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How to Become an Atmospheric Scientist

Atmospheric scientists need a bachelor’s degree in meteorology or a closely related field for most positions. For research positions, atmospheric scientists usually need a master’s degree at minimum, but preferably a Ph.D.


Atmospheric scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree, either in atmospheric science or a related scientific field. There were about 100 undergraduate and graduate programs in atmospheric, oceanic, hydrologic, and related sciences in the United States in 2010, according to the American Meteorological Society. However, many schools also offer atmospheric science courses through other departments, such as physics and geosciences. 

When considering colleges, prospective students should make certain that the colleges offer those courses required by the federal government and other employers as one of their hiring requirements. Course requirements, in addition to courses in meteorology and atmospheric science, usually include advanced courses in physics and mathematics. Classes in computer programming are important because many atmospheric scientists have to write and edit the computer software programs that produce forecasts.

Students should also take courses in subjects that are relevant to their desired area of specialization. For example, those who wish to become broadcast meteorologists for radio or television stations should develop excellent speaking skills through courses in speech, journalism, and related fields.

Atmospheric scientists who work in research usually need a master’s degree at minimum, and preferably a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences or a related field. Most graduate programs do not require prospective students to have a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; an undergraduate degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering provides excellent preparation for graduate study in atmospheric science. In addition to advanced meteorological coursework, graduate students take courses in other disciplines, such as oceanography and geophysics. 

Although it is not necessary, a master’s degree in atmospheric science can greatly enhance employment opportunities, pay, and advancement potential for meteorologists in government and private industry. A master’s degree in business administration (MBA) may be useful for meteorologists interested in working in private industry as consultants who help firms make important business decisions on the basis of their forecasts.

Important Qualities

Critical-thinking skills. Atmospheric scientists need to be able to analyze the results of their computer models and determine the most likely outcome.

Math skills. Atmospheric scientists use calculus, statistics, and other advanced topics in mathematics to develop models used to forecast the weather. They also use mathematical calculations to analyze the relationship between properties of the atmosphere, such as how changes in air pressure may affect air temperature.

Speaking skills. Atmospheric scientists must be able to explain their forecasts and research to their audience. This skill is particularly relevant for broadcast meteorologists who must present their forecasts to the general public.

Writing skills. Atmospheric scientists prepare detailed reports of their forecasts and research. 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition