Rice University Guide

Rice University Essay Prompts

View our complete guide to Rice University.


Rice requires prospective students to write three essays, in addition to the personal statement. The first two essays are fairly straightforward, both only 150 words. The first asks you to explain which major you’re interested in and why, while the second asks you why you want to attend Rice. The third question is far longer and asks what you will bring to the campus community and culture at Rice.

Rice cares deeply not just about students’ academic potential, but about their character, and how they will fit into the established community at Rice. Below, we include the full questions, and examples of well written essays. We then analyze what the questions are asking for, and how the examples did that well.

Why Major - Example

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)

I witnessed firsthand the way political decisions surrounding Hurricane Harvey turned Houston into a scene from an apocalyptic blockbuster. Rather than drowning my faith in government intervention, I resolved to wade into the muddy waters of public policy.

In the 1970s, ‘Housing Houston’ mobilized “explosive property development” on low-lying lands. This get-rich-quick scheme prioritized economic growth over personal safety, opening the floodgates for dangerous conditions. How can we learn from past disasters to develop sustainable crisis response methods that prioritize personal safety over economic interests?

A Social Policy Analysis degree will enable me to answer such questions by deepening my understanding of the dialectical relationship between people and the economy. By taking advantage of Rice’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning and courses like Sociology of Disaster and Economic Modeling and Public Policy, I will gain the technical knowledge to respond to the sensitive policy issues of my generation.

Why Major - Analysis

While the question does ask about your intended major, it is far more open to students who wish to pursue other avenues of exploration. By leaving the question more open, if you are not solidly certain about which major you wish to pursue, you may instead write about why you are undecided, or what topics you are trying to decide between.

The essay above uses a brief hook. These are useful to explain to the audience how you came to be interested in a particular major, but should not take up too much space in the essay, as the word count is so limited. The example above strikes a good balance, explaining their interest while not getting sidetracked from the main point of the essay.

Rice is an intellectual institution, and prides itself on this fact. Therefore, intellectual curiosity, or a desire to use your knowledge for the public good are both good motivations to discuss. While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to study a particular major to get a good job or make a lot of money, this is not the proper venue to discuss these motivations.

Finally, you should concretely explain, albeit briefly, why Rice is the best venue for you to explore this major. This does not have to be in depth, but concretely tying your interests to the institution helps make the case that you are well suited for Rice, and it is well suited for you.

Why Rice - Example

What aspects of the Rice undergraduate experience inspired you to apply? (150 words)

While other kids were gawking at Houston Zoo elephants and watching 4D-movies at the Children’s Museum, I was at Rice, scribbling on expansive whiteboards with one hand and clutching complimentary hot chocolate with the other. My drawings still stain the walls of my dad’s office in McNair Hall, Room 237. I had left my mark on Rice long before I was old enough to realize that Rice had left its imprint on me.

Auditing Intro to American Politics this past summer transformed Rice from merely a place of comfort to a place of possibility. I am eager to both expand on existing ventures and forge new connections in my beloved hometown. In addition to diving into coursework and taking advantage of opportunities like the CCL’s Loewenstern Fellowship, I will engage with organizations like the Pre-Law Society, Rasikas Dance, and Global Brigades, where I intend to start an Environmental Chapter.

Why Rice - Analysis

This is an incredibly broad question, which means that you have a lot of leeway in answering it. Due to the limited space, you can either cover several aspects briefly, or dive more in-depth on a single topic. Both are valid, and you should focus on what draws you most to Rice.

The essay above is a somewhat unique case, as the author clearly has a much deeper and longer personal connection with Rice than most. If you do have one of these connections with the school, then focusing on it is a good strategy. If you don’t have this kind of connection, then focus on what draws you to the school. Specificity is key here. Which programs do you want to explore? Which classes do you want to take? Which professors are doing research which you want to be a part of? Which clubs excite you?

There is no one right way to answer this question, but whatever answer you give should convincingly explain why you want to attend Rice, and why Rice is the only logical choice for you.

Community - Example

Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life (helping other members with anxiety) 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 word limit)

“I’m coming!” The crowd of teenage girls surrounding Ananya backstage parted like the Red Sea. I rested my hands on her shoulders and guided her breathing, the lull of my voice cascading over the chatter of 50,000 people that echoed through the stadium. As her hyperventilation abated, I ran through my signature pre-performance pep-talk:

It’ll be over before you know it.

If the worst happens, will it matter in five years?

You can’t change the result, so there’s no reason to stress over it.

Five minutes later, she was on stage beside me and ten other Bharatnatyam dancers with a beaming smile, leftover tears flinging from her lashes with each jati. 

Until a year ago, I was the one having bi-weekly anxiety attacks; something as inconsequential as misplacing a pencil case would catapult me into panic, leaving me with little room to breathe. Not only were these episodes unpleasant in the moment, but the time and mental space they drained kept me from getting my homework done in time to read before bed or even eat dinner with my family. I began to avoid high-pressure situations; rather than auditioning for the school play, I stayed in the wings, free from the critical gaze of the audience. Despite practicing yoga and “taking deep breaths,” this persistent stress plagued me for years like a pinched nerve at the back of my skull.

In 10th grade, my hip young English teacher spent an entire class discussing nihilism. We were all captivated by the revolutionary (for our young minds) idea that life is meaningless. Despite the harsh nature of a useless existence, I was reminded of a key passage from the Bhagavad Gita: “You have a right to ‘Karma’ [actions] but not to any of the Fruits themselves.” Although there is no substitute for conscientious hard work and dedication, the outcome itself cannot be controlled.

It sounds gruesome, but my newfound understanding of the sacred text of my childhood and the calm “detachment” it produced in me was a direct result of recognizing my own finitude. While I don’t remind hyperventilating dancers that they’re going to die some day, I do remind them that no one will remember the second girl from the left missing a beat–including that girl herself. I soon became the rock of our dance group, offering reality checks with doses of encouragement:

Visualize the worst that can happen, and notice it’s insignificance and inevitability.

If you focus only on the result, you lose control of the process.

Getting worked up won’t improve your ability to perform.

A leader doesn’t have to be a cult of personality cracking the whip of achievement. A leader can be someone who shows that because determinations like success and failure are out of our hands, we are free to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the process itself. I am eager to share this liberating blend of Eastern and Western thought with my fellow Residential College members at Rice University.

Community - Analysis

This prompt is confusingly worded, but in the end is just a community essay, if far longer than most such are. They want to know how you will contribute to the vibrant community on their campus, and how well you will fit with their idea of a Rice student. The best way to show how you will contribute is to provide examples of how you have contributed to a community in the past.

The essay above does this well, showing the author’s values and ability to contribute to the success of a group, and their ability to support others in their quest for a common goal. Above all, it shows who the author is as a person, what they believe in, what they value, and how they think about the world. 

For this essay, Rice wants to determine who you are, so they can determine how you will fit in with the current community. You can show this in any number of ways, but any essay should display your ability to contribute to a group or cause greater than yourself.

Rice lists their values as: Responsibility, Integrity, Community, and Excellence. Think about what these mean for a campus, and how you have demonstrated any or all of these values through what you’ve done. You don’t necessarily need to discuss these values explicitly, or attempt to cram them into an essay where they don’t fit. Instead, think about what values you best exemplify, and how they might be best portrayed in an essay.

Transform your college application.

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.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!