Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
The general test is required. This includes verbal, quantitative and analytical parts.
Admitted students generally have quantitative scores of at least 151 (650 prior scale, 56% percentile), verbal reasoning scores of 152 (490 prior scale, 56% percentile) and analytical scores of 4.0 (48% percentile). Scores should not be older than five years.
Official scores must be sent electronically to UW-Madison's Graduate School. The institution code is 1846 for both tests. You do not need a department code. We have access to the Graduate School's electronic scores and you do not need to send us a paper copy.
Prerequisites for Graduate Work
Math - 3 semesters college calculus sequence for science/engineering majors plus differential equations
Physics - 2 semesters calculus-based general college physics
Chemistry - 1 semester general chemistry
A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 is required for admission. The Graduate School computes the GPA based on approximately the last 60 semester hours (two years) of undergraduate work.
Prior work in atmospheric or oceanic sciences is not required, but it is beneficial. Knowledge of computer programming is recommended.
Credits earned in satisfying prerequisites do not count toward the graduate degree requirements.
If you are currently taking or plan to take any of the prerequisite courses or can show subtantial prior experience in these topics, and they do not appear on your transcript, please indicate these courses in your statement when submitting your application.
We occasionally consider admission with deficiencies for students lacking a prerequisite course.
PhD students must have an advisor before they can be recommended for admission. We will work to find an advisor for each student. Students are also welcome to contact faculty doing research they find interesting to determine if they are accepting new students.
Applications submitted by January 15th are given highest consideration for Fall semester admission. Spring semester admission is also possible, but less common. All applicants are assessed and ranked by an admissions committee chaired by the Graduate Program Chair. Admission priority is given to the highest ranked applicants who best meet our application criteria (usually ~25-30% for domestic applicants). International applications are not admitted without a source of funding (assistantship, fellowship, or personal) and advisor directly identified.
An offer of admission for fall, typically made in February or early March, does not guarantee funding. Assistantship and internal fellowship decisions are made jointly by the admissions committee and the faculty or group providing the funding in a separate process, with decisions made typically by March-April. You will be notified if funding for you becomes available. Typically we are able to fund approximately 8-10 students a year, primarily by research assistantship. We do not typically provide teaching assistantships to incoming students. The department discourages self-funding of Ph.D. and M.S. thesis degrees.
You are highly encouraged to visit our department. Please notify the graduate coordinator at least 2 weeks prior to a planned visit and the department will arrange a schedule to meet with faculty and students over the course of a day. You are also invited to attend our department public seminars (typically Monday and Wednesday afternoons) or other events open to the campus community. You may sit in on classes only with permission of the instructor. Funding for lodging and meals is sometimes available on request. Funding for airfare is only provided at discretion of the admissions committee as part of its recruiting funds.
Overall, our criteria for admissions is holistic and we generally favor high quality applicants who have:
- Evidence of interest in meteorological/climate/ocean/remote sensing research (evidence: personal statement, letters)
- Sufficient background in prerequiste courses to be successful in AOS courses and research, regardless of academic major (evidence: transcript)
- Prior experience in research through thesis work, summer research experiences, presentation/publication, etc... (evidence: statement, letters, CV)
- GPA, GRE, and TOEFL scores reflective of academic strength as noted above (evidence: application, transcript)
- Interests that match interests of current faculty seeking students (evidence: interest list, letters, faculty mentioned in statement, RA offers)
- Received nationally competitive or University--wide awards or fellowships (e.g., NSF) (evidence: application)
- Evidence of solid written and oral English and scientific communication skills (evidence: TOEFL, GRE verbal, publications, letters, statement)
- Ability to enhance the academic, geographic, gender, ethnic, economic, or cultural diversity of our department, especially for underrepresented groups (evidence: application, letters)
Graduate School Requirements
The Graduate School's admission requirements must also be met by all applicants.
Finding funding and an advisor
In a typical year, we have more than 100 applicants to the program and while we admit all who meet our criteria, we can only offer funding to less than 10 in most years.
Funding decisions are made directly by faculty and scientists with grants, based on our admission committee recommendation, but the investigator has final say on who to fund. So start early, even before applying, to directly contact and meet with faculty whose research interests you and ask about advising and funding.
Research assistantship offers are typically made within a month or two of admission and will have an April 15 deadline to accept. A typical half-time RA offer will include a stipend, tuition remission, and health benefits. Positions greater than 1/3 time cover tuition. Some offers do arrive late, especially if the initial candidate rejects the offer or grants are awarded later in spring. Contact the graduate chair to inquire about new openings.
An offer of funding in the first year does not guarantee future funding, but does imply that the department and advisor will work with you to identify continued funding through your degree assuming satisfactory and timely progress.
We do not typically offer teaching assistantships to incoming students. You are welcome to search for these in other departments (such as Math, Physics, Chemistry, Geography), but decisions on these are often not made until close to start of semester.
We discourage students from self-funding a graduate degree, especially a Ph.D., which takes 5-7 years. There may be cases where it makes sense to self-fund an M.S., as it is typically 2 years. If you want to go that route, you will still need to meet with faculty to identify an advisor. In rare cases, self-funding the first year leads to assistantship or fellowship funding afterwards, but there is no guarantee.
Deferral of admission requires departmental approval and reapplication to the Graduate School. Working a year or two between undergrad and grad school is not detrimental and in fact, may be an advantage, especially if you can use the time to build skills, and find an advisor and funding. Several list serves such as ESJOBSNET regularly have listings of assistantship offers.
External fellowships to fund graduate school do exist from AMS, NOAA, NSF, NASA and other agencies, but you have to directly apply for those. Please be aware of the amount of tuition remission on the fellowship relative to UW in-state graduate tuition. You will be responsible for the difference, with the exception of NSF graduate fellowships.
M.S. students typically take 2 to 2.5 years, and upon graduation about 25-30% go on to the PhD (by taking and passing the written qualifying exam and forming a Ph.D. committee), and the rest go into professional positions, in a range from operational positions to consulting and communications.
There is a non-thesis M.S. degree. Only a few students go that route and no research assistantship funding is available on this route. It is a good route if your primary goal is to mainly get more skills and classes for use in a operational meteorology type position.
The Ph.D. takes usually an additional 4-5 years past M.S., though we don't require M.S. to start Ph.D., a decision that is negotiated between your advisor and you. The total time from start of graduate school to Ph.D. averages 5-7 years. The Ph.D. goal is to train scholars who create and communicate new knowledge. It's a long road that not everyone completes, faculty jobs are hard to get, you have to be willing to move to just about anywhere in the world, and the first part of life post-PhD is usually a couple of 1-2 year post-doctoral positions. About a 1/3 will go into academia, 1/3 into grant-funded research (mostly public sector), and 1/3 into consulting, operational, or private sector type positions. Who your advisor is matters as much as where you went.
We highly encourage our own B.S. degree students to consider graduate degrees at other institutions, especially if your long-term goal is a career in research and a Ph.D.