A Student Review of Rice University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Olivia is a senior at Rice University studying Materials Science. She currently tutors several subjects in Houston including SAT prep tutoring, Chemistry tutoring, and German tutoring. Check out her review of her school:

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?

Olivia: Campus is very safe; it’s a little bubble within Houston. The running joke is that we live in the 4th biggest city in the country but go weeks without leaving campus. It’s definitely true, but there are also lots of opportunities to get off campus if you are interested. For example, the student association arranges student nights at the Rodeo every year and the Alley Theater every semester. There are buses on campus, and Houston has some public transportation for which we have unlimited passes. Most students only have cars if they’ve moved off campus as upperclassmen. By far the most popular method of transportation on campus and within the university area is biking. 

VT:  How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants? 

Olivia: The professors here are typically pretty available, both in terms of time and personality. TA’s are typically grad students and also are good about being available for class and academic advice.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students? 

Olivia: There’s a reason why Rice is consistently ranked #1 for quality of dorm life. All the dorms here are different and you’re assigned to one dorm for all 4 years. You really get close to a small section of campus and have a “family” to support you through everything. Campus life is very vibrant – because so many students live on campus, there is always something different going on. 

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?

Olivia: The Architecture, Music, and Engineering schools are among the smallest at Rice, but are also 3 of the top ranked programs in their fields. The Materials Science program in particular is currently ranked #1 in the world, I believe. I chose to study Materials Science because of a graduation project required by my high school, where I shadowed research scientists at Air Products and Chemicals in Allentown, PA. I’ve toyed with minoring or double majoring in just about everything under the sun while here, but I’ve never wavered in my choice of Materials Science as my primary area of study. The Materials Science department at Rice is very small in terms of undergraduate students. We’re actually part of the Mechanical Engineering department, which presents us with a lot of unique cross-disciplinary opportunities. Strictly Materials-focused faculty easily outnumber the undergraduate students, so I can actually walk into a professor’s office on any given afternoon and there will be a good chance that they will have a minute to talk. We also have a lot of grad students in Materials Science, who are great resources for info on classes, internships, and school life in general. 

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?

Olivia: There’s actually no Greek life at Rice. Dorms are instead assigned randomly in a “Harry Potter” style. You’re assigned to one dorm for all 4 years, and even if you choose to live off campus, you still get to participate in that dorm’s special events and “family” activities. When you move in freshman year, you’re assigned 3 upperclassmen advisors with ~8-10 fellow freshmen/new students and you have a whole week to pick classes, get to know the freshmen class, and get familiar with campus. Your matriculating class at your dorm really becomes family.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?  

Olivia: There are several large recruiting/career fairs on campus every semester.  Some are specific (ie. Engineering, Consulting, etc.) and some have a wide range of firms. As an engineer going into industry rather than grad school or consulting, I prefer to use my professors’ industry connections in terms of job opportunities and recruiting. I have used the Career Development Center’s resume and interview workshops, however, and they are great tools to help prep for the internship and job hunt.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges?  Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Olivia: There are study rooms and/or lounge areas in almost every building on campus. The library’s individual study rooms are popular, especially around exams, so they can be hard to get a hold of. There’s always room available somewhere though.  

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? 

Olivia: Houston is such a great city. It gets a bad rap sometimes because it’s in Texas and because Austin likes to be the “cool” Texas city, but there’s a lot of up and coming activities in the city. There’s a strong local business movement, a growing job market, a huge arts and entertainment sector with things from public art festivals to fine arts museums and various theater companies, and a huge diversity of restaurants from fancy places to food trucks. Our student ID’s get us free/discounted access to a lot of arts and entertainment around the city, from museums and theaters to the zoo. How much you take advantage of it really depends on where exactly your interests lie and your schedule. It’s definitely easier to get off campus as a senior and/or if you have a bike or car.

In terms of night life, there are a lot of bars next to campus which have stand-up comedy or live music and you only have to be 18 to get in. Two of the local breweries were also founded by Rice grads, so a big rite of passage senior year is to go with the senior members of your dorm for a tour. There’s also a pretty significant social dance scene in Houston. The America’s Classic Championship (Pro West Coast Swing championship) was in town recently. SSQQ, the place where Texas two-step was standardized in the early 1900’s, is only about 7 miles from campus. One of my personal favorites is a country-western dance hall called Wild West. It’s a great way to get off campus and meet people and experience the Texas culture. Many student groups carpool there weekly or monthly for social events.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Olivia: The undergraduate population is about 3,000 students. Some of the intro level classes as well as physical fitness classes are fairly large, but those are typically classes that are good to have more students. When you get to more specialized classes, the class size drops dramatically. Most classes I’ve taken here have been between 5 and 25 students.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Olivia: I think this honor has to go to a class I’m currently taking. I’ve had a lot of great experiences with Materials Science professors and related technical classes, but one class I’m currently auditing stands out the most.

The class I’m auditing this semester is an architecture seminar called the Joy of Materials. The professor was hesitant to let me into the class because I am not an architecture student and he was concerned I was looking for a technical class. Two weeks into the class, he has personally thanked me for taking the course and bringing unique discussion to the class. On the other hand, it has brought another perspective of materials to my thought process. So much of the BSMS program at Rice is focused on nanoscale properties of materials, which is very important for engineering. But bringing bulk and aesthetic properties of materials into consideration brings a new dimension to materials selection. This dimension is particularly important for those planning to go into product design/bulk materials type positions, rather than nanoscale research or grad school.

Check out Olivia’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.