written by
Austin Bennett

Rice University Essay Guide 2020-2021

Essay Guides 5 min read
Image courtesy of Rice University

In this Rice University essay guide, we’ll be diving into some tips to help future applicants best represent themselves with the Rice University supplemental essays. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Rice University, named for famous businessman William Marsh Rice, is a private, co-educational institution with a unique, highly-selective undergraduate experience and a fun-loving, quirky culture. Located in Houston, TX, the college boasts fantastic programs in Psychology, Materials Science, and Biology, as well as general excellence in other fields.

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 word limit)

This prompt is a pretty run-of-the-mill “What Fascinates You” prompt, but with only 150 words, you’re going to have to be concise. There isn’t much room to play with here, so I’d recommend forgoing a lengthy introduction - cut right to the chase about the field you most want to study.

Remember: Rice University, like all other highly-selective colleges, cares a lot about genuine passion and love of learning, both of which are best shown by specificity. You should do your best to describe, with vivid details and excitement, why you love the subject(s) for which you’re applying and why you want to pursue them.

One path you can take is to begin with a central point of interest, and discuss related fields. Maybe you’ve always been fascinated by robots, which led you to apply for electrical engineering. Naturally, that could eventually lead to work in mechanical engineering and computer science as well, so you could mention those as other areas of academic focus.

Another route you could take is to connect several vastly different fields that you hope to study. For example, an interdisciplinary course of study covering both Linguistics and Computer Science could help you study Natural Language Processing, something that could help you make a translation app.

Above all, the number one takeaway needs to be that you are genuinely passionate about the subject(s) that you choose to write on. If you’re lost, one exercise that you can try is to write a love-letter to the field(s) for which you’re applying: why you love them, and what you hope the future holds. It’s corny, but it’s a great way to elicit words that show genuine passion - something that every admissions officer loves to see - as well as have some fun with this essay.

What aspects of the Rice undergraduate experience excite you and led you to apply? (150 word limit)

Here, Rice University is asking the classic “Why College” question - but again, with only 150 words, you’ll need a succinct answer. Like all “why college” prompts, your response should be focused as detailed as possible. In fact, your essay should be so specific, that it couldn’t describe any college other than Rice University.

When I was applying to college, my favorite way to write this kind of essay was to look for information on (1) the college itself, (2) course catalogs, (3) student clubs/activities, and (4) any wacky traditions they might have. Once that’s done, compile a list of all the things you find interesting, and try to write an essay weaving them all together. If possible, I’d recommend weaving in information from the first prompt (i.e. if you mentioned Psychology, you could talk about Rice University’s extensive research on the subject).

Also, don’t be afraid to have some fun with this essay! In my response, I made sure to mention extracurricular benefits like the Rice Coffeehouse and a couple wacky student traditions. Some other topics you could mention are the Residential College System, large research output, and close-knit professor-student relationships. Ultimately, your essay should be unique to you.

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 word limit)

Regardless of background, everyone has something interesting to share. With this prompt, Rice University is flipping the conventional “Why School” question to ask, “Why You?” This essay gives you the opportunity to showcase how and why you stand out.

One common way to go would be to talk about your cultural background. For example, perhaps some of your family is from Thailand. As a result, you’ve learned a lot about Thai culture that you hope to share with your fellow students. Another direction that you could take with this prompt is discussing a community that’s important to you. If neither of these apply to you, consider sharing an activity that you enjoy that sets you apart - maybe you use Saturday mornings to try out some new recipes - or how a peer or mentor has influenced you.

Make sure you tie your topic into the Residential College System. Rice prides itself greatly on microcosms of the campus itself - they want to learn more about both your background, AND how you’ll contribute to a small, yet diverse community.

In my application to Rice University, I chose to share an extended version of an essay about my siblings and what I’ve learned from them over the years. While it wasn’t the most obvious answer to the prompt, it showed that I had a humorous, community-oriented spirit to offer the residential college system as well as a little bit of my personal background.

The most important thing to remember about this prompt is to show off your personality. Feel free to take some risks - as long as they’re representative of yourself. Authenticity is key here, so don’t short-change yourself.

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.

This one’s pretty straight forward - just share a photo of something that you like! Consider sharing something that you referenced in your previous essays, or something that you wanted to share, but didn’t have the chance. There really are no rules here, other than use common sense. Feel free to share what you think best represents you!


This Rice University essay guide was written by Austin Bennett, Stanford ‘24. If you want to get help writing your Rice University application essays from Austin or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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