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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Admission Process

Applications submitted by January 1st 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 Graduate School does not allow self-funding of Ph.D. degrees, but it will allow it for admission to the MS degree program. For fall admission, you will have until April 15 to accept or decline any offer of admission or funding.

Admitted students may be offered support to visit during our admitted students days in spring. You are welcome to visit our department at other times too. 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 occassionally available on request. Funding for airfare is provided at discretion of the admissions committee contingent on available 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, and/or 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)
  • Interests that match interests of current faculty seeking students (evidence: interest list, letters, faculty mentioned in advisor list or statement, assistantship offers)
  • Prior experience in research through thesis work, practicum courses, internships, summer research experiences, presentation/publication, etc... (evidence: statement, letters, CV)
  • Received nationally competitive or University--wide awards or fellowships (e.g., NSF GFRP) (evidence: application)
  • Evidence of solid written and oral English and scientific communication skills (evidence: TOEFL, GRE verbal, publications, letters, statement)
  • GPA and TOEFL scores reflective of academic strength as noted below (evidence: application, transcript)
  • Ability to enhance the academic, geographic, gender, ethnic, economic, or cultural diversity of our department, especially for underrepresented groups (evidence: application, letters)

Admission Requirements

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

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.

Lacking these courses does not automatically disqualify you from admission, but you must demonstrate mastery of math and physics concepts necessary to be successful in our AOS core course sequence. 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.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

Beginning with Fall 2021 admission, the GRE general test is not required (optional). This includes verbal, quantitative and analytical parts.

You may choose to submit GRE scores if you believe they provide additional evidence about your ability. If submitted, the GREs are only one piece of information used in admission. Explain low scores in your personal statement and demonstrate academic strength other places such as your in your transcript or research experiences.

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.

To get further information about this test, contact Graduate Records Examination at 609-683-2002, email them, or visit their web site.

Special Cases

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, but it is up to you to reach our to faculty to discuss advising and funding. Students are encouraged to contact faculty doing research they find interesting to determine if they are accepting new students.

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. We admit the top students (usually around 20-25) who meet our admission criteria including consideration of advisor interest and possibility of assistantship support. International students are generally only admitted once an advisor and funding source are identified. 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. Generally, all students who are funded stay supported for their whole degree through teaching and research assistantships and fellowships.

  • 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 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 ES_JOBS_NET 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 successfully completing the Advancement Process and forming a Ph.D. committee), and the rest go into professional positions, in a range from operational positions to consulting and communications.

  • The typical Ph.D. program takes 4-5 years beyond a bachelor’s degree, though a master’s degree is not required to start a Ph.D. program. Students can choose to complete a master’s degree first, but this decision is made in consultation with an advisor. From start to finish, the average Ph.D. program lasts 5-6 years. The goal of a Ph.D. is to train scholars to generate and disseminate original research and knowledge. It’s a long and challenging path that not everyone completes. Faculty positions are highly competitive, and relocation is often necessary. Most Ph.D. graduates also complete 1-2 years of postdoctoral training before finding a permanent position. Roughly a third of Ph.D. recipients go into academia, a third go into research positions (mostly in the public sector), and the final third go into consulting, operations, or the private sector. Selecting the right advisor can be as important as choosing the right program.

  • 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.