Graduate School

This guide will help you learn about the process of applying to graduate school. If this is the path you’re thinking of choosing, you should read and understand all of this information. Then you would consult with members of the faculty to get your questions answered and create a plan of action.

Universities that offer meteorology degrees:

Other degree programs:

You are also qualified to enter programs in Environmental Science, Earth System Science, Physical Geography, etc. We even had one guy get into Industrial Engineering. If you want to enter a program that isn’t more directly related to meteorology, you will have to spend more time learning about the discipline and the schools.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Test:

The GRE is a test (analogous to the ACT or SAT) used to assess your aptitude for graduate studies. It has three sections: Quantitative, Verbal, and Writing. You will be taking the “General” GRE, and do not need to take any of the GRE “Subject” tests. You take the GRE on campus on a computer. This website tells more:

Here is another helpful page on grad school with some GRE resources:

CMU has some ebooks for practicing the GRE available through the library:

You can see your scores right after you take the test, except for the analytical writing section (which doesn’t matter much anyway, unless you do terribly). You can have your scores sent to schools you are applying to right after you’ve finished the test. They have recently changed how they score the GRE. It may be helpful for you to use this table which converts new scores to old scores:

concordance information (PDF)

What is a good score? The image below shows the most recent stats on the distribution of GRE scores of accepted applicants in meteorology programs.


The article that contains this image says that the typical student entering grad school for atmospheric science has a verbal of 560 and a quantitative of 740. Individual programs may post minimum requirements. Basically I would shoot for a 450+ verbal and a 700+ quantitative. YOU WILL NEED TO STUDY for the quantitative, as it includes a lot of more basic math that you haven’t used in a while.

The application process:

You’ll need to narrow your list of schools. I highly recommend that you contact a faculty member that has research interests similar to yours. If you go on to graduate school, you should receive funding through either a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant position. This funding will pay your tuition, health insurance, and a stipend that will be enough to live on. Applying to graduate school is different than applying to undergrad. You have to be admitted to both the university and the program. The university will be easier to get into – this is decided in a similar way to undergrad admissions, your GPA and GRE determine if you’re in or not. Getting into the program generally requires that you’ve had correspondence with a faculty member, and this person wants you to work in his or her research group. If you don’t have a contact like this, you may or may not get in, as you are just another application in the pile. Programs can only provide so much funding for grad students, so there is stiff competition. Many programs will not admit you if they do not have funding for you, but not all. They don’t always make this public either. Because of this policy, you may be a great student, but they just might not have enough money for you to attend.

I have attached an example email that shows how you might go about contacting a graduate faculty member. Please don’t copy and paste too much, otherwise it will read like a form letter. You need to make it look like you wrote it so the faculty member can get a sense of who you are. It will look stupid if the same faculty member gets the same letter from two of you. This should give you a good start.

You should apply to a minimum of 5 schools. How many more is up to you, but I think 10 would be too many. This gets expensive (at $50 per app), and very time consuming to do them right and keep track of them all. You should apply to some lower ranked schools just in case. You should not apply to all top flight schools. Depending upon your qualifications, you might not apply to any of the top flight schools. You will need 3 letters of recommendation. There will be a request form on a new website that will allow you to request letters from the faculty. When you do this, you should send the essay that you are sending out to the school (all of these should be personalized for each school), the name of the person you are interested in working with (if any), and your transcripts and GRE scores.

You should check the deadlines on the graduate school’s websites. They get earlier every year. I often encourage students to hold back on applying until they get their fall semester grades, in hopes that these will be good. Make sure you give faculty enough time to get their letters in before the deadline. It seems the deadline will be in Jan or Feb, but decisions won’t be made until Mar or Apr. You should definitely be contacting faculty members in the mid to late part of the Fall semester, at least.

Additional resources:

A couple of books on what grad school is like and the process of applying to grad school have recently come out:

Dr. Baxter has both of these books. Let him know if you’d like to take a look at them. The second one was written by an atmospheric scientist.

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