Genetic Counseling Profession

Genetic counselors are Master’s-trained health care professionals who combine their knowledge of basic science, medical genetics, epidemiological principles, and counseling theory with their skills in genetic risk assessment, education, interpersonal communication and counseling to provide services to clients and their families for a diverse set of genetic or genomic indications.

Genetic counselors are employed in many settings such as medical centers, physician offices, health maintenance organizations, advocacy organizations, governmental agencies, public health departments and biotechnology companies. Those in clinical practice provide education and counseling in areas including reproductive genetics, infertility and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, pediatric genetics, newborn screening follow-up, cancer genetics, neurogenetics, and cardiovascular genetics. Many genetic counselors are actively involved in teaching and research. The profession is growing rapidly with the number of certified genetic counselors increasing over 400 % since 1992.

Genetic counselors help people…

“Understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.”

The process of genetic counseling…

“Integrates the following: interpretation of family and medical histories to assess the chance of disease occurrence or recurrence; education about inheritance, testing, management, prevention, resources and research; counseling to promote informed choices and adaptation to the risk or condition.”

National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Definition Task Force, 2006.

For more information about the Genetic Counseling profession, please visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC).

Information on Applying

If you want to work on the cutting edge of genomic medicine in a rewarding and expanding health care profession, the first step is to apply to an accredited genetic counseling graduate program. Currently, there are over 41 accredited programs in the United States and Canada, located at both private and public universities.

To find the list of accredited programs with links to each program’s website go to the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling’s website.

Programs differ with regard to coursework requirements and the types of clinical experiences available; however, all have to meet the same accreditation standards. Only students who have graduated from an accredited program are eligible to take the national genetic counselor certification examination.

Requirements

In general, you must have a 4-year baccalaureate degree and undergraduate coursework in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, statistics and psychology to be eligible to apply. In addition, you typically you need to do the following:

  • Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Examination. For information about registering for the GRE, click here.
  • If you are an international student, take the TOEFL Examination. For information about this exam, click here.
  • Submit transcripts from all the undergraduate and graduate institutions you attended.
  • Obtain letters of recommendation (usually 3)
  • Write a personal statement
  • Get advocacy experience volunteering as a counselor (e.g., crisis counseling, bereavement counseling) or working with individuals who have a genetic conditions or disability.
  • Job shadow or speak to a genetic counselor to show you have explored the field and are familiar with the profession. To find a genetic counselor in your area go to the ‘Find a Counselor’ link of the National Society of Genetic Counselors website.
  • Research and/or laboratory experience can also strengthen your application

Individual programs have specific requirements. To learn about these, contact the program directly. You should review each program ‘s admissions criteria before applying. Most programs prefer an in-person interview as part of the admissions process. Please contact each program directly for more information.

Helpful Information for a Strong Application

  • The most common undergraduate majors among those admitted were biology, genetics and psychology. However, successful applicants come from a broad variety of majors and degrees. Diversity in educational background is welcomed by programs.
  • The average (mean) GPA of admitted students is approximately 3.5 with GRE scores in the 60-70% range (based on 2016 data). As these are just averages, some successful applicants have higher and lower GPA ‘s and scores than these.
  • In general, those who apply to 4 or more programs are more likely to be admitted than those who apply to 1-2. Well qualified applicants appear equally likely to be successful when they apply to 4-6 schools as when they apply to more than 6 schools.
  • A majority of students enter programs right after completing their undergraduate degree. However, many have entered a year or two after graduating or several years later after having significant work or professional experience. Such applicants are viewed favorably.
  • If you are applying a second time, seek feedback from program directors about how to strengthen your application as this can increase your chances of being admitted.
  • Contact individual programs to make sure you are familiar with and are fulfilling their specific requirements.
  • Consider visiting programs in your area, as many host annual open houses, recruitment events, career days, or camps

Familiarize yourself with the profession by doing the following:

  • Review the National Society of Genetic Counselors ‘ (NSGC) code of ethics, position statements, and policy statements on the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ website.
  • Read the genetic counseling literature
  • View the master genetic counselor video clips on the NSGC website

Genetic Counseling Admissions Match: For the 2021 Admissions Cycle

The Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors is pleased to announce the Genetic Counseling Admissions Match (GCAM). This program was first used for those applying for admission to genetic counseling graduate programs in 2018. The GCAM was established to enhance the process of placing applicants into open positions in accredited genetic counseling programs. The Match uses a process that takes into account both applicants’ and programs’ placement preferences.

All applicants taking part in an admissions cycle must first register for the Match with National Matching Services (NMS) before applying as usual to participating genetic counseling graduate programs. Once admissions interviews are complete, both applicants and programs will submit ranked lists of preferred placements to NMS, making sure to adhere to established deadlines. NMS will then run a computerized matching algorithm to determine placements. The Match results will be released to both applicants and programs simultaneously in late April. The results of the Match are binding.

For more details, questions, or to watch on video on how the matching algorithm works, please visit the GC Admissions Match website.

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