What is genetic counseling?

Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological, and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. This process integrates:

  • 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.

(Resta, R. et al. (2006). A new definition of genetic counseling: National Society of Genetic Counselors’ task force report. Journal of genetic counseling15(2), 77-83.)

Why should I become a genetic counselor?

Genetic counselors possess the expertise and skills necessary to be key players in the integration of genomics into health care and personalized medicine. Opportunities for genetic counselors continue to grow and genetic counselor job satisfaction is consistently high, especially with regard to counseling patients, learning opportunities, scientific content, and the opportunity for personal growth.

If you want to work on the cutting edge of genomic medicine in a rewarding and expanding health care profession, then genetic counseling is the profession for you. See the resources page for links to other important genetic counseling organizations.

How do I apply to a genetic counseling training program?

If you want to become a genetic counselor, the first step is to apply to an accredited genetic counseling graduate program. Currently, there are over 55 accredited programs in the United States and Canada, located at both private and public universities.

A list of accredited programs with links to each program’s website can be found on the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling’s website.

While all accredited programs meet the same rigorous standards for genetic counseling training and education, each program offers a unique blend of coursework, fieldwork, research opportunities, and supplemental activities. Only students who have graduated from an accredited program are eligible to take the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification exam; certification is the standard professional credential for practicing genetic counselors.

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 mean GPA of admitted students is approximately 3.5, with GRE scores in the 60-70% range. As these are averages, successful applicants have had both higher and lower GPAs and GRE scores than these.
  • In general, those who apply to four or more programs are more likely to be admitted than those who apply to only one or two programs. Well qualified applicants appear equally likely to be successful when they apply to four to six schools as when they apply to more than six schools.
  • While a majority of students enter genetic counseling programs directly after completing their undergraduate degree, many return to school after taking several years to complete additional academic, work, or professional experiences; applicants with diverse and varied backgrounds are viewed favorably.
  • If you are reapplying, seek feedback from program directors about how to strengthen your application to 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 NSGC’s website.
  • Read the genetic counseling literature, especially the Journal of Genetic Counseling
  • View the master genetic counselor video clips on the NSGC website

Genetic Counseling Admissions Match: For the 2021 Admissions Cycle

AGCPD is pleased to offer 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 to participating genetic counseling graduate programs. Once interviews are complete, both applicants and programs submit ranked lists of preferred placements to NMS, making sure to adhere to established rules and timelines. NMS then runs a computerized matching algorithm to determine placements. Match results are released to both applicants and programs simultaneously in April; results of the Match are binding for both applicants and programs.

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