Rice vs. UT Austin: Which Is Better for You?

Texas' two most celebrated universities are polar opposites in cost, culture, and student demographics. It's a battle of private vs. public, Rice vs. UT Austin.
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Anne Dennon
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Anne Dennon covers higher education trends, policy, and student issues for BestColleges. She has an MA in English literature and a background in research strategy and service journalism....
Published on September 19, 2023
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Margaret Weinhold is an associate editor for BestColleges, where she focuses on core content. She is passionate about increasing visibility and accessibility around higher education. Margaret holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia....
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  • The private Rice University and the public University of Texas at Austin are academic powerhouses.
  • Set in the heart of humid Houston, Rice is rigorous, with as many grad students as undergrads.
  • "Weird" and ever-widening Austin is home to the flagship UT school, Texans' pride and joy.
  • Located fewer than three hours apart, the Lone Star State's leading colleges are culturally distinct.

Texas boasts more than its fair share of big-name universities. Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin sit at the top of the list. The two schools have a few things in common, the most important of which is their academic might.

Rice University sits beside the likes of Cornell and Columbia. And, like its East Coast peers, Rice's already slim acceptance margin has thinned out in recent years, hitting a record-low 7.7% admit rate.

Meanwhile, UT Austin has long been considered a "Public Ivy." The flagship University of Texas institution ranks on par with schools in the University of California system.

And the two cities they call home, Houston and Austin, share certain Texas trademarks: Warm weather, bad traffic, and great food. But the two schools and the two cities are as culturally distinct as it gets. Rice vs. UT Austin represents the age-old battle among U.S. colleges: small and private against large and public.

Rice vs. UT Austin: 3 Key Differences

1. Culture

Rice is the more cosmopolitan school, with no fraternities or sororities, and half of its undergrads are from outside of Texas.

Meanwhile, UT Austin has mostly Texans among its student body (a fact guaranteed by state law) and has an active Greek life.

Both factors uphold UT Austin's famously strong alumni network: Having UT Austin in common with colleagues and employers is a big deal in Texas, where an "old boy's club" culture still reigns.

Hook 'em Horns!

2. Location

Fewer than three hours apart in southern Texas, Rice University and UT Austin are close neighbors in the country's second-biggest state. Despite their closeness, the two cities have widely different economies and even experience slightly different weather.

Houston's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico means the heat is hotter — and wetter. Tucked into the hills, Austin is drier, with less rain in the summer and a more manageable dew point. Both cities sit squarely inside the infamous Tornado Alley.

Previously a "boom and bust" city, with its population swelling and cratering according to oil prices, Houston is now the most diverse city in the U.S.

Austin, for its part, is going through a boom. The city is among the fastest growing in the nation. Despite a population pushing the 1 million mark, beloved Austin is still known as a college town — a place where students take over and school spirit is everywhere.

Between tech company dollars and cultural attractions (think SXSW and Austin City Limits), Austin is a magnet for youth. The town is changing fast, but t-shirts and bumper stickers still keep the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan alive.

3. Price

Students pay plenty to attend William Marsh Rice University, with its 6-to-1 student-faculty ratio. At nearly $60,000 per year, tuition at Rice is among the most expensive in the nation.

For Texas residents, attending one of the state colleges costs a small fraction of that sum. UT Austin charges around $10,000 per year in tuition for in-state students. For non-residents, the price difference isn't so great. UT Austin asks out-of-state students for more than $40,000 per year.

There's also the cost of living to consider. While Rice costs plenty, Houston doesn't. Houston is the most affordable of all major cities in the U.S. And while UT Austin is an affordable pick for Texans, Austin itself is costly. Thanks to a huge influx of Californians and California capital, Austin is the most expensive place to live in the state.

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How to Choose Whether Rice or UT Austin Is Right for You

If Rice and UT Austin have made it to the end of your college bracket, the choice comes down to a few key decisions. While a Rice diploma may receive more interest outside of Texas, a UT Austin degree is a big deal within the state.

Rice's older, more cosmopolitan population creates its own world in Houston. UT Austin's sports fans and Greek life provide the "classic" college experience. Rice's small class sizes promise meaningful relationships with professors. And UT Austin's alumni network is a powerful career booster.

Both schools are exceptional — recognized names, strong academics, and state-of-the-art campuses.

Frequently Asked Questions About Rice vs. UT Austin

Is Rice more prestigious than UT Austin?

Rice University, with its private status — and steep price tag — is the smaller and more selective school. Rice's admission rate of less than 10% may be higher than its East Coast peers but is much slimmer than UT Austin's, at nearly 30%. That said, admission stats aren't everything. Some programs at UT Austin outrank those of Rice, including engineering.

Is it harder to get into Rice or UT Austin?

Rice enrolls well under 10,000 learners, a number equally split between undergraduate and graduate students. UT Austin enrolls over 50,000 total students. And more than 4 in 5 are undergrads. The odds of getting into UT Austin are much higher, particularly for applicants from the Lonestar State.

By law, public colleges in Texas must admit a certain number of in-state high school students, no matter their GPA or test scores.

Is it more work to apply to Rice or UT Austin?

UT Austin gives in-state students an easier time in the admission process. UT Austin is subject to laws that ensure a certain number of Texans are admitted to the state's public colleges. And thanks to the Top 10% Rule, high-achieving Texas high schoolers are admitted automatically.

The school also accepts admissions through the Common App or Apply Texas, an application shared among almost all Texas colleges — except Rice.

Rice University is the only college or university in the state of Texas that doesn't accept Apply Texas, preferring the Common or Coalition Application.

What is the best university in Texas, Rice or UT Austin?

Trinity University, Texas A&M, Southern Methodist University — there's no shortage of great colleges in Texas. But the title of the best university in Texas typically goes to either Rice University or UT Austin. Both are standout schools with excellent reputations.

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