Advice for Applying to Genetic Counseling Programs

The field of genetic counseling is expanding rapidly; the number of Certified Genetic Counselors has increased 88% since 2006 (NSGC). Nine out of ten genetic counselors report being satisfied with their jobs (NSGC). The field offers countless different directions in which one can take this career, in a variety of environments.

Knowing these statistics and seeing new genetic breakthroughs daily has many students interested in joining the field. To become a Certified Genetic Counselor, students must graduate from an accredited program, (check out the list). There are not nearly enough programs to meet the ever increasing demand of genetic counselors. However, this is changing with many schools adding new genetic counseling programs such as The University of ConnecticutKeck Graduate Institute (KGI), Augustana University, Indiana State University, University of Central Florida and University of South Florida, just to name a few.

Due to the limited number of programs and increasing interest in the field, acceptance rates for genetic counseling graduate programs are less than 8% (NSGC, via UCONN). This number is intimidating; however, it is further motivation for students to strengthen their resumes and applicants. When applying to graduate programs in genetic counseling, applicants must highlight and demonstrate their knowledge, skills and interest in the field. But what is the best way to do so? We asked fellow genetic counselors in the community to offer their advice, including directors of graduate programs!

We also suggest reading our Trailblazing Genetic Counselors blog series to learn about the leaders in our field. Check out the LinkedIn profiles of the genetic counselors below to read about their background and follow them on Twitter (click their name after their quote) to stay updated on news in the field of genetic counseling. Here's our Genetic Counseling Twitter list of over 460 professionals in the field who are also active on Twitter. 

 

Candid Advice from Program Directors

Don’t be afraid to take a year or two off after college to work and gain some experience.
Whether discussing counseling, shadowing, leadership, or research experience, the strongest candidates are distinguished by their ability to articulate, in writing and during their interview, a commitment to the experience and its contribution toward their future career as a genetic counselor.
Be yourself during the interview – you are who you are and that’s who the program is most interested in getting to know.
Write your personal statement from a personal perspective. The reader is most interested in getting to know you as a person. How did you feel? What did you learn about yourself? Have family and friends read it to be sure it sounds like YOU.
Pick recommendations that are appropriate to the application and make sure they are from professors, service areas etc that really know them.
Answer the questions asked of you on the application. Developing one personal statement to be used for every application is not in your best interest because although the applications questions have some overlap, there are slight differences in how a program may ask the question. If you do not provide a direct answer to our applications prompts, then this affects the evaluation of your application and may hinder you from being offered an interview.
Their essay is how they can make themselves shine and let the schools know who they are and why they should meet them.
Be sure to spend a lot of effort on the personal statement. A poorly written personal statement reflects very badly on the applicant.
I tell applicants that they have one chance to have their applications reviewed. They should spend time on their packages. The applications should be read and re-read for any errors, typos etc.
When you come to the interview be yourself and don’t be afraid to express yourself. If you are not accepted into a program try again, strengthen your application. I have been contacted by applicants who did not make it into a program and we discussed what they could do to strengthen their applications. These applicants are currently working to reapply again and approaching the experience in a positive way.
We look for students who have made an authentic choice to apply for admission into our genetic counseling program.
Remember that you are applying to professional degree programs. As such, you must exhibit and maintain a high level of professionalism during your interactions with graduate programs; from the very first email to the very last thank you.
I believe that it is important to have solid grades in the sciences, to develop a strong well written personal statement on why you would like to be a genetic counselor, to be personable with great communication skills, to have worked or shadowed a genetic counselor, and to have some experience working in some capacity with children, families or fellow students.

 

Advice from Genetic Counselors

 

"Read some publications of the program’s  faculty.  See where graduates have obtained jobs. Ask your mentors to review your personal statements." ~Robin Schwartz, Assistant Professor and Hereditary Genetic Counselor at UCONN Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

"First, shadow genetic counselors in different disciplines. Second, volunteer in a counseling setting. Third, have a genetic counselor review your application essay" ~Scott Weissman, Founder of Chicago Genetic Consultants, LLC

 

 

 

"Future genetic counselors should read voraciously! Everything about clinical genetics they can find: articles, books, blogs, patient stories! Do whatever you have to do to know that genetic counseling is what you want to do. Shadowing is helpful, but you don't have to shadow every counselor in every specialty. I shadowed two days before graduate school." ~Brittany Gancarz, Prenatal Genetic Counselor at UCONN Health

 

 

 

"If invited to interview try to view fellow interviewees as future colleagues not competitors. Be you and BREATHE!" ~Brianne Kirkpatrick, Founder/CEO/President of WatershedDNA

 

 

 

 

 

"Spend time volunteering with children and adults in the disability community." ~Carrie Haverty, Genetic Counselor and Clinical Product Director at Counsyl.

 

 

 

 

 

"Know why a genetic counseling career is right fit for you and be able to explain that. Test drive related work for a while to make sure good fit." ~Colleen Caleshu, Cardiovascular Genetic Counselor at Stanford Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease.

 

 

 

"This may seem obvious, but don't waste your application fee--only apply to programs if you meet ALL of their minimum requirements. Genetic counseling programs are especially competitive, yet I've met many prospective applicants who take an approach of "I'll apply anyway and see what happens". I also recommend researching programs at institutions with less obvious name recognition, often in smaller cities that some applicants overlook. If a program is ACGC-accredited, you're going to get an excellent education to prepare you for your career in genetic counseling, no matter where it is." ~Leslie Ordal, Clinical Research Manager, Medical Writer, and Genetic Counselor

 

"Focus on what makes your experience unique. Most applicants have shadowed Genetic Counselors- what makes you stand out?" ~Andria Besser, Genetic Counselor at NYU Langone Medical Center, Counsyl, and the Center for Rare Jewish Genetic Disorders. 

 

 

 

"Read recent lit for current state of field/opportunities/essay ideas. Historical papers can give outdated sense of job focus. In other words, don't write your essay about non-directiveness (I did!! And I cringe about it now!!)" ~Alexis Carere, Genetic Counselor & Post-doctoral Fellow in Epidemiology at McMaster University

 

 

Matt's LinkedIn Profile

Matt's LinkedIn Profile

 

 

"Go to every interview you are offered. I almost declined an interview to a program I ended up attending." ~Matt Tschirgi, Medical Science Liaison at Progenity, Inc. and Founder and Managing Director at Genetix Consulting, LLC

 

 

 

 

"Learn about program directors. Can give sense of program... Research focus? Still seeing patients? Specialty? Publications?" ~Katie Lang, Coordinator of Hereditary Cancer Program at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute

 

 

 

 

 

"Shadow supervisors and directors of the programs you are interested in and make a good impression before you even apply! Consider the program itself, not just its location and cost. There are some great schools hidden right under your nose!" ~Anna Victorine, Genetic Counselor at Provenance Healthcare

 

 

 

 

"Find a genetic counselor (or several!) with a role that interests you. Send them an email asking to talk about their experiences. Start building your community and give shape to your goals in your interview!" ~Colleen Landy Schmitt, Clinical Training Content Spealicist at Counsyl

 

 

 

 

 

"Shadow genetic counselors in several specialties and find out what they like best/least about their position."~Danielle Bonadies, Director of Cancer Genetics at My Gene Counsel

 

 

 

"Make sure your application includes your relevant experience. Were you an RA, OA, or counselor in college? A science tutor? Did you do social media for a school club, or have public speaking experience? How can that make you a better genetic counselor?" ~Ellen Matloff, President/CEO of My Gene Counsel

 

Genetic counselors, do you have advice to add? Tweet us @mygenecounsel or email (ellen@mygenecounsel.com) so we can include your words of wisdom!