How to ace your Rice University admissions interview

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this blog article are not endorsed by Rice University and this article should not be construed as official advice from the Rice University admissions office. I am an alumnus of Rice University and a long-time admissions volunteer, but I am not a Rice University admissions officer. All opinions expressed here are my own.

I’ve been doing Rice University interviews as an alumni admissions volunteer for 9 years now. Some years I only do 1 or 2 interviews, some years none. (Not very many kids from Iowa apply to Rice, although I wish there were more – Rice is a really good school, and they could use more Midwesterners in their student body, in my humble opinion.)

Here are a few observations I’ve made over the years, that might be helpful for students who are trying to prepare for their Rice University interview, or any other college admissions interview:

Don’t hold back.

You only have one hour during your Rice University interview to show us what makes you special, to show us your personality, to demonstrate your passion for learning and your excitement to go to college. In a way this is not fair, because not everyone is at their best during a single 1-hour conversation. Not everyone is an extrovert and not everyone is full of easy verbal dexterity and charm.

But for that 1 hour (or less) that you are talking with your Rice University interview volunteer, try to be as outgoing as possible. Give full, detailed, colorful answers. Ask inquisitive questions. Show some enthusiasm. There are thousands of kids applying to Rice for less than 1,000 spots in the freshman class. Many kids who apply to Rice have perfect SAT scores and perfect grades – one way to stand out from the crowd is to show your admissions interview volunteer what really makes you excited about learning, what you’re hoping to get from the experience. Share your aspirations and ambitions. Don’t be afraid to show the creative, quirky side of your personality. Don’t be afraid to banter a bit with the interviewer – don’t be afraid to have an opinion. Be real. Be yourself.

Lovett Hall - Rice University, Houston, TX

Ask good questions.

Your Rice interview is not just a chance to tell us about yourself, it’s also a way for you to “interview” Rice and find out more about whether the college is the right fit for you. Show why you’re interested in Rice by asking good, detailed questions about the university, about the student experience, and about the programs you’re interested in, whether it’s the Architecture school or the Music program or the intramural flag football teams. Ask questions that only a Rice alum could answer – go deep. Such as:

  • “What’s it really like as a student at Rice?”
  • “What was most surprising about the reality of life at Rice compared to what you expected – was it better or worse, and in which ways?”
  • “Was going to Rice ‘worth it?'”
  • “Would you recommend Rice to your kids and younger family members? Why or why not?”
  • “What’s the one thing about Rice that you wish you would have known before you decided to go there?”
  • “What’s one thing you wish you would have done differently while you were at Rice?”

Tell us: Why you?

Again, there are many thousands of very bright students competing with you for a very limited number of spaces in the Rice University freshman class. Your Rice University interview can help you stand out from all the other very compelling candidates, especially if you make a memorable impression. Here are some examples of things I would love to hear from a student during a Rice University interview:

  • “I want to go to Rice because I love studying Spanish and I want to volunteer with the Latino community in Houston and get to learn more about all the cultures of the city.”
  • “During my summer internship at the hospital, I realized that I really want to be a doctor and so I’m excited to work at the Texas Medical Center while I’m a student at Rice.”
  • “I want to be around really smart, talented kids who have big ambitions in life. I want to really test myself and push myself to the limit and find out what I’m capable of academically.”

Be socially graceful.

One of the reasons we do Rice University interviews as part of the admission process is to answer the question, “would this student fit in at Rice?” Rice University has a lot of social events, not just with students but also with faculty and staff. You might often find yourself having lunch with your professors, or being invited to dinner at the home of your residential college Masters (faculty who live on-site with the students and serve as unofficial “parents” for each residential college).

Being a student at Rice brings an expectation that you’ll know how to act in social situations with lots of different people of different ages, not just other college students. Try to demonstrate your social skills and good manners. A good handshake and eye contact go a long way. Be confident. Act like you’re meeting with one of your parents’ friends – somewhat of a formal, professional conversation, but still at ease.

My most common “complaint” (and it’s not quite a complaint, but just a missed opportunity) is that I often find myself thinking, when I write up my Rice University interview reports and recommendations, “I wish that student would have told me more about themselves.” Don’t be afraid to open up a bit and tell us what you think and how you feel. This is your one best chance to really put a human face on your application.

Above all, don’t worry. Just the fact that you’re applying to a highly selective college like Rice University is a good sign that you have the motivation, focus and confidence to succeed in college and in life. No matter where you go to college, you’re going to get as much out of it as you put into it.

As an interviewer, each year I’m really impressed by the intelligence and poise of the high school seniors who are applying to Rice. I often joke, “I don’t think I could get admitted to Rice if I had to try again today.” I’m grateful to have gotten such a good education, not just at Rice, but also in my 2 years at Iowa State University, and in my 12 years of public schools. There are so many kids all over the world who never get a chance to learn to read and write, who toil at menial, dangerous jobs that will never lift them out of poverty. Even in our own wealthy country there are many people who never get a chance to reach their potential, whether it’s due to bad choices, bad influences, a bad environment or bad luck.

Just the fact that you are getting to interview for a chance to attend Rice University is a magnificent privilege. Make the most of it.

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