Rice University Admissions Strategy

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Understanding Rice University Admissions

From 2013 to 2020, Rice University cut its admissions rate in half, dropping from 17% to 8%. During that same time, 58% of Ivy Scholars students gained admission to Rice. We made the difference for them through expert coaching on every aspect of the application process, based on extensive research on Rice University’s evolving admissions policies.

In this article, we’ll pop the hood on how we save students from the hidden pitfalls of college admissions, specifically, the mistakes students make when applying to Rice University. Then, we’ll explain what Rice looks for in students, how we know, and how we apply that knowledge to help students succeed when they apply to Rice

Common Mistakes

We’ve written before about college application strategy; how colleges judge applications, approaching test-optional schools, and how schools view extracurricular activities. In this article, however, we’ll give you a more concrete look at Rice University, and common slip-ups students make when applying, compared to what Rice is actually looking for in an application.

The most common weakness in an application is insufficient academic preparation; i.e. GPA and test scores. Top colleges want well-prepared students, and the average GPA of incoming students at Rice is 3.96 unweighted, with an average SAT of 1510, and average ACT of 34. If your grades and scores are below these averages, you’ll have to have some other part of your application which is stronger than average. Rice practices holistic admissions, and while they won’t reject a student for poor grades alone, if your academic preparation is deemed insufficient, your candidacy is likely sunk.

Rice University Essays

Your essays are one of the best places to show admissions officers who you are outside of academics, and demonstrate to them your dreams and passions. Many students, however, hurt themselves in their Rice essays by making one of three mistakes:

  1. No demonstration of intellectual hunger.
  2. Lack of understanding of Rice.
  3. Inexplicable passions.

Intellectual hunger is what all top schools look for. They want to ensure every student they admit is excited about learning for their own sake, and for what they can do with their knowledge to help the world. Students should actively try to describe their academic passions in their essays, and demonstrate their hunger to learn. Admissions officers only know what you tell them, so the essays are an ideal way to demonstrate how and why you want to learn, and where your academic passions lie.

One of Rice’s essays is explicitly about what at Rice appeals to you. Many students make the mistake of being vague or generic in this essay. If the entirety of your essay reads like your only source of information was a brochure, admissions officers will not be convinced. The more specific you are, and the more concretely you tie your desires to what the university offers, the more effective your essay will be. Talk about specific classes you want to take, or professors you want to work with, and why what Rice offers will let you fulfill your dreams.

Finally, one essay from Rice asks about your intended major. Admissions officers like to see a consistent portrait of you and your interests emerge through an application. For instance, if you have participated in multiple laboratory internships, and now want to major in chemistry, they have a clear sense of what you are passionate about and why. If, however, you participated in multiple laboratory internships and express an interest in majoring in political science, then admissions officers will have questions. While you are free to pursue any major which sparks your interest, if it is greatly different from everything else you’ve done up to this point, you should explain the reasoning behind your choice.


Top schools don’t just want to hear from you about who you are and what you’ve done, that’s why they ask for letters of recommendation from counselors and teachers. While these can provide a major boon to your application, they can also hurt it if you aren’t careful in how you handle them.

It is important to remember that not all schools are created equal. Whereas some smaller private schools will ensure counselors have close relationships with students, and all teachers know how to write quite strong letters of recommendation, not all schools have the resources to ensure this. While public schools often offer good educational opportunities, counselors will have over a hundred students apiece, and can’t forge personal relationships with all of them. While Rice understands this, students who are able to form these relationships will often have a leg up.

Rice wants to understand your academic background, and how well your school prepared you for college. To do this, they receive a report from your counselor on your school’s academic profile, and also compare students who apply from the same school; what classes they took and what grades they got. While we recommend not focusing on your classmates, you should make sure your counselor gets the school report out in time. If you are concerned about your school counselor, we recommend hiring a college admissions counselor (like us, for instance), to help guide you through the process.

Outside counselors can also help when requesting letters of recommendation. Rice wants the letters to get an outside perspective of who the student is as a scholar and person. Many well intentioned teachers can end up accidentally damning their students with faint praise, as the art of writing letters of recommendation is tricky. Here, getting help composing a brag sheet to give to your letter writers can ensure that the letters you receive will show you in the best possible light.

Finally, don’t forget to demonstrate interest in Rice. Schools want to be sure you will actually attend if you are admitted, and demonstrating your interest in them is a good way to signal your intention to attend.

How We Know All This

Many students and parents want to understand how we know so much about college admissions, and more importantly, where the information about specific schools like Rice comes from. How do we know what techniques work, and what schools want to see in applications? While the full answer is more complicated, it boils down to two key components: experience and research.

Experience is clear enough; the more you do a thing, the better you become at it. This is the basis of practice in sports and rehearsals in acting. College applications, however, are something most people only have to do once. This makes them difficult, as the questions they ask and responses they prefer often feel non-intuitive, and there are many hidden pitfalls for the unwary.

This is the benefit of hiring admissions counselors. Just like hiring any master craftsman, we have the experience necessary to sculpt a masterful college application, and to help students achieve their full potential when applying to schools. With the knowledge gained from many application cycles we’re able to avoid common pitfalls, and the students we assist have admissions rates up to 5x higher for their first-choice schools.

The way we’re able to help students tailor their applications to specific universities, and the way we know all of the information about what Rice is looking for specifically, is research and experience both. Colleges will put information out about what they’re looking for in applicants, but often in inaccessible or difficult to parse forms. Most parents and students don’t have the time required to track down and sift through the mountains of information to find the nuggets of useful advice.

We do this research for you, and compress it into easily digestible guides, as we’ve presented here. Research is a skill in and of itself, one we have honed to be able to answer questions both about admissions as a whole, and about what specific colleges want to see in applicants. 

Final Thoughts

Rice University is a very good school, and while it isn’t as famous as Harvard or Yale, it can offer a similarly stimulating curriculum, and open similar doors for passionate students. Many parents long to send their children to Rice, and we hope this guide will demystify what the school is actually looking for in applicants, and what they would rather not see in an application.

College admissions are a tricky thing, and are even trickier when applying to the top schools. While we hope this article answered all your questions, we realize that there’s only so much ground you can cover in one article. If you’re looking for answers to specific questions, or want to know more about how we can help in your admissions dreams, you should schedule a free consultation. We’re always eager to hear from you.

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Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
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