Genetic counseling gives you information about how genetic conditions might affect you or your family. The genetic counselor or other healthcare professional will collect your personal and family health history. They can use this information to determine how likely it is that you or your family member has a genetic condition. Based on this information, the genetic counselor can help you decide whether a genetic test might be right for you or your relative (CDC). People utilize genetic counseling to see if they are carrying a gene for a cancer, planning for pregnancy, and more.
To become a genetic counselor, a student must receive a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and apply to master's programs in the field. There are 55 accredited Genetic Counseling Master's programs across the United States and Canada. In order to apply, a student must take the GRE, complete the relevant experiences needed, and be in good academic standing in terms of the prerequisites for the programs to which they are applying. Each program can be a little bit different so making a school list to keep track of these differences is important.
Each program has its own set of prerequisites required of applicants. Below is a list of common prerequisites you may see when making your school list:
- Organic Chemistry
- Advanced Genetics
In addition, there are many Minors that cover topics critical to expanding understanding of the various determinants of health. Coursework related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion can be helpful in developing cultural awareness, cultural humility, and an understanding of systemic discrimination in the health care system. Even if your academic plan does not permit adding a minor, it is worth reviewing the curated course lists for courses that will stretch you, increase your language for difference and disparity, show your intellectual curiosity, and improve your critical reasoning skills.
Many schools require you to have counseling or crisis intervention experience as well as experience shadowing a genetic counselor. That being said, programs understand that genetic counselors may not always be available for shadowing in an applicant’s location. Having telephone conversations or interviewing genetic counselors about their job may be ways to bolster your experience in the field if shadowing is difficult. Please utilize the links below to find a genetic counselor near you.
To gain counseling or crisis intervention experience, applicants typically find experiences from many different settings including: Planned Parenthood, domestic abuse shelters, crisis hotlines, peer counseling, homeless shelters, hospice care, or working with individuals with physical disabilities or intellectual impairment. Many state counties have crisis hotlines looking for volunteers as well as university campuses. UMD and Montgomery County have one.
Beyond those, experiences that students have before applying are varied and many. Advocacy work or working with people with disabilities, leadership experience, volunteering, tutoring, lab work and research, working in the healthcare field, holding employment, working with children, or just being involved with things you are passionate about all can be valuable experiences to have. Every applicant is unique and has a different story.
Each program will have its own application through its own portal. You should visit each program’s website to find more information about that. Before beginning the individual applications, all applicants must first register for the Match with NMS. The GC Admissions Match has been established to enhance the process of placing applicants into positions in masters-level genetic counseling programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). The Match uses a process that takes into account both applicants’ and programs’ preferences. Please visit the NMS website to register for the match, review detailed information about the matching process and to view a demonstration of how the matching algorithm works.
- University of Maryland Pre-Genetic Counseling Society
- Sample Clinical Hours Tracking Sheet
- Local Sample School List
- National Society of Genetic Counselors
- Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling
- Find a Genetic Counselor
- Find a Genetics Clinic
- GC Admission Match FAQ
- Schedule of Dates for GC Admissions Match
- Princeton University Genetic Counseling PDF
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