Majors and Minors

The School of Natural Sciences offers 20 majors and seven minors in our departments and interdisciplinary programs. Students do not have to declare a major until the second semester of sophomore year. You may change your major at any time, including changing to a major in another school. In fact, many Rice students double major across academic schools and still graduate in four years.

Most of our departments offer both a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. In general, a BA program contains more free elective hours than its BS counterpart. This flexibility makes it easier for you to pursue your other interests, a double major or a minor. If you are preparing for a career that is not primarily in the scientific discipline of your major and want time in your schedule to pursue other areas of interest, the BA degree might be right for you. If you are planning to go to graduate school or pursue a career in a scientific discipline, you should consider the BS degree.


Biosciences BS, BA
Biochemistry and Cell Biology minor
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology minor

The Biosciences undergraduate curricula provide undergraduate students with numerous rigorous, balanced, yet flexible paths towards either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in a wide range of focal areas within the life sciences. The major in Biosciences is divided into four distinct major concentrations: Biochemistry, Cell Biology and Genetics, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Integrative Biology. Students declaring a major in Biosciences must select one of these four major concentrations.

All major concentrations share the same basic structure: core requirements include introductory coursework in the natural sciences and engineering, including biology, chemistry, physics, math and statistics; a combination of required and elective lecture and laboratory courses in biology, with a focus on coursework with the area of the major concentration; and a capstone biology course within the major concentration area.

All major concentrations offer a BA and a BS option. The BA degrees offer a rigorous biological curriculum suitable for many career paths while allowing the flexibility for extended academic exploration in other areas. The BS degrees include similar academic rigor with the addition of experience conducting original research. While undergraduate research is required for the BS degrees, all students regardless of their major are welcome and encouraged to participate in undergraduate research, availing themselves of the numerous research opportunities at Rice and in the Houston community.

Both the BA and BS degrees with the major in Biosciences and all major concentrations will provide students with significant biological content knowledge and the skills to evaluate the scientific literature, design experiments, and collect, analyze and communicate data. These degrees will prepare students for graduate, medical or other professional schools and a wide range of careers in the life sciences and beyond. Qualified students, interested in graduate school, have the option to apply to a specialized BA-MS-PhD program track at the end of their sophomore year.

In addition, a minor in Biochemistry and Cell Biology and a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology are offered for students interested in these fields but who may be majoring in other areas. The minor in Biochemistry and Cell Biology includes many of the life sciences core courses required for the health professions.

Chemical Physics

Chemical Physics BS

The Chemical Physics degree is jointly offered by the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. It is designed for students with a strong aptitude in both chemistry and physics. Students take upper-level courses in both chemistry and physics, focusing on the applications of physics to chemical systems. Schedule a meeting with the Chemical Physics Major Advisors if you are interested in this interdisciplinary major.


Chemistry BS, BA

Chemistry at Rice is where innovation meets collaboration. Two Nobel laureates, dominance in the field of nanoscale science and technology, and significant contributions to both bioscience and materials science have propelled the Department of Chemistry to unparalleled status over the past two decades. Since Chemistry holds a unique position in science and technology, it has been the nucleus of collaboration across departments and schools.

The BS program rigorously prepares students for PhD programs in chemistry and related disciplines. The degree requirements are consistent with the guidelines for certification by the American Chemical Society. BS students complete a series of foundation courses in general chemistry and each of the core areas of chemistry: analytical, biological, inorganic, organic and physical. Students then complete a specialization in one or more of these areas. This curriculum provides a broad and comprehensive introduction to core areas of chemistry while establishing deep understanding in one or more specific fields.

The BA degree is a more flexible program that provides a broad overview of chemistry but includes less focused study in any single area. The chemistry BA is an ideal background for premedical students as it requires only 10 credit hours over the standard premedical requirements. It also couples well with a second major for students who want to pair a science and non-science major for breadth of knowledge.

Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences

Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences BS, BA, minor

Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences majors bring together the fields of data science, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology to learn how every part of the Earth — from the core to the crust, atmosphere, oceans and life — interact in time and space to build the habitable planet on which we live. We use our understanding of complex natural systems to investigate how mountains form, how volcanoes and earthquakes develop, how our natural resources form (energy, water, soils and minerals), and how climate and the environment evolve through time.

Using methodologies that range from laboratory, theory, data science and computer modeling to field work, the skills Earth scientists gain make them uniquely poised to advise on some of the most pressing problems of environment and energy facing society today.

The BS major offers three areas of specialization: Geoscience, Environmental Science and Planetary Science. Compared to the BS major, the BA provides greater flexibility of course choices.

Environmental Science

Environmental Science BS, BA
Environmental Studies minor (through the School of Humanities)

The Environmental Science degree is jointly offered by the Department of Biosciences and the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. It is designed to help students understand environmental issues from a scientific perspective and be able to solve issues using a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives.

The interdisciplinary Environmental Science BS and BA degree paths explore interconnections between humans and the natural environment, drawing courses from Biosciences; Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences; Civil Engineering; and across Humanities and Social Sciences. This program is designed to foster the critical thinking required to address the increasing complexities facing our planet and develop solutions to enhance the environment.

The Environmental Studies minor provides a cross-disciplinary, holistic understanding of the challenges and solutions for creating a sustainable world. Open to undergraduates from a broad range of academic backgrounds, this minor provides foundational literacy in the social, cultural and scientific dimensions of environmental issues.


Health Sciences BA
Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology BA

The Kinesiology Department is home to two academic majors, Health Sciences and Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology. Flexible Curricula permit undergraduate majors to tailor their coursework to their particular postgraduate needs and also permit them to study abroad, pursue internships and conduct undergraduate research. With a median class size of 19, students find an active, close-knit community of scholars, teachers and mentors who take a personal interest in every student major. The Kinesiology programs have one of the largest number of academic majors in the School of Natural Sciences and are among the largest choice of student majors at Rice.

The Health Sciences major provides students with a fundamental background in health promotion and disease prevention. Viewing health from the broader community level, students acquire the knowledge and skills for careers in public health related positions.

The Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology major provides a strong basic science foundation and then interfaces this foundation with application to the human body. It is the only academic specialization on campus that provides detailed instruction in human anatomy and human physiology in addition to nutrition, biomechanics, motor learning and exercise physiology among other topics.


Mathematics BS, BA, minor

Mathematics is the study of structure that provides a language and tools for interpreting our world. The Mathematics Department offers training in the traditional areas of pure mathematics: analysis, algebra, geometry and topology as well as courses in combinatorics, computational algebraic geometry and mathematical biology. Rice's Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM) and Statistics (STAT) departments offer an array of other mathematical courses. Undergraduates seeking a math degree are also trained in problem solving, analytical thinking and the logical and precise communication of their ideas. In the marketplace, law schools and business schools, it is precisely these skills that make math majors a valuable commodity.

The BS program prepares students for PhD programs in mathematics and related disciplines. It requires courses from each of the subfields of mathematics.

The BA program is extremely flexible; it allows students to design their own program in conjunction with their advisors. This also makes math a popular double major. Today's budding scientist, engineer, computer scientist, economist or social scientist needs much more mathematical training than did previous generations. The ease and flexibility of the double major in math allows students to get degree credit for their work.


Neuroscience BA, minor

The Neuroscience BA degree is an interdisciplinary program that is designed to provide multiple paths for students interested in the brain and how it works. This degree path will explore the biological basis of cognition, how information is processed by neurons and neural systems, and how the latest mathematical and scientific tools can be utilized to learn more about ourselves.

This program will equip students to explore key issues, analyze and interpret neuro-scientific data, and both understand and apply experimental methods that expand our understanding of brain and neural function. Research experiences are highly encouraged with a wide range of investigators at Rice and across the street in the Texas Medical Center (TMC).

The neuroscience minor involves participation in core and elective courses selected from the major as well as research in active faculty laboratories throughout Rice and the TMC.

Physics and Astronomy

Physics BS, BA, minor
Astronomy BA
Astrophysics BS

Students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy will acquire and demonstrate a solid foundation of knowledge in physics and/or astronomy and deeper knowledge of subdivisions of the field related to their interests. They will build the theoretical, computational and laboratory skills necessary to succeed in graduate school or in the workplace and become leaders in their chosen discipline. Students will develop the ability to identify, formulate and solve challenging scientific and technical problems as encountered in physics and astronomy. They will acquire basic skills in reading the scientific literature and learn how to communicate scientific results orally and in writing with scientists and the general public.

The BA degrees in physics and astronomy provide a broad liberal education with a concentration in physical science, while allowing time to pursue other interests. Graduates typically seek employment in a range of professional fields or in secondary teaching.

The BS degrees in physics and astrophysics are intended to provide intensive pre-professional training. Options for specialized study include applied physics, biological physics and computational physics. Most graduates continue in graduate study or find immediate employment in a technical field.