Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

Non-traditional studentsFor Non-Traditional Students

We are frequently contacted by non-traditional students, considering a career change or at least further education and inspired by the topics covered in Climate & Space. The following provides some information and advice for such students.

Background in Physical Sciences

Students without some substantial background in physical sciences are not prepared to enter any of our graduate programs. We have, for example, had graduate students with narrow computer science backgrounds who have proven unable to keep up. Mathematics background also matters. The following assumes we would admit you to at least the MS program, although that is not guaranteed.

Deciding path to graduationYour Goals and Options

The first question for you is what your goals are. You have three basic possible options.

  1. Do an MS degree customized to your interests as a terminal degree. This requires only accumulating 30 credit hours. At present there are no other requirements (this however may change). It is not clear whether this could take you into a research career, however. In most cases this degree does not do so. This degree can be accomplished by taking courses at whatever rate you can manage, until you accumulate the necessary hours.
  2. Do an MS degree designed to prepare you for the Ph.D. This could be done at your pace while staying in your present job. But to complete a Ph.D., and enable a research career, you would need at some point to bite the bullet and devote yourself full time to such studies for three to four years after completing the MS.
  3. Enter the Ph.D. program, if we decide you are qualified. (This starts with two years of courses and an optional MS.) This would enable you to be paid, although perhaps not enough. The salary now is about $27K per year plus tuition and benefits.

GRE Revised General TestFollow Up Items

If you are interested in options 2 or 3, there are a couple follow-up items:

  • We pay close attention to GRE scores, especially for non-traditional students who are considering a Ph.D. Have you taken the GRE recently? If not, we suggest that you do so, on whatever timescale lets you prepare adequately. Visit the GRE website for details.
  • Once you've taken the GRE, we could give you feedback about your prospects if you would send us informal copies of your GRE scores and all your transcripts.
  • Apple and E=mc2The achilles heel for many of our graduate students is mathematics. In the mathematics that you took, did you have a course using partial differential equations? Did you have a course with a title such as "Mathematical Methods for Scientists and Engineers"? To succeed in our Ph.D. program (or the MS level courses relevant to it) you need this level of math. You could start your MS coursework with such courses, but this is an important issue.