So you want to be a meteorologist? Advice for students

Hello there.

It’s been an exciting – and frustrating – past few days for me. I recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in science, and now I am about to go for my meteorology degree. You might see me working in reports, or on the air, or in the office. Right now I am keeping all doors open. At the same time, our thoughts and prayers must go out to the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando which killed at least 49 innocent people. There are many families that are dealing with grief, heartache and questions. Not to mention at least 55 others were injured, some critically. I will not get into the politics of it though.

Last summer, I wrote a couple posts on what it takes to be a meteorologist, including the basics. The planning starts long before going on TV or sitting in the hurricane center. In fact, your planning should begin in high school. I had little or none of this so I had to play serious catchup the last five years. But, for you (assuming you are a teenager reading this), it should be much easier to follow – if not easier to execute. Make no mistake, these are hard courses! But you will be seriously rewarded.

A Timeline Checklist

Note: Throughout this article, the “class” represents what year you can expect to graduate with an undergraduate degree and become an official meteorologist after four years of high school followed by four years of college, and this is based on the 2016-17 school year. In many cases, that is NOT sufficient – you need advanced degrees, and also it may take more than four years to get everything you need.

So you have the desire to become a meteorologist already? It’s not uncommon. However, through high school, you need a lot of courses to be prepared for the road ahead. ALWAYS take college prep courses though where they split apart – AP is also valuable.

Class of 2024: High School Freshman

Depending on the jurisdiction, you may not have very many options this early. I know for me, I had few or no options. Most freshman streams include some combination of these (+/- one year):

  • English 1
  • Pre-Algebra or Algebra 1 (you’ll need both)
  • Science (may be general science, may be Physical or Earth/Space Science)
  • Computers/Technology 1
  • Social Studies (likely US History or US Geography at this stage, possibly both)
  • Spanish 1 (with the growing Hispanic population, having Spanish all the way through is highly advisable when you are going to be saving lives)
  • Physical and Health Education (usually a requirement)
  • If required, an Arts or Business course

That probably won’t leave you much room for electives, if any are even offered. If you have room and they are necessary, an arts course, a business course or moving forward (i.e. English 2, Algebra 2) would work. For other languages (especially third languages) you may need to look elsewhere or through night school – but it helps a lot! If you haven’t cleared these requirements (like, for example, if religion is required), you could either push them to 10th grade (not recommended) or take them on the side.

Class of 2023: High School Sophomore

Like as a freshman, the options are typically still restrained, but this is a common curriculum for a meteorology aspirant. The general rules still apply, and this is an ideal setup at that stage:

  • English 2
  • Algebra 1 and/or 2 (depending on system)
  • Geometry
  • Physical Science or Earth/Space Science (if not included in general science) or Biology
  • Computers/Technology 2
  • Any other US Geography or US History courses not yet cleared
  • Government/Civics
  • Spanish 2
  • Any remaining requirements up to this stage, which vary by jurisdiction, if space permits

Once again, you likely have little or no room for electives, or will have to use electives on those courses (in college, most of my electives were used for calculus courses!). It is certainly a fact that you won’t get much room for arts or other courses.

Class of 2022: High School Junior

By junior year in high school, classes become much more specialized. Most of these – except for English, math and sometimes physical/social science courses – tend to be electives. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that you are looking down the road. You need to be as prepared as possible. An ideal setup for a HS junior:

  • English 3
  • Trigonometry
  • Pre-Calculus (if space permits and you feel ready)
  • High school Physics
  • High school Chemistry
  • Computer/Technology 3
  • World Geography
  • A third language (most likely your Spanish would be up to good standards by now, and the more the merrier, so take a French or Italian or Chinese or some other language course now)

Again, it is likely you will have no room for electives. If you do, consider taking a senior-level course such as English 4 to allow more room for AP courses.

Class of 2021: High School Senior

Now you see the first goal in sight and you are picking your college (at least initially – it may be a community college at first, that’s okay). But you’re still in high school, and you still have some of your toughest courses yet. No one said meteorology was easy! Here is what I recommend for a HS senior:

  • English 4/Literature (and/or AP English, if desired)
  • AP Calculus 1 (if offered)
  • AP Linear Algebra 1 (if offered)
  • AP Physics 1 (if offered)
  • Any remaining science or social science requirements
  • AP Computer Studies 1 (if offered)
  • Spanish 3
  • Communications Studies (if offered)

Occasionally, it may take a student 4 1/2 or 5 years to finish all the requirements, or the AP courses may be foregone if the time is needed to finish the base requirements, since you may need a slightly lighter course load or other courses in addition to the rigorous base. That’s okay too. Also even if you pass courses, you may need to retake if your marks a low. I would never accept anything less than a C on any of these courses, with the majority being A’s and B’s. If you get a D, you should still retake any core courses. That too may push your time in high school outward.

Class of 2020: College Freshman

You’ve made it through high school. Either you are in a meteorology program at the college of your choice, or you are in a community college building up your basics. Either way you are on the strong road to success. Here are some courses you need the moment you enter college:

  • Calculus 1 (if not taken as AP)
  • Calculus 2 (immediately if Calc 1 taken as AP, take 1 then 2 otherwise)
  • Physics 1 (if not taken as AP)
  • Chemistry 1 (if not taken as AP)
  • English/Communication (likely two courses)
  • Spanish 1
  • Third language course, same as you took in high school (as a refresher)
  • Physical Geography
  • Computer Science 1 (if not taken as AP)

Again, that leaves little or no room for electives. If you have AP courses, move on to sophomore requirements to keep things flowing. Don’t be afraid to take courses in the summer if you want to isolate them from the rest of the degree to make it easier (especially for language courses or tough math courses).

Class of 2019: College Sophomore

At this stage, you may have transferred to your dream college. Everyone is on a different agenda, and these could be +/- a year or so. Also, you may need to bump up marks and retake old courses. Regardless, this would be a good sophomore curriculum:

  • Calculus 3
  • Linear Algebra 1 (if not taken as AP)
  • Differential Equations 1
  • Statistics
  • Physics 2
  • Chemistry 2
  • Intro to Meteorology
  • Spanish 2
  • Computer Science 2

Some of those are scary. But they don’t need to be. Regardless, you need to be well prepared since what lies ahead is the “core” of your dream.

Class of 2018: College Junior

By now, you likely have entered internships and have started talking to grad schools or employers. No matter what, you will need the same general courses. It doesn’t hurt at all to go above and beyond the basic requirements in order to improve your standard in a very competitive field. It may require tutors or assistance, but it is well worth it. An ideal curriculum for a college junior:

  • 2 or 3 meteorology courses (such as synoptic or tropical)
  • Oceanography
  • Climatic studies
  • Partial Differential Equations or Differential Equations 2
  • Linear Algebra 2
  • Physics 3 or Heat/Natural Physics
  • Communication Studies/Practicum (it sure helps to have TV experience even if you don’t go the broadcast route)

Notice there are fewer hard requirements, but they are a lot more specialized at this stage. It varies by school what options exist, and some may be needed to be done in the summer. It may not be a smart idea to overload your courses, since you need to watch your grades. A 3.00 GPA should be seen as a minimum goal.

Class of 2017: College Senior

Congratulations on making it this far! You are only one year away from your dream, or from more advanced education which is not discussed here. Someone starting high school now is 7 years from this point, but let me just say, time flies.

At this point, your focus isn’t so much on specific courses (unless there are holes lacking) but finishing your degree and making sure grades are up to par. Most likely, most or all your courses will be related to meteorology. However, I highly recommend you do at least one, if not two or more, report or thesis (or group exercise). It is valuable learning if you want to enter academia, and no matter what field of meteorology you are in, it will help a long way. You might unmask a breaking development and have it presented the world over! I’d also continue the broadcast practicum, even if not entering broadcast. Most likely, you will end up in front of cameras at one point or another working in a weather office, and social media is all the rage these days. That helps you stay on top of things.

General Pointers
  1. The dates are in a best case scenario. It may take you more than 8 years to go from the start of high school to becoming a meteorologist. I know it took me a lot more than that!
  2. Watch your grades! Meteorology programs are much more competitive than general arts programs. If you see a D on your transcript at any time, retake that course even if you don’t need to. Also make sure your GPA stays well above 3.00 throughout both high school and college. Generally, you should try to ensure that at least 75% of your grades are A’s and B’s, with C’s making up no more than 25% of courses.
  3. Don’t be afraid to take summer classes. Such can be either to retake low grades, to make life easier on a tough course or to spread the course load out.
  4. While a temptation is to follow friends in courses, that is nearly impossible later in high school and certainly in college. Don’t pay attention to where anyone else is.
  5. Most early college courses are available at almost any community or junior college as well, and tend to cost a lot less. Consider starting there and transferring to a meteorology school as a sophomore or junior, especially if no meteorology program is available in your home state. Out of state tuition can be very expensive.
  6. Joining clubs or extracurricular societies can help a lot too throughout your education. Maybe you will find like minded people even in high school!

Of course, the ideal path varies for every student. There are many with special needs who need to be accounted for too. This is a GENERAL route – your own pathway will surely deviate, often greatly. I know this wasn’t mine either!

Forecaster Craig Ceecee

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