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 Connecticut, Keck 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
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
“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
“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
“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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can include your words of wisdom!