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Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC) is an interdisciplinary program that provides an educational and research environment to examine the dynamical, physical, and chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere and the ocean. A major theme is the establishment of a physical basis for understanding, observing, and modeling climate and global change.

Graduate students admitted to ATOC will eligible to receive an advanced degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. Graduate students outside of ATOC can pursue the Graduate Certificate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences while earning a graduate degree from another department at CU-Boulder, or while taking coursework as a non-degree seeking student through Continuing Education's ACCESS Program provided they have already earned a bachelor's degree and meet the course prerequisites.

Degrees Offered:

Degree Details: 

For both thesis and non-thesis options, a total of 30 credit hours is required with at least 15 credit hours of ATOC courses numbered 5000 and above. Other specific course requirements are in the ATOC Graduate Handbook. For the thesis option, the final examination consists of an oral exam on the thesis. The non-thesis option requires the successful completion of a written final examination based on ATOC regular coursework requirements.

A total of 36 credit hours of regular coursework is required, of which 30 hours must be numbered 5000 or above, with at least 18 credit hours of ATOC graduate lecture courses including core ATOC course requirements, and a graduate-level course in applied or computational mathematics.  In addition, 30 credit hours of dissertation must be completed per Graduate School rules and requirements. Students must pass a two-part comprehensive examination before admission into candidacy. Part I of the comprehensive examination is a written exam based on core course material and is normally taken in the second year. Part II of the comprehensive examination is normally taken in the third year and is an oral examination based on an original research paper prepared by the student. After the PhD dissertation has been submitted, a final examination of the dissertation will be conducted.

Admissions Requirements: 

In addition to meeting the graduate school minimum admission standards, applicants to ATOC must:

  1. Hold a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent from an accredited college or university.
  2. Show promise of ability to pursue advanced study and research, as judged by the student's previous scholastic record and letters of reference.
  3. Have had adequate preparation to enter graduate study in the chosen field.
  4. Have at least a 3.00 (B) undergraduate grade point average.

Students with undergraduate degrees in the natural sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry, mathematics) and engineering are encouraged to apply. The general background expected of incoming graduate students includes:

  • Undergraduate courses in calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and computer programming.
  • One year sequences of undergraduate physics (calculus based) and chemistry.

Students with undergraduate degrees in other fields such as biology, environmental science, geography, or geology, are also invited to apply provided they meet the standards given here.  Upper-level undergraduate courses in physics, chemistry, and mathematics are strongly recommended. Research and computer programming experience is also strongly recommended.  Undergraduate courses in atmospheric science or oceanography are useful but not required as part of the undergraduate background.

While ATOC does admit students in the spring semester, it is rare.  Your chances for admission and financial support from the department in the form of a teaching or research assistant position are much greater in the fall semester. Very few, if any, students start in the spring semester. An applicant’s chance of being admitted and/or receiving financial support from the department is much greater in the fall semester.

For answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

GRE Scores: 
Submit directly from ETS test scores from the verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing sections of the General Record Examination (GRE).
Financial Support: 

Department financial support is in the form of teaching assistantships (TA), research assistantships (RA), and/or fellowship money. There is not a separate form to apply for this support. However, please do include a short note with your application asking to be included in the pool for these forms of financial support from the department or indicating that you have your own financial support. This note may be included in your personal statement or an email sent to

Fall Domestic Application Deadline: 
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Fall International Application Deadline: 
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Spring Domestic Application Deadline: 
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Spring International Application Deadline: 
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Contact Information: 

Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
University of Colorado Boulder
311 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0311
Phone: (303) 492-6633
Fax: (303) 492-3524