The Ivy League includes some of the most selective, prestigious, and elite universities in the United States. Nowadays, the moniker “Ivy League” is synonymous with academic excellence, extremely low admissions rates, and famous alumni. With this in mind, it’s natural to wonder whether Rice University – known for its strong academics, selective admissions, and influential alumni – is a member of the illustrious Ivy League.
Located in the heart of Houston, Texas’s famed Museum District, Rice is home to a picturesque campus, tradition of world-class research, highly attentive professors, and challenging, intimate academic environment. One of Rice’s distinguishing features is its residential college system; every incoming freshman is placed in one of Rice’s 11 residential colleges – which are kind of like Hogwarts houses – where they will live, dine, and socialize. The residential colleges help create a “school-within-a-school” feel, enabling students to join a close-knit community within the larger framework of the university.
In addition to its residential college system (which, coincidentally, the Ivy League schools Yale and Princeton are also known for), Rice is distinguished by its collaborative, rigorous, highly impactful academic and research environment. The university counts among its faculty and alumni more than two dozen Marshall Scholars, a dozen Rhodes Scholars, and five Nobel Laureates, not to mention the many astronauts and space scientists Rice has produced thanks to its close ties with NASA. Notable Rice alumni can be found in every industry, from business and politics to literature and STEM fields.
Classified as a Research I university, Rice University research activity is very high, especially relative to its small size. Indeed, students and faculty alike are attracted to Rice for its combination of high-quality and dedicated undergraduate education coupled with intense, cutting-edge research activity and output.
Rice sounds a lot like an Ivy League university. In this article, we’ll discuss what the moniker “Ivy League” actually means, whether Rice is an Ivy, and how to increase your chances of being accepted to this elite university.
Is Rice University an Ivy League School?
Rice is not a member of the Ivy League.
However, Rice does share many qualities with the Ivies: high-caliber academics, strong alumni network, prolific research, and international renown. In that sense, it’s understandable that people assume that Rice must be in the Ivy League.
Not many people know that the Ivy League did not begin as a group for elite academic institutions. Rather, the Ivy League was officially established in 1954 as an athletic conference for eight universities in the Northeastern corridor of the United States: Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Brown, Princeton, and Cornell. These schools are still the only eight members of the Ivy League.
Given Rice’s location in Texas and its relatively late founding (1912) compared to the colleges in the Northeast, it’s easy to see why Rice was not included in the Ivy League when it was established. However, even though Rice doesn’t bear the official Ivy name, it does live up to the reputation of the Ivies in many other ways, particularly its academics, admissions, and research contributions.
Interestingly, after the Ivy League was formed, several established and well-respected universities in the South floated the idea of forming an athletic league of their own – the South’s answer to the Ivy League. Known as the Magnolia Conference, this group of schools was set to include Vanderbilt, Southern Methodist University (SMU), Duke, Emory, Tulane, and, you guessed it, Rice. However, this so-called Southern Ivy League never took hold because some of the universities did not want to abandon their existing conferences; for instance, Duke still wanted its rivalry with UNC, and SMU and Rice wanted to continue competing in their Southwestern Conference.
Why Rice University Is Confused As an Ivy League School
Rice is one of the top schools in the entire country and has a stellar reputation abroad as well, so it makes sense that people wonder whether it is an official Ivy League school. In many national rankings, Rice bests some Ivies and consistently earns its spot at the top of the university hierarchy. Although the Magnolia Conference never officially came to be, we can still think of Rice as an informal Southern Ivy.
Remember, Rice is located in Texas – a huge state that notoriously has its own flag. Time and again, Rice is ranked as the top university in all of Texas, which is a big feat! It is clearly an Ivy-caliber university.
But even more impressive than Rice’s stellar academics and focus on undergraduates is its prolific research activity. Indeed, Rice is exceptionally well known for its STEM fields, mainly applied sciences, and enjoys worldwide renown for its artificial heart research, structural chemical analysis, signal processing, space science, and nanotechnology. In fact, in 2010 Times Higher Education ranked Rice #1 in the entire world in materials science research. Yes, that means Rice beat out all the official Ivies as well as international powerhouses like Oxford and Cambridge!
Many people mistake Rice for an Ivy because it also exudes the sense of tradition and sophisticated learning that the Ivies are known for. In addition to Rice’s residential college system, which creates the kind of intimate intellectual enclave characteristic of the Ivies, Rice students also abide by a strict Honor Code enforced by the student-run Honor Council. This is a key feature of Rice’s academic life and displays the trust and responsibility the university extends to students.
Rice University – Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More
Given Rice’s outstanding reputation for academics and research, it’s no surprise that the university consistently ranks at the top of national and international lists. And, because of Rice’s reputation and ranking, it is a challenging university to gain acceptance to: in 2021, Rice’s acceptance rate was a mere 9% despite increasing the size of its undergraduate student body and therefore admitting more students than they otherwise could have. This means that for every 100 applicants to Rice, only nine are offered a spot in the incoming class.
US News and World Report, the go-to publication for national college rankings, places Rice in the #16 slot, tied with Washington University in St. Louis. In this position, Rice slightly trails Ivies like Brown and Dartmouth but beats out Cornell.
Meanwhile, Rice plunges all the way down to #95 on the rankings put out by US News’ rival Washington Monthly.
That said, Rice receives more favorable treatment on the wildly popular website Niche.com, where Rice earns an A+ rating and is named the #7 Best Colleges in America, #7 Best Private Universities in America, #8 Best College Campuses in America, and #15 Colleges with the Best Academics in America.
While these rankings differ from one publication to another, what remains clear is that although Rice is not in the Ivy League, it is still considered one of the very best universities in the whole country.
How to Get Into Rice University
Rice is one of the most selective universities in the country, with an average admissions rate of between 8 and 9%. To stand out from the crowd, applicants need to cover all their academic and standardized testing bases. Still, on top of that, they need to have dazzling essays, compelling extracurriculars, and outstanding teacher recommendations.
Rice’s admissions stats are impressive: the average GPA of admitted students is 4.12, the average SAT range is 1450-1560, and the average ACT range is 33-35. However, while top scores and perfect grades will undoubtedly work in your favor in the admissions process at Rice, they are not sufficient on their own to get you admitted.
Rice also wants to see that students take advantage of the academic and extracurricular challenges available to them at their school, and that they pursue depth rather than breadth when it comes to their activities. Generally speaking, it’s more impressive to see a student who has engaged deeply in two or three activities related to a strong passion of theirs than to see a student who dabbles on the surface of a bunch of different activities without much rhyme or reason.
Applicants should also pay close attention to the teachers they ask to write letters of recommendation on their behalf. The impact of a teacher declaring a student to be “one of the top few I have encountered in my career” cannot be understated. Universities look to teacher recommendations to get a sense of the kind of student and person an applicant is through the eyes of an experienced educator. Be sure to offer your recommendation letters enough information about you (ideally citing specific anecdotes from that teacher’s class) that they can write a powerful, specific letter in support of your application.
Recap: Rice University Is Not an Ivy League School, However, It Is One of the Best Schools in the US
Rice does not carry that Ivy League brand name, but that does not mean it is any less prestigious, academically rigorous, or well respected. Particularly in the South, Rice is an exceptionally well-esteemed university, known for its small student-to-faculty ratio, its emphasis on stellar teaching and groundbreaking research, its strong alumni network achieving remarkable feats in all industries, and its spirit of collaboration and innovation.
From its signature residential college system and Honor Code to its high rankings and low admissions rate, Rice is a university that has all the makings of an Ivy League school; it just doesn’t happen to be located in the Northeast.
Even though the Southern Ivy/Magnolia Conference was never made official, universities like Rice, Duke, Vanderbilt, and Emory continue to emerge as rivals of the Ivy League, and with good reason: each of these schools is as deserving, if not more deserving, of a spot at the top of national rankings.
It’s worth remembering that the Ivy League did not begin as an elite club for highly esteemed academic institutions; it began as an athletic conference. As universities like Rice continue to gain even greater popularity and ascend in the national rankings, it is worth thinking of the Ivies in a more inclusive and encompassing fashion. If today’s definition of an Ivy is “one of the best and hardest schools to get into,” then Rice certainly deserves this label – albeit unofficially.