For Undergraduate Students

What is the difference between atmospheric sciences and meteorology?

Meteorology focuses primarily on weather forecasting while atmospheric science 
includes the study of all atmospheric processes.

What are the requirements for the ATOC Undergraduate Minor?

You can find the ATOC Undergraduate Minor requirements at

What are the requirements for the ATOC Undergraduate Major?

You can find the ATOC Undergraduate Major requirements at

How do I apply to CU Boulder as an undergraduate student?

Admissions to CU Boulder and the ATOC undergradaute program are handled by the Office of Admissions.  You can find information regarding the application process at

For Graduate Students

What is the difference between atmospheric sciences and meteorology?

Meteorology focuses primarily on weather forecasting while atmospheric science
includes the study of all atmospheric processes.

What is the graduate application deadline?

For admission in the fall semester with full consideration for financial assistance from the department, international applications and domestic applications must be received by December 1.  

Will ATOC accept late applications?

While late applications and application materials will be considered until all positions are filled, it is in the applicant’s best interests to submit all application materials by the December 1 deadline.

Can I take ATOC graduate courses if I have not been officially admitted to the program?

Yes, as a non-degree seeking student through the Continuing Education Access Program ( Should you eventually become an official degree-seeking student in the ATOC Graduate Program, some of this coursework may apply towards the MS or PhD degree. If you live in the Boulder area and are thinking of applying to the ATOC Graduate Program, this is an excellent way to meet current students and faculty and determine if ATOC is the right program for you.

Is there a way to receive more guidance on the application process?

Yes! New this year, graduate students have created an application mentorship program. More information can be found here:

Having technical issues or questions while applying online?

Please call 303-492-4357 or email or with any software/technical support questions.

Examples: Did my payment go through? I have not yet received my log in information? My letter writers have not received an email yet? My letter writer can not access the link to submit a letter of recommendation for me?

For more information, please see the Office of Admissions’ Frequently Asked Questions website; or the website for International Frequently Asked Questions.

How do I apply to the graduate program?

You should apply online. You can find information and a link to the application at

An applicant for admission must present complete application materials that include the graduate application (online); one unofficial copy of transcripts of ALL academic work completed to date (see information below); four letters of recommendation (submitted online or mailed to the department); test scores from the verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing sections of the General Record Examination (GRE) (submitted directly from ETS); a personal statement of academic interests; and a $60 non-refundable application fee for domestic applicants or $80 for international applicants.

For review and decision purposes you are required to upload an unofficial copy of your transcript(s) in the online application. We require one copy of the scanned transcript from each undergraduate and graduate institution that you attended. This includes community colleges, summer sessions, and extension programs. While credits from one institution may appear on the transcript of a second institution, unofficial transcripts must be submitted from each institution, regardless of the length of attendance, and whether or not courses were completed.  Failure to list and submit transcripts from all institutions previously attended is considered to be a violation of academic ethics and may result in the cancellation of your admission or dismissal from the university.

ONLY after you are recommended for admission will you need to provide official transcripts. Click here for Instructions for Uploading Unofficial Transcripts to Your Application.


Should I apply to the MS or PhD program?

ATOC offers both a Masters and a Ph.D.. All applicants are held to the same academic standards in terms of admissions. While in some academic areas, such as Engineering, the Masters is the dominant terminal degree, in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science the Ph.D. is the usual terminal degree.   As such, almost all ATOC graduate students are pursuing a PhD.  ATOC prioritizes financial support through Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant positions for students who are seeking a Ph.D..

ATOC does admit students seeking a terminal Masters degree. In particular, we have admitted many students who are already employed at NCAR or NOAA. Unfortunately, ATOC typically does not provide financial support through either a Teaching Assistant or a Research Assistant position for those who seek a terminal Masters. We prioritize financial support for students who seek a PhD.

Many students who apply to ATOC state on their application that they are seeking a Masters degree. We contact such students to determine if they really seek the Masters as a terminal degree, or if they in fact they plan to go on to a PhD and believe that a Masters is required to proceed to a PhD. A Masters is not required to receive a PhD.

Are there “minimum scores” for my GPA, and TOEFLs or IELTSs?

ATOC applicants should have at least a 3.00 (on a 4.0 scale, 3.00=B) undergraduate grade point average. In some instances, students with a GPA below 3.00 may be considered on an individual basis. The graduate school requires that students have at least a 2.75 (on 4.0 scale, 2.00=C) undergraduate grade point average. Note, however, that applicants who cannot meet this undergraduate standard may still secure regular admission if they have completed 9 semester hours of relevant graduate course work with at least a 3.25 average. The typical GPA for acceptance to ATOC is 3.50 or higher.

All international applicants are required to meet a minimum standard of English proficiency. The Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL), or an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score is required unless English is your native language. If you have completed at least one year full-time academic study at a US institution (or at an institution in a country where English is the native language) at the time you apply, you have fulfilled the English proficiency requirement for the Office of Admissions. The University requires a minimum TOEFL score of 537 (paper based), 203 (computer based), and/or 75 (new internet based).  The University requires a minimum IELTS score of 6.0.

Are GRE scores required?

The ATOC Faculty voted in January 2020 to remove the GRE requirement for graduate admissions. We do not require and will not consider General Record Examination (GRE) scores

Is there an graduate application fee waiver for under-represented minority applicants and applicants with financial need?

Yes, please click here for more information.

What is the recommended academic background?

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:

1. Undergraduate courses in calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and computer programming.

2. 1 year sequences of undergraduate physics (calculus based) and chemistry.

Upper-level undergraduate degrees in physics, chemistry, and mathematics are strongly recommended. Undergraduate courses in atmospheric science or oceanography are useful but not required as part of the undergraduate background. 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 above. Exceptional students who might be lacking some math and/or physics coursework are encouraged to apply; these students will be considered on an individual basis.

What if I do not have the right academic background?

ATOC graduate students come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  While some students have an undergraduate background in atmospheric or oceanic science, many have an undergraduate degree in physics, math, chemistry, environmental science, engineering, or another science area.  Our graduate core curriculum is designed to introduce students to the forefront issues across the broad range of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.  The most important background requirement for an entering student is a good grounding in math, up through differential equations.  Physics and chemistry are also highly desired. A student without an adequate undergraduate background in math would likely not be admitted, unless they had professional experience that indicated they could succeed at the graduate level in atmospheric science, or a plan to take the math classes before enrolling at CU.  Some disciplines such as engineering may include math, chemistry and physics within course work that is related to their undergraduate major.

How do I know whether I will be considered a domestic or international student?

Domestic: US citizens, permanent residents (green card holders), or persons who have refugee or asylum status.

International: Non-US citizens who have or will need to apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa.

What about the Financial Statement for International Applicants?

The Financial Statement for International applicants is NOT required as part of the initial application. And this document is NOT a condition of admission. This form is required only for those international students who enroll and are not financially supported by the university. If an international student has been offered a teaching assistant or research assistant position, this form is NOT required.

Will ATOC admit students in the spring semester?

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.

What happens if application materials arrive before or after the deadline?

Your application must be submitted by the deadline, December 1, for admission in the fall semester for full consideration for financial assistance from the department.The application deadline for spring semester is October 1.

Late applications and application materials will be considered until all positions are filled.  Please note, while the department does accept late applications and late application materials it is in the applicant’s best interests to submit all application materials as soon as possible. Very few, if any, late applicants are admitted.

If your supporting materials (supplemental application, transcripts, GRE and TOEFL or IELTS scores, and recommendation letters) arrive before the deadline, they will be filed and matched with your online application using your name. Your supporting materials may arrive after the deadline. However, your application may not be considered until all materials have been received. Therefore it is to your advantage to send in all your materials as soon as possible.

Where do I send my transcripts?

How to Submit Transcripts


For review and decision purposes you are required to upload an unofficial copy of your transcript(s) in the online application. We require one copy of the scanned transcript from each undergraduate and graduate institution that you attended. This includes community colleges, summer sessions, and extension programs. While credits from one institution may appear on the transcript of a second institution, unofficial transcripts must be submitted from each institution, regardless of the length of attendance, and whether or not courses were completed.  Failure to list and submit transcripts from all institutions previously attended is considered to be a violation of academic ethics and may result in the cancellation of your admission or dismissal from the university.


ONLY after you are recommended for admission will you need to provide official transcripts. Click here for Instructions for Uploading Unofficial Transcripts to Your Application.

Where do I send my TOEFL or IELTS scores?

Applicants should request that ETS send TOEFL scores directly to the university.  The institution code for CU-Boulder is 4841, and the department code for ATOC is 0501.

Since there is no institution code for IELTS, test results must be sent directly to the university from an IELTS Testing Center. Please use the following address:

Office of Admissions
University of Colorado Boulder 
Regent Administrative Center 125
 65 UCB 
Boulder, CO 80309-0065 

How do I submit letters of recommendation?

A minimum of three letters of recommendation should be submitted. If you would like to submit additional letters, please contact  For current students and recent graduates, recommendations from faculty members are particularly important.

You will submit the name and email of your recommender(s) on the online application, and hit the 'send to recommender' button. The email will be immediately sent, and links them directly to the online recommendation form. They simply fill it out and submit the form online, along with their letter. We will receive it automatically, and you will be notified by email that we have received the recommendation. Your recommender will receive an email confirmation as well after they submit.

If a recommender would like to submit a letter directly to ATOC via regular mail or email, please contact the graduate program assistant ( for further instructions.

If a recommender informs you that they did not receive a link to the recommendation form, log into your application status page. From there you can update your recommender's email address and resend the notification.

For more information regarding the online admissions application please see the Graduate Admissions website at

What should the personal statement contain? How long should it be?

Personal statements should be one to two pages in length and describe the following: 

  1. Motivation for applying to graduate school;
  2. Research experience or important class projects (which do not need to be in atmospheric or oceanic sciences), if available; 
  3. Other job experience or experience that helps us understand your leadership skills or qualifications relevant for graduate school;
  4. Long-term research goals 
  5. If known, please also describe your ATOC-specific research interests, including faculty members or scientists with whom you would like to work. We recognize that not everyone knows at this point what specific field of interest they will join, but we do want to understand your motivation for studying atmospheric and oceanic sciences. 

The personal statement will be evaluated not only for content, but also to gauge writing ability.

When will I know if I have been admitted or not?

The ATOC Admissions Committee reviews application files starting in December as an application file is completed and all application materials have been received.  Admission decisions will be communicated as soon as they have been made. Traditionally, the earliest you can expect to hear is the end of February. This is due to the volume of applications. The Admissions Committee wants to look at everyone before choosing the most qualified applicants. The Graduate Program Assistant will NOT relay acceptance or rejection information over the telephone. You will be formally notified by email after decisions have been made.

How many students are typically admitted each fall? How many international students?

Typically, the incoming fall class consists of 10-12 students. Therefore, twice that number is admitted. ATOC does not set a limit on the number of domestic vs. international students.

What does an ATOC Teaching Assistant (TA) do?

ATOC has TA positions that include working with one of our undergraduate lecture courses (ATOC 1050 and/or ATOC 1060), or our undergraduate weather laboratory (ATOC 1070).

Teaching assistants assigned to a lecture class are required to grade homework assignments, to provide written solutions to assignments, to be familiar with lecture material, to attend (or have attended in previous semesters) lectures, to proctor exams, and to grade all hourly examinations and the final examination. In addition, the lecture T.A. may be required to conduct occasional evening or daytime reviews for examinations.

Teaching assistants assigned to the weather laboratory are required to conduct two (2) two-hour laboratory sections each week, to prepare and deliver brief introductory material relating to each exercise, to see that the equipment is properly set up and cared for, and to grade students’ laboratory notebooks and laboratory-related homework. All TAs using laboratory equipment are expected to attend training sessions in the careful use of the equipment, to follow established procedures, and to report breakage and malfunctions in a timely manner.

All Teaching Assistants are expected to hold office hours each week. All efforts are to be coordinated with the faculty member responsible for the course.

What does a Research Assistant (RA) do?

Research Assistants are supported by individual faculty, whose funds generally come from proposals the faculty write to the Federal Governments to support their research. A significant number of Research Assistants write their own proposals to Federal Agencies that sponsor many student fellowships.

Research Assistant normally work on projects that are related to their faculty advisor’s funded research, but which also from the core of the student’s PhD or MS thesis work. It is possible to be partly a TA and partly an RA. Summer support for graduate students is almost entirely as a Research Assistant, sot it is expected that first year students will transition from being a TA to an RA before the first summer of graduate school.

Where can I find information regarding research?

You can find more information regarding the main ATOC research areas on the ATOC web site.

Can my research advisor be outside ATOC?

Yes, in fact many of the current ATOC students take courses in other academic departments and work with faculty and researchers in other academic departments (ie PHYS, CHEM, ASEN, etc), in the various research institutes associated with CU (ie LASP, CIRES, INSTAAR, etc), or the research labs located in the Boulder area (NCAR, NOAA, etc).

ATOC is located in a region having the greatest concentration of geophysical researchers in the nation and perhaps the world. The proximity of ATOC to this atmospheric and oceanic science “ground zero” is the foundation of our unique philosophy and vision, which elevates our department to one of worldwide prominence. The guiding principle of ATOC is to be the focal point for atmospheric and oceanic science education and research training in this geographic region of world-renown excellence.

What if my research advisor is not in ATOC?

When a student has a research advisor outside of ATOC (e.g., an advisor who is from another department, or a full time employee at NCAR, NOAA, etc.), the student should have a co-advisor who is an ATOC core or research faculty member. It is not required for this co-advisor to be in the same area of research, but it is helpful if this is the case. The ATOC co-advisor will ensure that the student is meeting all ATOC requirements and making good academic progress towards the degree. As one of the first steps towards forming the student’s dissertation committee, before Comps 2, this ATOC co-advisor should be identified. The student should discuss candidates for this role with their outside research advisor. Once a choice is agreed upon by the student and outside research advisor, the student should ask the faculty member if they are willing to serve as co-advisor. As at least two of the five members who serve on a student’s committee must be ATOC core or research faculty, it is logical to assume that the ATOC co-advisor will be one of these two individuals.

Can I transfer graduate level coursework from another academic institution?

Graduate School Rules: Transfer Credits

Transfer credits from accredited institutions are accepted by CU-Boulder only after approval by the department chair/program director and under the special conditions outlined below. Transfer credit is defined as any credit earned at another accredited institution, credits earned on another campus of the CU system, or credits earned as a non-degree student within the CU system. Students seeking a degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, must complete the majority of their course work while enrolled in a graduate program as a degree seeking student.

The following rules apply to transferring credit to CU-Boulder graduate programs:

1. The maximum amount of work that may be transferred to CU-Boulder depends upon the graduate degree sought (individual departments may have more restrictive limits):

M.A., M.E., M.S., M.Mus., or M.Mus.Ed. = 9 semester hours,
 M.F.A. = 18 semester hours,
 Ph.D. = 21 semester hours

2. Work already applied toward a graduate degree received from CU-Boulder or another institution cannot be accepted for transfer toward another graduate degree of the same level at CU-Boulder. In addition, work completed for a doctoral degree may not be applied toward a subsequent master’s degree. Extension work completed at another institution cannot be transferred; and correspondence work, except to make up deficiencies, is not recognized.

3. All courses accepted for transfer must be graduate level courses. A course in which a grade of B- or lower was received will not be accepted for transfer. Transfer course work which is to be applied to a graduate degree at CU-Boulder and was completed more than 5 years prior to being accepted to the program shall be evaluated by the major department as to current relevance and applicability to the degree requirements. At the discretion of the department a student may be asked to validate transfer credits prior to approval.

4. Credit may not be transferred until the student has completed 6 credits of graduate level course work as a degree-seeking student on the CU-Boulder campus with a 3.0 GPA. Transferred credits do not reduce the minimum registration requirement but may reduce the amount of work to be done in formal courses.

5. Excess undergraduate credits from another institution may not be transferred to the CU-Boulder Graduate School.

6. With the exception of students enrolled in the Concurrent Bachelor’s/Master’s degree, seniors at CU-Boulder may transfer a limited amount of graduate level work (up to 9 semester hours) provided such work is completed with a grade of B or above at CU Boulder, comes within the five year course time limit
, has not been applied toward another degree
, and is recommended for transfer by the department concerned, and such transfer is approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.

For Current Graduate Students

What about the math course requirement for grad students?

All ATOC doctoral students must complete one graduate-level mathematics course as part of the academic requirements.Below is the current list of courses that have been approved for this requirement:

ATOC 5860: Objective Data Analysis (strongly encouraged)
ASTR 5540: Mathematical Methods

APPM xxxx: Any course with number at the 4000 level or above

ASEN 5227: Mathematics for Aerospace Engineering Sciences 1

ASEN 5417: Numerical Computations
ASEN 5327: Computational Fluid Dynamics

CVEN 5833: Advanced Data Analysis Techniques

CVEN 6833: Advanced Data Analysis

PHYS 5030: Intermediate Mathematical Physics 1

PHYS 5040: Intermediate Mathematical Physics 2

If students would like to substitute another course (whether at CU Boulder or another academic institution) they must receive approval from the current Graduate Advisor.

What is the purpose of COMPS II and why do some people take it at a different time?

Graduate School is an individual experience, and people progress at very different rates. ATOC tries to treat each individual according to their needs. For instance, people enter with different skills. Events occur in people’s lives that can delay their progress. Research projects can be disrupted unexpectedly, such as when a satellite dies, or a project is cancelled. There is little room for variation in the written exam COMPS I, because it is course based. However, even COMPS I has some variation. For instance, we have had people with previous atmospheric or oceanic science experience take COMPS I (and pass) in January of their first year. We have even had students with a Master’s degree be excused from COMPS I, but that is rare. Someone who is working full time and taking classes at a slow rate might take COMPS I on a delayed schedule, with permission from the department chair. The oral exam COMPS II is not based on classes, but rather on research. Research is unpredictable. For example, students in a given entering class might graduate from 3 to 8 years after entry. While some of this variation is due to previous preparation allowing some courses to be transferred in, a lot of it has to do with the thesis research project. COMPS II is also subject to unexpected delays. The majority of students manage to take the exam on schedule. It is to the student’s advantage to complete the exam on time, since it may otherwise delay graduation by diverting the student’s attention from their thesis. Students also cannot proceed to candicacy without passing COMPS II so they are paid less for their RA. However, every year a significant number of students end up delaying the exam, usually by less than 6 months. Such delays can be approved by the Department Chair. Occasionally some unusual set of circumstances results in an even longer delay. Such circumstances need to be considered by several faculty to determine if the delay is related to an inability to perform research or to external events beyond the student’s control. The faculty may conclude that forcing a certain date to be met is not a good use of the student’s time, and the COMPS II should be scheduled at a point that is in the student’s best interest.

The point of COMPS I is to determine if students have mastered the fundamentals. Each year a small number of students will not pass COMPS I. If they are truly unable to master the fundamentals after the second attempt at COMPS I (and an assessment by the faculty that the student’s skills are poor, rather than the student having some difficulty taking exams) they will be asked to leave. COMPS II is designed to start students on a research career, and to check that they have mastered the skills needed in the area of their research (as opposed to the fundamentals, which are covered in COMPS II). It is rare to fail COMPS II. An unsatisfactory exam would usually result in the student being asked to take another class, perform a literature survey, or do additional work. The goal of COMPSII is not to eliminate poor students, but to teach students how to do research, and confirm they are learning the process. COMPS II consists of orally presenting the results of a research project, which is described in greater detail in a written report. The oral presentation is followed by questions from the exam committee (members selected by the student). The questions are meant to probe whether the student is familiar with the literature in the area, and whether they understand the basic techniques and science related to the problem. Generally it is desirable that the research be of a quality that could be published, or lead to something later that could be published. Indeed at this point some students are able to submit their first paper to a journal. Occasionally some students have trouble with COMPS II. A common problem for students working with faculty advisors who are not part of ATOC is that they are not given a well defined problem by their advisor that is uniquely their own, as opposed to a group effort. Students have to demand a problem from their advisors that is well defined, and depends mainly on their own work. If a student is uncertain about the problem, they should form their exam committee early and have the committee assess the problem. Another common issue is that some projects take longer than expected, resulting in a delay in taking the exam. Rarely a student’s project is destroyed by events such as a satellite malfunction. This can result in a very substantial delay. It is clearly not in the student’s interest to spend time working on a dead end project just to take the COMPS II exam. In this case a new question related to the thesis (so that the thesis is not delayed) may be posed, and the COMPS II delayed until that project is developed. Such a decision would need to be approved by the ATOC Chair, in consultation with other faculty.

Who should serve on my dissertation committee?

The five members of the doctoral dissertation committee should adhere to the graduate school rules and ATOC departmental rules. When establishing your committee please keep in mind you will need a minimum of five members. Three of the committee members must be regular CU faculty members, comprised of two ATOC core or research faculty and one faculty member outside the ATOC core faculty. The remaining committee members may be regular faculty members or others (including scientists from other institutions) that have been approved as members of the CU Graduate Faculty (“graduate faculty appointed”). Another way to look at it is….
Member #1 = ATOC core faculty member
Member #2 = ATOC core faculty member
Member #3 = CU faculty member who is NOT ATOC core faculty
Member #4 = ATOC core faculty member, CU faculty member who is NOT ATOC, OR a research colleague who holds a graduate faculty appointment
Member #5 = ATOC core faculty member, CU faculty member who is NOT ATOC, OR a research colleague who holds a graduate faculty appointment

Of course, the student’s research advisor will serve on the committee. During the oral comprehensive exam (COMPS II) the student’s research advisor can NOT serve as the chair of the committee. However, the advisor is normally the chair of the committee at the time of dissertation defense.

Students should work in concert with their research advisor to properly select the other four individual members. You will want to select committee members with expertise in related and/or complimentary research areas. This can be an opportunity to make connections to scientists outside your immediate research group which will increase your presence in the field of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and could prove beneficial when seeking employment after graduation.