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 one of these accredited programs. 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.
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). This number is intimidating; however, it is further motivation for students to strengthen their resumes and applications. 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, including directors of graduate programs, to offer their advice.
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 or follow them on Twitter to stay updated on news in the field of genetic counseling. Plus, here’s our Genetic Counseling Twitter list of over 800 professionals in the field who are also active on Twitter.
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 your own 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 you.
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 application 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 application’s prompts, then this affects the evaluation of your application and may hinder you from being offered an interview.
Your essay is how you can make yourself shine and let schools know who you are and why they should meet you.
Be sure to spend a lot of time 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. 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 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 experience working in some capacity with children, families, or fellow students.
Connect with genetic counselors or professional organizations, like CAGC, NSGC, or AGCPD, to learn about the field. This could help you identify local or online opportunities to gain the relevant experiences to be a well-rounded applicant with strong academic and communication skills.
In your application, it is important to demonstrate how your experiences are applicable to academic, clinical, advocacy, and research aspects within this profession. Use your application and subsequent interview to show us why you really want to be a genetic counsellor, above anything else!
The personal statement and recommendations may be the most important parts of the application since they provide insight into the motivation and commitment of an applicant. An honest and factual representation of the events that have led the applicant to choose a career as a genetic counselor provide the best evidence of the prospective student’s readiness to complete the rigors of a genetic counseling training program. Shadow and/or intern experience is also certainly helpful to successful and qualified applicants.
Diversify your portfolio, education, and experiences! Do your research. Talk to genetic counselors and ask to shadow them in the clinic. Know how to advocate for yourself before you can advocate for others. Be passionate about your strengths and interests and honest about your weaknesses.
Love genetics and genomic medicine! Have genuine compassion and the ability to communicate effectively with a vast array of people. Think outside the box. Meet people where they are. Make it happen!
In order to be successful in many areas of life, and especially in genetic counseling, one must be a life-long learner. Other traits or abilities we look for that are extremely useful for genetic counseling include innovation, empathy, critical thinking, curiosity, self-reflection, tenacity, adaptability, dependability, leadership, and integrity.
Advice from Genetic Counselors
Read some publications by the program’s faculty. See where graduates have obtained jobs. Ask your mentors to review your personal statements.Robin Schwartz (@RobinSchwartz15)
First, shadow genetic counselors in different disciplines. Second, volunteer in a counseling setting. Third, have a genetic counselor review your application essay.Scott Weissman (@chicagogenetics)
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 (@GeneGrayDNA)
If invited to interview, try to view fellow interviewees as future colleagues, not competitors. Be you and remember to breathe!Brianne Kirkpatrick (@GCBrianne)
Spend time volunteering with children and adults in the disability community.Carrie Haverty (@carrie_haverty)
Know why genetic counseling is the right career for you and be able to explain that. Test drive related work for a while to make sure it’s a good fit.Colleen Caleshu (@colleencaleshu)
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, and yet I’ve met many prospective applicants who take the 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 (@GenCounsNews)
Focus on what makes your experience unique. Most applicants have shadowed genetic counselors. What makes you stand out?Andria Besser (@DriaBess)
Read recent literature for current state of the field, opportunities, and essay ideas. Historical papers can give an 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 (@AlexisCarere)
Go to every interview you are offered. I almost declined an interview to a program I ended up attending.Matt Tschirgi (@Matt_Tschirgi)
Learn about program directors. They can give you a better sense of the program. What is their research focus? Are they still seeing patients? What’s their specialty? Recent publications?Katie Lang (@kaflang)
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
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 Schmitt (@landyschmitt)
Shadow genetic counselors in several specialties and find out what they like best and least about their position.Danielle Bonadies (@dcBonadies)
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 (@EllenMatloff)
Genetic counselors, do you have advice to add? Tweet us @mygenecounsel so we can include your words of wisdom!