The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Courtney is a Houston tutor attending Rice University. She is currently a junior majoring in Cognitive Sciences and specializes in several tutoring subjects such as ISEE prep tutoring, Biology tutoring, and Essay Editing tutoring. See what she had to say about Rice:
VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?
Courtney: Although Rice is in the center of a major metropolitan area, the campus feels very intimate and is very safe. Our Rice University Police Department does a great job of patrolling the area and helping everyone feel secure, but of course in a big city it is always advisable to use caution and common sense. There are buses that run around what we call the “Inner Loop” of campus and travel through the heart of the academic buildings all the way out to the parking lot area.
If you are commuting from off-campus or want to explore the greater Houston area, there is a public bus system, but it isn’t very convenient. I personally bike from my house off-campus and it is only a 15 minute bike ride. Another option for public transport is the light rail system that runs from the Rice U area into Midtown and the Downtown area for very cheap. Many people drive cars and it is definitely the most convenient way to get around if you can handle the traffic. Because Houston is such a sprawling city, it makes sense to have personal transport.
VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?
Courtney: The Rice professors I have encountered are always available for help and ready to assist you in any way possible. There are usually only a few teaching assistants, even for big classes, because the professors will generally handle any issues personally. All professors offer office hours and available by email. Many will even say to drop in with no appointment, if necessary. For the few classes that do require teaching assistants, they are often graduate level students who really know the subject matter and have no problem going to the professor if they can’t answer a question you have.
The office of academic advising is very helpful but emphasizes the services of Peer Academic Advisors that help with deciding classes and determining credit. These Peer Academic Advisors are at every dorm and easily accessible for immediate questions. If you are interested in focuses such as premedical or prelaw, the academic advising office has specific advisors for these concentrations.
VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Courtney: Rice is very unique in its dorm set-up. The University is divided into 11 residential colleges (dorms) that you are “sorted” into before you matriculate. Usually you stay in the college for your entire time at Rice. Each dorm has its own governing body, committees, and, in some ways, personality. Additionally, each dorm is set up a little differently as far as rooms go. Some residential colleges emphasize double rooms with a private bathroom, others have suite set ups with shared bathrooms.
We have 6 dining halls (called “serveries”) around campus. Although some are specifically designated for a particular college, you are welcome to eat at any of them. One aspect of Rice some people take issue with is the all-or-nothing style to the meal plan if you live on campus. With living on campus you must buy a full meal plan that covers all meals of the week (excluding Saturday evening, when the serveries close). This is upsetting to some people that don’t eat breakfast or would prefer off-campus options more. If you live off-campus, different levels of meal plans are available (e.g. 5 meals per week, 7 meals per week, etc.)
The residential colleges and serveries offer a lot of opportunity for socialization and getting to know other people. The other students at your college will become like a pseudo-family of about 400 people. When you matriculate you will participate in an orientation week (called O-week) where you will get to know your fellow college-mates even more.
VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?
Courtney: Traditionally Rice is known as being an Engineering school, but don’t let this discourage you if you are a humanities or social science enthusiast. Obviously most of the money is thrown towards the engineering and science fields, but I personally am involved in both the social science and humanities departments and they offer great faculty and support as well. I came into Rice with a premedical focus, but decided against it in my junior year. I now focus on my studies in Cognitive Sciences and Religious Studies. I chose Cognitive Sciences because it was just a field that fascinated me and is very progressive right now with a lot of new research being done. In a similar vein, I decided on Religious studies because I developed an interest in it after I took a class on Psychology of Religion during my freshman year. The Religious Studies department is world-renown and one of the few programs that works on studies in the GEM (gnostic, esoteric, mystic) field.
The University does a great job of supporting all areas of study and, as I said before, although the sciences are highlighted, they do boast excellent Humanities, Social Science, Music, and Architecture programs.
VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?
Courtney: It is unbelievably easy to make friends as a freshman. O-Week does a great job of getting you acquainted with others in your college. You are further divided into O-Week groups where you are grouped with 7 other freshman, which aids in making instant friends. I am still close friends with many people from my O-Week group. Additionally, there are a lot small class sizes that allow you to meet people from other colleges. There is no Greek life on campus, but the college systems work in a similar style (without all the hazing and exclusivity). It’s like you are inducted into a sorority/fraternity as soon as you move in.
VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?
Courtney: Rice has a Center for Career Development (CCD) that offers resume-writing workshops, practice interviews, presentations from various professional fields, and career fairs. The CCD does a great job of offering a variety of opportunities to discover careers and meet potential employers. Several big firms (Capital One, IBM, etc.) recruit from Rice as well as many government/military agencies (FBI, CIA, Army, Navy, etc.).
If you are a humanities major, like me, and are worried about career opportunities after college, the CCD offers very specific workshops that describe different areas that humanities’ majors are desired.
VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?
Courtney: There are plenty of beautiful study spaces across campus. The most obvious of these is Fondren Library, which offers 5 floors of study cubicles, study rooms that you can reserve, as well as tables and computers for public use. Fondren always has places to study, but I recommend getting there early during exam time because you will be fighting for even cubicle space. Additionally, areas such as Brochstein Pavillion have a coffeeshop and places to sit and study. Many professors use Brochstein for office hours or meetings. Our student-run coffeeshop (Coffee House) is also a fun place to relax and study.
Individual residential colleges also have public spaces for study, but these can often be filled with people socializing. Some colleges have a suite-style set up where rooms surround a common room, which can be used for study as well.
VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus?
Courtney: Houston is a very exciting, diverse city with a lot of things to do if you take advantage of them. Rice students often fall into the habit of staying close to campus, but if you go “Beyond the Hedges” (as we say at Rice), you can find a lot of unique places to eat, shop, and have fun. A 10 minute walk from campus is “Rice Village”, which is filled with shopping stores, restaurants, and bars. Some people go to Midtown, where there are some clubs and bars, or Downtown. You can get to both of these places via the light rail system. Because Rice has such an active social scene (with each residential college throwing public parties about every other week), many students neglect the area around Rice, but there is a lot to do!
Additionally, Rice is located right in the Museum District of Houston, with several great museums as well as Hermann Park (with the Houston Zoo at the center). These places are great for a day excursion that is easily walking distance from campus.
VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Courtney: Rice University has one of the smallest student populations among Ivy League schools. We only have about 6,000 Undergraduate students, with each class having only about 1,500 students. Although it seems like a lot, you see a lot of familiar faces on campus. After coming to Rice I think I would have preferred going somewhere with a few more people because sometimes the social scene can be a little redundant. But the small population also offers small class sizes and for some students is less overwhelming than larger institutions.
VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Courtney: My favorite professor is a Religious Studies professor that I had freshman year (and subsequently many semesters after that). He is funny, engaging, and very knowledgeable. I signed up for his class, Psychology of Religion, out of curiosity more than anything else, but in taking the class my interest grew exponentially and I am now planning a thesis under the same subject (and the same professor!). The great thing about my professor was that he treated us like adults as soon as we walked in instead of holding our hands through the processes. Our first assignment was to “write about what we have been talking about”. He gave us a loose prompt and said to write (almost free-form) whatever we thought. Instead of focusing on the writing he made us focus on the material, which was refreshing and interesting. He helped me develop as a student and a person and created a life-long passion that I hope to continue long after I leave Rice.
Check out Courtney’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.