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Atmospheric Sciences M.S.

The M.S. program at the University of Utah is designed to provide students with the advanced scientific and technical expertise necessary to allow our graduates to pursue a wide variety of challenging and rewarding career tracks. Motivated students should expect to complete the M.S. degree in 2 to 2.5 years. This page is intended to provide our current M.S. students with all of the Academic and Financial information required to successfully complete the M.S. degree in Atmospheric Sciences.


Academic Information

New Graduate Student Orientation PowerPoint

Program of Study:

A detailed M.S. Thesis Completion Calendar is available to students. This one-page calendar contains a timeline of all the events that must take place for students to graduate with a M.S. degree.

M.S. candidates must meet the University requirements for the M.S. degree including a minimum of 30 semester credit hours (SCH) of graduate courses (i.e., numbered 5000 or above) and a thesis. A minimum of 20 SCH must be in coursework. A minimum of 6 SCH must be Thesis Research (ATMOS 6970). Faculty Consultation (ATMOS 6980), does not count toward thesis hours or fulfillment of degree requirements on the program of study. All work for the M.S. degree must be completed within four consecutive calendar years and all coursework must be taken from the University of Utah. On recommendation of the student’s supervisory committee, the Dean of The Graduate School can modify or waive this requirement in meritorious cases. The candidate is also required to maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. In addition, a grade below C- is not accepted toward a graduate degree. Specific course requirements for the M.S. degree include:

  • Core courses: ATMOS 6010, 6020, 6030, and 7810;
  • A minimum of 20 semester credit hours must be in coursework (Core courses can be counted towards this requirement);
  • A minimum of 6 semester credit hours must be Thesis Research (ATMOS 6970); and
  • A minimum of 30 semester credit hours.

Supervisory Committee:

Unless otherwise approved by The Dean of The Graduate School, a supervisory committee consisting of three faculty members, the majority of whom must be regular (tenure or tenure track) faculty in the student’s major department, must be appointed prior to the student taking the Qualifying Exam. One member of the committee can be from outside the University if the student and advisor so choose. If an outside member is selected, the student must send the Department Office a copy of the outside member's CV to submit for approval to The Graduate School. Selection of the supervisory committee members should be made in consultation with the student’s faculty advisor. Once the Department Office has been notified of the supervisory committee formation and it has been approved by the Department Chairman, an Electronic Graduate Record File will be generated and forwarded to The Graduate School for approval. Selection of the supervisory committee membership is very important as the committee is responsible for approving the thesis subject and judging the M.S. thesis defense.

Comprehensive Examination:

All M.S. students are evaluated during their first year for knowledge in the atmospheric sciences and their intended field of research through the core classes (ATMOS 6010: Fundamentals of Dynamic Meteorology, ATMOS 6020 Fundamentals of Physical Meteorology, ATMOS 6030: Climate Dynamics) and the preparation of a Research Prospectus, consisting of both written and oral components. Collectively, this evaluation is known as the Comprehensive Examination even though it is based on a combination of coursework and research activities during the first year. The written component of the Research Prospectus, which will be evaluated by the Supervisory Committee, is due on the last day of classes during the spring semester of the first year in the graduate program. The oral component of the Research Prospectus, which will be evaluated by all Atmospheric Sciences faculty in attendance, must be completed at least two days prior to the grade submission deadline for the spring semester of the first year in the graduate program. 


The written component of the Research Prospectus is typically a document of 3000 words or less (not including figure captions and references) prepared in consultation with the faculty advisor consisting of:

  1. A working title for the research project;
  2. A review of literature and existing knowledge in the area of intended study that contextualizes background information and identifies a key paradox, inconsistency, or gaps in understanding to be addressed by the research project;
  3. A statement of the research goal or goals (may include a summary of key hypotheses or questions to be tested or examined);
  4. A description of the project components and organization; and
  5. A summary of preliminary research, which may consist of any combination of (a) data analysis, (b) simulation results, and (c) observational analysis.

The oral component of the Research Prospectus is a summary of the written prospectus followed by a question and answer session. The entire oral presentation (including questions and answers) must be less than 30 minutes with no more than 20 minutes devoted to the student summary. The oral presentation will be made to the faculty of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and will be closed to the public.


The written and oral components of the Research Prospectus will be evaluated separately based on the following scale:


Grade Criterion
A Meets expectations at M.S. and Ph.D. levels
B Meets expectations at M.S. level
C Marginally passable at M.S. level, unacceptable at Ph.D. level
D Unacceptable for graduate work in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences


At the end of the spring semester of the first year of graduate study, the performance on the Comprehensive Exam will be reviewed by the faculty of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and each student will be placed in one of the following categories by majority decision: 

  • Pass with Distinction: The student may enter the Ph.D. program directly without completion of a M.S. thesis, but has the option to complete a M.S. degree if desired. 
  • Pass: The student is encouraged to complete the requirements for the M.S. degree. Following a successful M.S. defense, the student may submit a petition to the Committee on Doctoral Advancement (CODA) for consideration of continuation toward the Ph.D.
  • Failure: The student will be immediately dismissed from the graduate program unless: (1) the student’s Supervisory Committee recommends that the student be allowed to continue work toward a degree, and (2) the student successfully completes all remedial activities dictated by the majority vote of the faculty prior to the commencement of the fall semester (for M.S. students) or prior to the end of the spring semester of the following year (for Ph.D. students). Failure to satisfactorily complete the prescribed remedial activities in the allotted time frame will result in immediate dismissal from the graduate program.

We expect only a small percentage of M.S. students to Pass with Distinction. Typically these receive an A or A- in each core class, an A for both components of the Research Prospectus, and express a clear capability to conduct independent research during their first year. Most M.S. students will receive a Pass. Although rare, cases of poor performance for either M.S. or Ph.D. students can result in Failure. 


Continuous Registration Requirement:

Students must be continuously enrolled as a full-time student during each fall and spring semester from the date of formal admission through the semester of the thesis defense in order to maintain an active student status. In order to be considered a full-time student, graduate students must be registered for 9 credit hours of coursework, or 3 credit hours of thesis research (ATMOS 6970). Official Graduate School policies on continuous registration can be found here.

Officially-admitted, domestic graduate students who have registered for, and completed, at least one semester of their designated program may apply for a leave of absence to postpone their studies for up to one year. Circumstances requiring students to take a leave of absence must be of a serious nature (e.g., serious health condition, parental leave, or call to military service etc). Applications for a leave of absence must be processed and approved prior to the date the student wishes to begin his or her leave. Postdated leave of absence applications will not be approved. The request must be approved by the student’s faculty advisor or Supervisory Committee Chair (if the committee has been established), the Department Chair, and the Dean of The Graduate School. A complete list of details and requirements for a leave of absence can be found here.

Failure to register for a fall or spring semester or to request a leave of absence will result in a student being dropped from the program. Students wishing to continue their graduate studies after being dropped from the program will need to reapply to the University.

International students on a F1 or J1 visa must contact the International Student and Scholar Services Office to obtain approval for a vacation semester before leaving the University. Failure to register for a fall or spring semester or to receive approval for a vacation semester will result in an international student being dropped from the program with the subsequent loss of his/her visa status. Students wishing to continue their graduate studies after being dropped from the program will need to reapply to the University.

A student defending his/her thesis must register for a minimum of 3 credit hours of Thesis Research (ATMOS 6970) during the semester in which they defend (i.e., fall, spring, or summer).

Summer Semester Registration:

Students who intend to register for summer credit hours may be eligible for a summer tuition waiver (3 credit hours of Thesis Research only). In order to receive a summer tuition waiver, a
student must:

  1. Have received a tuition waiver during the previous fall and/or spring semesters;
  2. Have graduate research assistant (GRA) status; and 
  3. Meet minimum financial support requirements paid through the University of Utah. (check with the Department Office)

Students who intend to register for the summer semester should discuss this with the Department Office during April to make sure they qualify for the summer tuition waiver. It is in the best interest of the Department for eligible students to enroll for summer credit hours because a portion of the tuition is returned to the Department. 

Resident and nonresident students, not receiving tuition waivers, that wish to register for summer semester are encouraged to do so only if credit hours are needed for their program of study. If credit hours are needed, students are encouraged to register for 3 Thesis Research (ATMOS 6970) credit hours, which are always billed at the resident rate. Students are advised that summer credit hours count toward the 84 hour rule described in the “Residency Requirements” section.

Thesis Defense: 

Students are required to complete and orally defend a M.S. thesis. In preparation for defense, a complete draft of the thesis must be submitted to the supervisory committee chair at least three weeks prior to the defense, and to the remainder of the committee no later than two weeks prior (see also: The draft must adhere to standard publication practices in terms of content, language, and style. The final thesis format must also adhere to University guidelines published by the University Thesis Office. A student may wish to submit all, or a portion, of his/her thesis to the University Writing Center for assistance. In addition, a student may also submit a copy of his/her thesis to the Thesis Office prior to the defense to check for potential formatting problems.

An oral defense must be scheduled with the Department Office. Students should reference the Thesis Office deadlines when scheduling a defense date. After the oral presentation, a question and answer period must be allowed. At the conclusion of the public participation, the committee may excuse the public and conduct further questioning on the thesis and related topics. The outcome of the thesis defense is reported on the “Final Reading Approval” and “Supervisory Committee Approval” forms. A majority of the committee must sign and approve these forms. Once a student has completed the necessary steps required by the Thesis Office and the “Thesis Release” has been signed, a letter grade will be assigned by the supervisory committee chairman for all Thesis Research credits. Until the Thesis Release is signed, courses labeled ATMOS 6970 or ATMOS 7970 will be given a “T” grade. If as student does not complete the necessary requirements provided by the Thesis Office the “T” grade will remain indefinitely. Students should refer to the “Handbook for Thesis and Dissertations” for details.

Overview of Graduation Requirements:

The Graduate School maintains a detailed checklist of the steps necessary to complete the M.S. degree. All M.S. students are encouraged to become familiar with these requirements and the deadlines for completing them.

Student Access to Academic Information:

Once The Graduate School has approved the supervisory committee, the student can view their Electronic Graduate Record File online. Students can access their graduate student record by logging into Campus Information Services and clicking on Graduate Student Summary under the Graduate Student section.


Financial Information

Tuition Benefit Program:

Most graduate students are eligible to receive a tuition waiver from the University (check with Department Office for your status). Details on the Tuition Benefit Program (TBP) which covers tuition and mandatory student fees can be found here. M.S. candidates are limited to two years (4 semesters) of tuition benefit support. Once the TBP eligibility has been exhausted, the student will be responsible for paying tuition and health insurance on his/her own, unless an alternative arrangement can be negotiated with his/her faculty advisor. Any alternative arrangements (e.g., a monthly pay increase to compensate for the extra costs of tuition and health insurance) are at the discretion of the faculty advisor and should be discussed by February of the 2nd year for M.S. students. It is important for students to set any monthly pay increases aside in order to pay for health insurance (due in August) and tuition and fees (due in September/January). 

Subsidized Graduate Student Health Insurance Program:

Most graduate students are eligible to receive subsidized health insurance from the University (check with Department Office for your status). Details on the Subsidized Graduate Student Health Insurance can be found here.

Residency Requirements:

Out-of-state, non-international graduate students receiving a tuition benefit must apply for Utah residency upon fulfilling 40 semester credit hours at the University. Non-international (i.e., domestic) students are advised that they must take steps to establish intent to become a resident of Utah and submit an application for resident reclassification by the term deadline to the Admissions Office. A complete set of guidelines for residency reclassification can be found here. Specific steps that must be taken to be reclassified as a resident include obtaining a Utah driver’s license, Utah voter registration, and Utah car registration if operating a vehicle in Utah. In addition, these ties must be established at least three (3) months (90 days) prior to the first day of class for the academic term for which resident student status is requested (See Board of Regents Policy R512 for more detail). Domestic students who do not obtain residency status with the University of Utah before they reach 84 cumulative enrolled credit hours will be billed for tuition at the non-resident rate if registered for credit hours other than Thesis Research hours.

Travel Reimbursement Policies:

Please consult the Departmental Office before making any University-related travel plans or reservations. University regulations regarding travel reimbursements are complex and failure to strictly adhere to them may result in non-reimbursable expenses. 

In addition to the research funds from a student’s advisor, there are several other funding opportunities available to support a student’s travel to attend conferences and to present research.

  1. The graduate school provides partial funding for students to attend conferences if submitting an abstract.
  2. The Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) also provides travel support for students. ASUU is divided into two branches, the Assembly and the Senate, and they both provide independent funding. Note that a student cannot get funding from both the Assembly and the Senate for the same conference.
    • The AMS student chapter falls under the Assembly, and students should contact the current president of the student AMS and/or the current Assembly representative ( for available funding opportunities.
    • The Department SAC (student advisory committee) falls under the Senate, and students should contact the current SAC chair and/or the Senator ( for available funding opportunities.

The odds for receiving funding are higher if funds are applied for early in the academic year rather than late.

Purchasing Policies:

As a general rule, graduate students should not be responsible for making any type of purchase on behalf of the the University. Please consult the Departmental Office if such a need arises before making any type of purchase. Failure to do so may result in non-reimbursable expenses.

Last Updated: 1/5/24