study in the academic areas you selected. (150 words)


Prompt 2: Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you? (150 words)


Prompt 3: Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System and undergraduate life are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What life perspectives would you contribute to the Rice community? (500 words).


School of Architecture:


Architecture applicants will not be required to answer Prompt 3 (above). Instead, they will answer Prompts 1 and 2 above, along with the following:


Prompt 1: Why do you want to study architecture? What research have you done, experiences have you had (or anything else you would like to expound on) to explain this decision? (250 words)


Prompt 2: Please expand on relevant experiences and motivations outside of your academic trajectory that have inspired you to study architecture, focusing on aspects that are not accommodated by other prompts in the application. (250 words)


Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program:


Prompt 1: What aspirations, experiences or relationships have motivated you to study in the eight-year Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program? (500 words)


Prompt 2: Outside of academics, what do you enjoy doing most? (300 words)


Prompt 3: Describe the most difficult adversity you have faced, and describe how you dealt with it. (300 words)



Rice University Application Essay Prompts

All Applicants – Prompt 1


Please explain why you wish to study in the academic areas you selected. (150 words)

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 – Prompt 2


Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you? (150 words)

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 hereinstead 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. If activism is important to you, you might mention wanting to join Rice for Black Life, a newly-formed racial justice group that raised almost $100k in a day for organizations fighting anti-Black violence.


It can be 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? Ask your counselor if there are any alumni who went to Rice that you can reach out to. If not, you might consider looking for blogs and videos made by current students.


Here are some other ways to research a college for this type of essay, so you can write the strongest response possible.

All Applicants – Prompt 3

Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System is heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspectives would you contribute to life at Rice? (500 words)


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. 


This is a classic example of the Diversity Essay. 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, describe a time where you displayed this skill. Did you mediate 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. Or maybe you have a strong commitment to sustainabilityyou could discuss a time you created an initiative to reduce food and plastic waste in your school cafeteria.


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. 


School of Architecture – Prompt 1 

Why are you determined to study architecture? Could you please elaborate on your past experiences and how they have motivated you to apply to Rice University and the School of Architecture in particular? (250 words)

This prompt is the traditional “Why This Major” essay that will become familiar as you apply to college. Rice wants to know why you want to study architecture, and why Rice is a good fit for you to pursue your goals. Since you’ve already answered a prompt about your academic interests, be sure that this essay presents new information and isn’t repetitive.


This essay asks you to reflect on your motivation for studying architecture and your past experiences. The strongest responses to this prompt will involve personal narratives rather than abstract theories or musings. Using unconventional and highly-personal examplessuch as the architecture of your local bus stationcan 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 The Vessel in the Hudson Yards. You could then transition into how this experience inspired your personal research into architecture, and how you learned about the controversial tax breaks the Hudson Yards received. This led you to seek more information on the political nature of architecture—how it can impact accessibility, promote or discourage economic equality, and more. You even spent time interning with the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) to explore the intersections of architecture and accessibility. Your essay could conclude by sharing that you’re looking forward to learning more about this intersectional relationship at Rice through courses like ARCH 350 (2): HOUSE: Historical, Representational, Political, which “considers the house typology as a connective thread through history with embedded representational imagery and political implications.”


School of Architecture – Prompt 2


Please expand on relevant experiences and motivations outside of your academic trajectory that have inspired you to study architecture, focusing on aspects that are not accommodated by other prompts in the application. (250 words)

This prompt gives you space to elaborate upon any other experiences that are related to your interest in architecture. Up until this point, you’ll only have had 400 words to discuss your academic interests and how Rice can support them. This essay gives you the chance to focus only on your “architecture story.”


This essay is an ideal place to mention any informal experiences you may have had, or any self-motivated educational endeavors. Some examples include: building an eco-friendly cabin on your family’s property, watching a documentary on environmental architecture, remodeling your room, or working a construction job.


You could also discuss relevant values you hold, such as the idea that art should be functional, and structures like buildings are like functional art. 


Whatever you decide, make sure your response is highly-personal and shares more of your experiences, rather than being a general essay about why you love architecture.

Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program – Prompt 1

What aspirations, experiences or relationships have motivated you to study in the eight-year Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program? (500 words)

This prompt is essentially a combination of the “Why This Major” and “Why This College” questions used by many universities. Your essay should provide compelling reasons for your decision to participate in this specific 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 how your family was unable to afford doctor’s visits growing up, and how that impacted your wellbeing. You could then discuss how you learned about the social determinants of health in high school, and how that motivated you to consider medicine as a career, to serve marginalized populations. You took the most advanced science courses, joined the Health Careers Club, and shadowed a doctor who primarily served low-income immigrants. Through the Health Careers Club, you were able to organize free kidney disease screenings for vulnerable populations. 


You could close out your essay by explaining your goal to become a community-oriented physician and how you believe the Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program will best help you to achieve this goal. For example, Rice has a Social Policy Analysis major, which would allow you to understand the intersections of social policy and health. One day, you want to be able to change those policies to expand access to healthcare. The Baylor College of Medicine is also known for its healthcare outreach programs, such as the Homeless Healthcare Program. This would allow you to serve vulnerable populations and understand how to best meet their long-term needs.


Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program – Prompt 2

Outside of academics, what do you enjoy doing most? (300 words)

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.


Do not discuss 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.


Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program –Prompt 3

Describe the most difficult adversity you have faced, and describe how you dealt with it. (300 words)


This prompt fits the classic Overcoming Challenges essay archetype. 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. You don’t have to write about tragedy, like death, divorce, parent job loss, or abuse. This prompt uses adversity as a means to see your personal growth and development. Choose a topic that will allow you to illustrate that.


That being said, try to avoid challenges that may seem trivial, or are cliche, such as:


  • A quickly-resolved fight with a friend
  • Sports injury
  • Adjusting to a new school or culture
  • A particularly-challenging class


These topics tend to follow the same, predictable storyline, and don’t illustrate something unique about you. Some of them are also everyday challenges, but remember that the essay is asking for your most difficult adversity


Some good topic examples might be: 


  • Struggling to connect with one of your math tutoring students for months, and finally discovering a more visual mode of learning that helps them succeed.
  • Facing pushback from the school board when you present a well-researched plan to eliminate internet filters in high schools. You speak at three meetings advocating for this issue, but it ultimately doesn’t pass. 
  • Living in a food desert growing up and how getting fresh groceries was an ordeal, leading you to become interested in local politics and advocacy.


The adversity you choose doesn’t have to have a “happy ending.” The story you tell can have any trajectory, and the adversities that didn’t end in success can still make for extremely insightful essays. The goal is to share how you respond in the face of a challenge, and what you learned from that specific experience.


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