Find out the answers the questions you may have about becoming a genetic counselor with these Frequently Asked Questions by prospective students.
Preparing for Graduate School
To discover what occurs during a typical genetic counseling session, please view the Master Genetic Counselor Series , a grouping of specially designed digital recordings of simulated genetic counseling sessions in the specialty areas of cancer genetic counseling, cardiology genetic counseling, and prenatal genetic counseling.
The Master Genetic Counseling Series is made possible through the generous support of the Jane Engelberg Memorial Fellowship .
In order to become a Certified Genetic Counselor by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) , one must obtain a Master's degree in Genetic Counseling from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) . There are currently 34 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada with master's degree programs in genetic counseling.
For a full list of programs, please visit ACGC's Genetic Counseling Training Program Directory .
How to Choose a Program
There are many factors to consider when choosing a genetic counseling training program. These include location, class size, affiliation with a university, medical school, or hospital, clinical rotation sites, travel, housing, work opportunities, and cost. This spreadsheet may help in organizing your programs of interest and assisting in your decision making process.
Please contact the individual programs for specific admission requirements, funding and/or scholarship information.
Contact each program individually in order to determine the exact requirements needed to complete an application including transcripts, test scores, advocacy experiences, a written statement, and letters of recommendation.
GPA and GRE Scores
Programs are looking for students that have a well-balanced application. GPA and GRE scores are indications of past academic performance and potential graduate school success. In general, successful applicants have a minimum GPA of 3.0. GRE scores in the 70th percentile range or above are considered competitive. Some programs require the GRE subject exams as well.
Advocacy experiences are an important aspect of the application. Advocacy experiences usually allow the applicant to obtain training in interpersonal and communication skills as well as providing an opportunity to work with the public and people in a one-to-one setting.
There are numerous avenues in which qualified applicants have obtained advocacy experiences. These include, but certainly are not limited to, volunteering with a crisis hotline service, working with a pregnancy center, volunteering at shelters for domestic violence or homeless individuals, working with individuals with mental or physical disabilities, providing respite care or working in research settings interviewing participants. These are only a few such experiences that allow the applicant to appreciate the needed communication skills to work with individuals from many different backgrounds.
To find advocacy opportunities in your local communities, look to the yellow pages, local hospitals, and university voluntary service organizations.
Shadowing Experiences and Internships
Observing and/or interning with a genetic counselor is always an ideal. Genetic counselors listed in the Find a Genetic Counselor directory may offer internship opportunities or be aware of various community organizations of interest. If, however, you are unable to intern with a genetic counselor, you should at least interview several counselors to obtain an understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
This is one of the most important aspects of your application. Your personal statement allows admissions committee members an opportunity to get to know who you are and what your goals and vision are for your professional career. This is your opportunity to tell genetic counseling programs what you know about genetic counseling, why the profession interests you and what experiences you have had to help you learn about and foster your interest in a career in genetic counseling. Please note and follow any specifications that programs have regarding length and format of the statement.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are a crucial part of the application. Thus, choosing the appropriate persons to write letters of reference should be a priority. Letters should come from individuals who will be able to address academic capabilities, employment or volunteer performance, leadership skills, character and potential as a graduate student and professional.
Undergraduate students should consider professors, academic advisors, and supervisors at employment or volunteer activities as the best sources for letters of recommendation. If it has been a few years since graduation, in addition to a reference from a professor or academic advisor, having a current employer or supervisor speak to your capabilities and performance would also be very appropriate.
Individuals whose letters may not carry the same weight as those listed above are family friends or fellow students. Admissions committees may not see these individuals as being able to provide an objective assessment.
Finally, many institutions provide forms to be completed by individuals providing recommendations. While forms and checklists are useful, additional written comments are usually the most helpful. If possible, ask your references to provide written comments.
Additions to the Application
If you have been involved in any publications, thesis projects, relevant presentations or other related activities, it is important to list these on your application. Some programs may welcome copies of these materials for review. A resume or curriculum vitae (CV) may also be helpful in drawing attention to your activities, awards and other strengths.
Application material due dates vary by program; however January or February deadlines are common. Interviews are typically conducted from February through April.
Most programs offer in-person interviews to a portion of their applicants. This may be a requirement for continued consideration of an applicant.
Interviews allow for further assessment of professional knowledge, communications skills and overall potential. Moreover, it allows the applicant to get a "better feel" for each program, learn more about the program's philosophy and strengths and often provides an opportunity to meet and speak with students currently enrolled in the program.
Since most individuals are not experienced with interviewing techniques, it may be helpful to talk to academic advisors or current employers for helpful ideas. Many books are also available on the subject.
Applicants should be aware that the interviewing process is time consuming and often requires a financial commitment on the part of the applicant. In general, most programs interview applicants during the months of February through April. Additionally, many programs are unable to provide financial assistance to applicants for travel to the interview. Thus, the applicant might wish to take this into account when applying to programs.
By agreement, all ABGC accredited programs notify applicants of their admission status on the same day, currently the end of April or the beginning of May. On this date, individuals may either be given an offer to attend a program, be placed on an alternate list or not be accepted. Some applicants may receive more than one offer. These applicants have about five days in which to make a final decision about which program to attend.
During this period, those receiving offers are encouraged to notify not only the program they are ultimately accepting, but also any other programs where they interviewed of their final decisions. This allows programs to make offers as soon as possible to those candidates on alternate lists.
What to do if you are not accepted to a Genetic Counseling Training Program?
Due to limited space available within programs and a high volume of very competitive applicants, it is unavoidable that qualified individuals may not be admitted to a genetic counseling program.
If this happens and you are still dedicated to a career in genetic counseling, consider contacting program directors to identify areas in which your application could be improved. Spend the following year enhancing your experience and addressing any application issues and plan to submit new information the following year to strengthen your application. If you interviewed with at least one genetic counseling program, consult our list of institutions participating in the unmatched applicant process .
Please Note: Information provided here is of a general nature. Individual programs will have specific prerequisites, regulations, guidelines, etc. Adherence to these general guidelines does not guarantee admission to any program.