Frequently Asked Questions

Please refer the following FAQ to find more information about the SSPB admissions process. You may also refer to the Rice University Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website for more general application information. If you have additional questions, email

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.

Do all students need to complete all program prerequisites prior to joining the program?

No. 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.

What factors does the admissions committee consider when evaluating an 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.

What required materials are needed for the application?

In addition to completing the application form, applicants will be asked to electronically submit (1) transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate schools attended, (2) at least three letters of recommendation, (3) a CV, and (4) TOEFL scores (for international students requiring visas).

Are GRE scores required?

No. We will not be requiring GRE scores, though they will be considered if provided.

Are official transcripts required?

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.

Is there an application fee?

No. Application fees will be waived for all applications.

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.

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.

Who should I ask to provide recommendation letters for my application?

Recommendations are preferred from research mentors, instructors, and advisors in the applicant's major field who know the personal and scholastic qualities of the applicant.

Do I have to submit TOEFL scores if I am an international student?

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

May I request a waiver from the English language test requirement?

Students with a degree from a university where English is the official language are exempt from submitting TOEFL / IELTS / Duolingo scores. To request a waiver, you may upload any form of Proof of English as Language of Instruction from that corresponding university.

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.

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). Additionally, 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).

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.

Who do I contact if I have questions about the application?

If you have specific questions about the SSPB application, email them to

When does SSPB conduct on-campus interviews?

We plan to conduct in-person interviews in February and March.

How soon after the deadline will applicants be notified of admissions updates?

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.

Do students need to apply separately for financial aid?

No. When you apply to the SSPB program, you are applying for the Graduate Research Fellowship. Incoming SSPB students will be awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship for their first year of study that is comprised of a full tuition waiver and a stipend to cover living expenses. When students join a lab, advisors become responsible for financial support. In cases where students have external support which falls below the program’s stated level, the advisor provides a supplement to reach the full stipend level.

What is the annual stipend for SSPB graduate students?

The annual stipend for the 2023-24 academic year is $37,000, which is sufficient to live well given Houston's low cost of living. Note that Houston has the lowest median housing costs among the top 20 major U.S. metropolitan areas.

Is there funding to support student travel to professional conferences?

Yes. A subsidy for travel to conferences can be requested from the SSPB program when students are planning to present at a meeting. This subsidy will help defray a portion of the costs.

How are scholarships, fellowships, and other forms of financial support taxed at Rice?

You may refer to this document prepared by the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to learn more about the possible US federal tax treatment of the various forms of financial support for graduate students. If you have additional questions about graduate fellow payments, please contact