Rice University: Campus Visit Observations

By Rajkamal Rao  

Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

In 2018, we went to Rice University in Houston for a campus visit. Our verdict? It's a world-class school that must be on your shortlist.

All You Need To Know About Rice

The best way to visit Rice is to register in advance and choose any classes you want to take as a guest. Rice is generous in letting you sit in on as many classes your teenager is willing to take.

Rice is smack in the middle of downtown Houston. The neighborhood around Rice isn't the best in terms of street infrastructure and shops, but once you get in to the campus, beauty takes over. For a full set of pictures (including a few shots of a live dorm room) visit our Facebook page.

Parking is $12 a day in the visitor lots. Check-in is easy at Lovett Hall. Campus tours are offered at 11 AM and 3 PM, so if you arrive early, you're on your own to explore. If your child wants to take a class, ask for a campus map and proceed right to the classroom.

While teenagers are in class, parents can sip a coffee at the FLO (French-styled cafeteria) where you can buy your favorite drink at prices double than that at Starbucks!

Our campus tour started at 3 PM with a student guide. Class rooms are relatively small and resemble a large conference room in an office. The library is small too and is of the size of a city public library.  While the campus is large, nearly 300 acres, everything in it is relatively small. This, in fact, is Rice's appeal.

The university admits only about a 1,000 freshmen each year. There are only 4,000 undergrad students from all four years. (Compare this to UT Austin which has 42,000 undergrad students!).

There are 11 residence halls, about 350 students reside in each. Each hall as its own Magister (a Professor with family) to oversee it. There is also a Research Assistant family in residence. Food is served in the servery attached to each hall. Menu options are varied. When you pay your annual fee for tuition, room and board, meal plans at the servery is what you are paying for. Each student gets three chances a day to eat, via an electronic card.

The idea of these residence colleges comes from Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, and Princeton. Students feel an identity first to their residence college, then to Rice and then on to the world. Friendships are made in the residence colleges because this is where you eat, sleep and live. Intramural sports are often competitions between residence colleges. For overprotective parents worried about how their teenagers will adapt to an independent life, residence halls are a great way to transition the change.

Why Small is Good At Rice

Returning to the concept of small, Rice is known for extremely small class sizes. Faculty-student ratio is about 1:6, what you may get at a private tutor! Almost all classes are taught by professors. You can imagine the intellectual intensity if you're surrounded by 6 or 7 bright students overseen by a sage-like professor teaching you.

The "speed" at which Rice students learn is therefore incredibly fast. Each student wants to outdo the other, so the rigor is high. Slackers are advised not to consider Rice at all.

We spoke with Dr. Jason Hafner, a veteran Chemistry professor who earned his Master's and Ph.D.s at Rice, completed his postdoc research at Harvard and returned to Rice to teach. He told us that Rice is a very high performing, high-intensity environment which attracts motivated students who want to go the extra mile. He was recounting how most Rice undergrads easily gain admission to elite schools such as Stanford, MIT, Caltech, and Harvard for their graduate degrees. And how, because of Rice's rigor, they stand apart at these schools.

So, if your plan is to study further at a top school, Rice, itself ranked within the top 20, is a great stepping stone.

Rice, because of its small class sizes, fosters a strong bond between academics and students. Because each Rice professor is into research, there are numerous opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research and obtain internships through referrals from Rice faculty.

Getting a job after graduation is easy. Houston is a big city.  Rice has important partnerships with the big Houston corporations and the MD Anderson Medical Center.

Our takeaway

Rice is an elite institution, which at just 11% selectivity, is more difficult to get into than some of the Ivy Leagues. With a change in their financial aid/scholarship plans beginning this year, even more students will apply next year for the same 1,000 spots making Rice even more selective.

It's a great school and should be on your shortlist.

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