Application FAQs

Who do I contact if I have questions about the application?
If you have specific questions about the SSPB application, those should be sent by email to

Are official transcripts required for the application?
An unofficial transcript may be uploaded to the application for preliminary evaluation, but once an applicant is selected for an interview, the official transcript(s) will be due.

Are transcripts required from all institutions that I have attended?
Yes. Offers of admission are contingent on receipt of the official transcripts from all previous college or university studies, including prior graduate work.

How many recommendation letters are needed for the application?
Applications will not be reviewed until at least three recommendations are received. Recommendations are preferred from professors in the applicant's major field who know the personal and scholastic qualities of the applicant.

What kinds of supplemental information is requested in the application?
The application will ask you to provide a list of creative works (e.g., publications, inventions, presentations, and patents). Additional you will be asked to “describe your intended plan of study,” “scholarly research,” and indicate any “other information” that might be helpful evaluating your application (e.g., personal background, work experience, and leadership roles).

Does the SSPB application require a personal statement?
There is no requirement for a formal personal statement, although the application requests Supplemental Information where you should provide more details about: (i) your intended plan of study (i.e., systems, synthetic, or physical biology), (ii) the research that you have done or are currently pursuing, and (iii) other information that may be helpful in evaluating your application.

Should international students include their class rank in the application?
Yes. Definitely include your class rank in your application so that the admissions committee is scaled for your performance at your current and past institutions.

Do I have to submit TOEFL scores if I am an international student currently enrolled at a US college?
Yes. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required for any student requiring a visa. The TOEFL is administered through the Educational Testing Service (ETS), Box 6151, Princeton, New Jersey 08541-6151 USA (telephone 609.771.7100). You can also send an e-mail to or contact a center in your native country.

Can I take the IELTS in lieu of the TOEFL?
Yes. Students whose native language is not English may also use the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). IELTS is owned, developed and delivered through the partnership of the British Council, IDP Education Australia: IELTS Australia and the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations. You can get more information about the IELTS at, or send an e-mail to

What level of performance is competitive on the GRE?
For the Fall 2021 admissions cycle, we will not be requiring GRE scores.

What level of performance is competitive on the TOEFL (or IELTS)?
Applicants should score at least 90 on the iBL (internet-based) TOEFL, at least 600 on the paper-based TOEFL or score 250 on the computer-based TOEFL. For students who choose to take the IELTS in lieu of TOEFL, the minimum score is 7.

Should I include my curriculum vitae (CV) with my application?
A CV can be included and will be reviewed by the admissions committee. However, this is not a required component of the application. You can upload your CV in the "Documents" section of the application system in pdf format.

What factors does the admissions committee consider when evaluating the application?
The entire application will be considered (GPA, recommendation letters, research experience, and supplemental information). The admissions committee will use this information to assess preparation for the SSPB curriculum and potential for growing into an SSPB leader who publishes valuable articles and makes creative contributions in this intellectual space.

How soon after the deadline will invitations be sent out for interviews?
The admissions committee works to review applications immediately following the deadline with the goal of being able to offer the first invitations for interviews by the middle of January. Admissions is a rolling process so additional invitations are made throughout the winter and often into the spring.

When does SSPB conduct on-campus interviews?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rice is still evaluating whether we can invite applicants to visit our campus during the Spring 2021 semester. If this is not possible, we plan to conduct virtual interviews in February 2021.

What majors do students typically pursue before applying to the SSPB program?
Students have typically completed undergraduate degrees in diverse science and engineering disciplines, ranging from Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering to Physics and Chemistry to Biochemistry and Microbiology.

Are there options available within the program for a student coming in having already obtained a Masters degree?
Yes. Students with an interest in pursuing a doctoral degree in SSPB are encouraged to apply even if they have already obtained a Masters degree. The goal of the SSPB PhD program is to provide more advanced training.

Does the SSPB program offer application fee waivers?
For the Fall 2021 admissions cycle, we are waiving all application fees.

What if I do not have all of the prerequisite courses?
When applying to SSPB, only a small fraction of students have formal training in all of the areas listed as prerequisites because students have pursued diverse undergraduate studies. When students are missing formal training in one or more of these topics, they take equivalent background courses during their first year in the program.

Should students note specific research group interests in the application?
Yes. It is helpful for the admissions committee to know what research groups are most closely aligned with your future research interests. However, students are not admitted directly into labs. Instead, students rotate through three different laboratories during their first semester and then identify a lab that is a good fit for their thesis research.