What it takes to be a meteorologist…Part 2
Earlier this week I wrote an article on what it takes to be a meteorologist, and a suggested general pathway with a focus on those currently in high school or earlier. Often times, however, the lack of math or science is what prevents students from reaching their dreams and results in shattered dreams. It nearly happened to me – I had to take Calculus I twice, and had to boost other grades as well! Every student is different and every situation varies, so this may be generalization here. However, some helpful hints I can come up with are listed here.
Achievement matters greatly – and don’t be afraid to retake
Just passing courses, either in high school (particularly in 11th or 12th grades) or anytime in college, may not be sufficient. In most school systems, a passing grade (D or D-) ranges from 50% to 65%. In math or science courses that have a high degree of difficulty, learning and retaining knowledge is crucial. As a result, I would consider an effective passing grade to be higher, even if you technically earn a credit. Even though I passed my first attempt at Calculus I, I felt I didn’t learn enough and would have failed Calculus II if I took it immediately. After clearing electives and other requirements, I revisited it and watched my grade go from D+ to A-.
Consider summer school or (if that is not possible) retaking in a later semester if your grade was anything less than a high C (or C+), as it will definitely help you later. Most school systems will let you do that, and hey, it allows you to do something beneficial in the summer! It helped me a LOT. This is especially true in calculus, physics or other core courses where knowledge is necessary throughout the degree or diploma process. Squeaking along with D’s will not likely give you the knowledge and will lead to frustration later.
Choose your electives carefully
In most school systems, high school courses are all compulsory (or options are limited) up to at least 9th or 10th grade. Once in 11th and 12th grades, there are many more electives available, and college tends to result in a mixture of electives and compulsory courses. A frequent mistake many students make is to go for the easiest courses (and those are different for each student). Those help raise GPA’s but may not be essential for meteorology, or may even be detrimental given the limited opportunities.
In high school, the basics are general English (you generally need this for all programs and require it in all years – and it is quite useful for communication and reading/writing difficult academic reports!), Mathematics (in all high school branches but pre-calculus and trigonometry, along with advanced algebra, are all highly useful), Science (chemistry is moderately important and physics is extremely important) and Geography is your best choice in social sciences. Beyond that, for electives, some recommended courses include Computer Studies, Technology courses and a second language such as Spanish (it is becoming very useful these days, and will only become even more useful later – a third language is even more useful). That would likely leave you with few slots remaining. Make sure you do all electives and core courses all the way to 12th grade! Doing AP courses is especially valuable to improve your placement.
Don’t overextend yourself
Increasing your workload makes things much more difficult for everyone. No one – not even Ted Fujita or Max Mayfield – is Superman. Increasing the workload during the school year means more homework, more projects and often less chance to get a great grade. As a result, I recommend taking one course LESS than a full course load in college (it may not be possible in high school) and then making up the difference in the following summer. Summer jobs are scarce in many places these days and low paying (rarely much more than minimum wage), and summer classes often bring out older, more mature students (most 18 year olds just want to head home to the beach for a 3 month vacation).
The only downside is that if you attend school away from home, you have to pay for 12 months of living expenses instead of 8 or 9 months. However, as I suggested, you shouldn’t go too far from home for at least your first two years while focusing on general courses available at almost all colleges. There’s no need to go to Oklahoma or Penn State immediately paying out-of-state tuition when the courses you need at the start are almost always offered at local city colleges close to home. I’m talking about the basic Calculus, Physics, Linear Algebra, Chemistry, English/Communications courses and any electives you choose (computer science, a second or third language and technology are still useful!) Even if it takes 5 years of college, it will still work out a lot better in the end.
When you are trying to transfer into upper-year programs at a meteorology school (often out of state), graduate level degrees or into the meteorology business, connections matter. Try to meet meteorologists (whether in academia, at your nearest weather office (such as the NWS), in the military, private sector or on television), attend conferences (such as AMS or NWA meetings) and connect online through e-mails, Twitter and LinkedIn (but respect privacy!). You will suddenly open up networks that will be very useful in advancing yourself and getting good jobs.
Make sure you also connect with the school(s) you are looking to transfer to well in advance. A good time might be as early as your first year of college studies (or if a good meteorology school is in state, late in high school), and your graduate schools should be connected with at least two years out. Internships, if available in your area, are very useful and can sometimes earn you college credits as well. They will build resumes that will be highly enticing for employers.
Late bloomers can still succeed!
I can be best described as a “late bloomer” as I am more than 13 years removed from high school. Many others graduate from college with a different degree altogether (such as journalism, geography, physics, law, business, etc.) and decide meteorology is right for them later. Even if you are past 40 years of age, you may decide you need a meteorology degree. If you are in the television broadcasting business and feel you need to learn weather, being a mere “weather anchor” is not a desirable position and many companies will not hire them.
Several schools I know (at least) offer meteorology degrees online, and that may be an option for you, especially if you need to stay close to home for work. However, you may decide to do it in a traditional school setting as well. Depending on your past experience, courses may transfer which shortens the time you need to learn the program. You may like it so much you may want to continue into a graduate degree like me and give yourself even more options later! One note is that, depending on your time removed from other schooling, some math refreshing may be useful through an adult education program for 11th or 12th grade mathematics. (Advice: do not go into a meteorology certificate program; they only cover the basics and may not allow you to earn credentials or get many jobs. You need a degree if at all possible.)
I covered many hints and recommendations that would be useful for meteorology students and those aspiring to enter the meteorology field in the future. It is a long process, with many difficulties encountered along the way, but these are very useful on a rewarding career. Remember not to get discouraged!
Forecaster Craig Ceecee – @EternalWeather1