Applying to Graduate School in Atmospheric Science
While this page is intended to help potential OSU graduate students prepare their applications and navigate the application process, hopefully applicants to other programs will find it useful as well.
Step 1: Why do you want to get a graduate degree in Atmospheric Science? Before you start applying to grad schools, you need to make sure you are applying for a good reason. Graduate school is not something you do by default. You should only attend if it will further your goals, be they career or personal. If you have a science degree, you can probably find a job that pays more than typical graduate student stipends. Furthermore, it is unlikely that you will make more money after you graduate than had you worked a regular job the whole time. However, many atmospheric science industry and government jobs require a graduate degree. And you'll definitely need a degree if you want to do research or teach. If you want to set your own research path, then graduate school is for you. If your idea of a perfect job involves atmospheric science, then apply away.
Step 2: Do you need a Masters or PhD to achieve your goals? The American Meteorological Society or American Geophysical Union career web site can help you figure this out. Or, look at requirements given in related job ads. The AGU newsletter EOS and the AMS website are good places to look for ads (you might need to have an institutional subscription to see these.)
Step 3: Can you narrow down your interests a bit? Most of our applicants don't have atmospheric science backgrounds, so we don't expect them to know exactly what they want to do. It is helpful, though, if you can tell us you prefer field work to modeling, or physics to chemistry. What time/space scales interest you? Are you interested in climate? Meteorology? Boundary-layer processes? If you are able, take an undergrad atmospheric science course to gain an overview of the field. Flip through some journals (Nature Geoscience, Nature, Science, the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, Journal of Climate, Geophysical Research Letters, and Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, for example). You likely won't understand much at this point, but which titles intrigue you?
Step 4: Put together a list of possible schools. If you know anyone in the field, ask them for suggestions. Keep in mind your interests (physics vs chemistry, for example) and career goals (some programs do not accept MS students, only PhD). What universities were listed on the papers you found in journals?
Step 5: Get information about those schools. Look at their web sites. Check out the AMS book for overviews of the graduate programs.
Step 6: Contact professors at those schools. Pick a few at each place whose research interests you. (I also had reasonable luck contacting alums from my undergrad institution, but YMMV.) Email is the standard approach.
- Begin the email with "Dear Dr. QQQQQQ,"
- Briefly state your background (college, university degree, expected completion date, REU experience).
- Express interest in one or two of the professor's projects.
- Ask if they will have a grad student position available or can recommend another faculty member.
- Attach a CV.
- Close with "Sincerely, WWWWW", where WWWW is the name by which you'd like to be addressed.
- Use proper grammar, spelling, etc. If you are a non-native speaker, ask for help in writing these emails. If we are concerned about your ability to communicate in English, your application will be viewed less favorably. If you are a native speaker but are used to writing email messages very informally, now is not the time to rush. The email does not have to be long, but compose it as if you were writing a graded paper.
Step 7: If you receive encouragement from any of the potential advisors, follow up as necessary and keep those schools on your list. If you email a few people at one school and get no response, that's a good sign that they might not be a good fit for you. If only one person doesn't reply, well, some people are just bad at email and/or swamped with deadlines. If you get positive responses from a school, consider visiting if you live nearby or will be in the area sometime.
Step 8: Get your application in by the deadline. Here are the official CEOAS application and instructions, and some guidelines for your application. It doesn't hurt to let potential advisors know your have submitted your application.
Step 8b: Apply for fellowships (NSF, AMS, NASA, etc.), if you have not already done so, since they give you the most flexibility and allow you to define your own research program. You'll already have have the application materials for grad school applications, so it's not much more work to alter them for fellowship applications. Here is a list of some possibly relevant fellowships.
Step 9: Wait. We are reading through the applications and making decisions as quickly as we can.