The second stage of the genetic counseling graduate school application process is the interviews. Programs invite selected candidates to visit the campus and interview with the faculty. Remember: this is an interview for the program as much as it is for the applicant. In the Genetic Counseling Admissions Match program, which began in March 2018, applicants and programs confidentially rank each other and are then matched through an algorithm, much like the system used for medical students to match to residency programs.
Interview invitations are typically sent between late January and mid-March, with interviews scheduled until mid-April when the Rank Order List is due (April 14, 2021 to be exact). Results of the Match are released to applicants and programs on Match Results Day. This year that’s April 23, 2021!
To help applicants prepare for their interviews, we asked the genetic counseling community what advice they had for applicants. We also asked what factors genetic counselors considered when choosing a program, which students can utilize when ultimately ranking their own schools.
What was the most surprising question you were asked at your grad school interview?
I was asked to describe any genetic counseling session I had observed, including all of the features I could remember of a syndrome discussed. Great way to check if an applicant really paid attention during shadowing experience.Anna Victorine
I was asked if I’d felt neglected growing up as the sibling of a child with special medical needs. (My sister has CF.)…I was also asked by a male doctor why I wanted to be a genetic counselor and not a nurse. This one still bugs me. It’s reasonable to ask why this profession and not another, but why not assume I would have been a doctor instead of a genetic counselor?Miranda Hallquist (@MiraHallquist)
If my husband would come with me to a new city. (Oh, and I hadn’t specified the gender of my spouse.)…The best surprising-in-a-good-way was asking why I had studied Russian (I took a lot of courses in undergrad and my Russian professor wrote one of my recommendations). I got to talk about my passion for language and love of Russian lit.Leslie Ordal (@GenCounsNews)
I just remember a very strong, very negative reaction when I mentioned the movie GATTACA. So maybe leave that out of any commentary!…A male genetic counseling graduate I know was asked at a job interview by a male doctor why he didn’t want to go on to medical school. Somehow my student suspected that same question was not asked of the female applicants.Andrea Forman (@AForman_CGC)
Not something that should have been asked, but one interviewer asked me if I had an eating disorder. Apparently she wanted to see how I responded to conflict/uncomfortable questions.Rachel Bluebond (@racheldeyarmond)
Why were you working in a Blockbuster instead of in a lab? (I was the STORE MANAGER.)Tara Schmidlen (@TJSchmidlen)
I was asked by a male doctor why I didn’t apply to med school. My answer? ‘Because I want to be a genetic counselor, not a doctor.’Matt Tschirgi (@Matt_Tschirgi)
The interviewer pulled this TIME magazine cover out of a drawer and then asked ‘What do you think about this?’ Before I could answer, he oddly put the magazine back into the drawer as if he wasn’t supposed to show it to me. I still have no clue what that was about.Mitchell Dillon (@mdillonCGC)
What advice can you offer applicants in the interview stage?
Think about what unique experiences make you stand out and mention them. I was probably one of only a few applicants with a theater background, and I discussed how it helped me learn professionalism, memorization, how to work under stress, and public speaking skills!Anna Victorine
Biggest piece of advice for students going through the application process is to be patient and kind with yourself. It can be a stressful, frustrating year, and you are doing your best!Kennedy Borle (@kennedyborle)
I did not have traditional advocacy experience with a crisis center or hotline, so I worked to explain in my cover letter and interviews how being a peer mentor for other non-traditional students at @UWM fit the bill.Amy Donahue (@ultimatelibrarn)
Breathe and be yourself! It is your time to shine, so think about what you really want to leave a program with and how each program can help you get there! I fell in love with the city and the program itself because I wanted public health as part of my education.Natasha Berman (@nkrberman)
Be yourself, tell your story, show your heart, and ask a lot of questions. This is a place you might be spending the next two years of your life, and it’s the gateway to your career. Does the program excite you and make you feel supported? Does the community embrace the program?Maija Rannikko Trout (@_mai_ran)
Research THAT graduate program and the primary faculty ahead of time. Come up with five specific questions that apply only to that graduate program. Go into an interview with five things you want that program to know about YOU. This way, you’ll find a way to bring the conversation back to those five things, so that your conversations are meaningful and you are memorable. Write thank you emails that are non-generic and bring up points that are specific to your interview.Danielle Bonadies (@dbonadies)
I made sure I had a few topics memorized from published articles by the directors of the school I was interviewing at to draw upon in conversations. I wanted to show I cared about the school to research what they had done in the academic ring and to be a part of it going forwardKarl K. (@KarlK_)
Why did you choose the grad school you did?
I chose @slc_gc_grads because of the bigger class size and location. Advice to applicants would be to do your research, smile a lot, follow your heart, don’t compare yourself to other applicants, and remember everything will work out the way it’s supposed to!Anna Kolbuszewska (@GeneQueeen)
I chose @PittGCProgram because of its program design. Acting close to a full-time genetic counselor as a second year was helpful for the job transition!Samantha Wesoly (@swesolygc)
I chose Indiana University’s program based on its high patient volume for students, emphasis on the specialties that interested me most, and the program director who made me feel comfortable.Anna Victorine
I choose Wisconsin not only because of location, which is an important consideration, but because it felt like the best fit in everything from the director to rotations to public transit around campus (I don’t have a car) to financial aid.Amy Donahue (@ultimatelibrarn)
I chose @cwru genetic counseling program because it was home (although I only applied to programs close to home or in a city where I had family/support system), but I liked how summer and second year we were in clinic full-time and that we rotated through four different health systems.Rebekah Moore (@GeneticsRebekah)
Because I was in my mid-30s with a family, it was all about cost. That being said, I know I got a very high-quality education. I said yes to a scholarship, but it ended up being so much more than that.Matt Tschirgi (@Matt_Tschirgi)
Geography was most important to me, so I only applied to Wayne State, U of M, and U of Toronto. Only interviewed at two and only got one offer, so the choice was obvious, but happily, it was also my first choice (WSU)!Melissa Hicks
I’m Canadian and spots at schools in Canada are few and competition is worse than medical school, so I applied to US-based schools. I chose ones with informative up-to-date websites, larger class sizes, and a history of accepting Canadians and international students. I also narrowed down by location, wanting to stay relatively close to Toronto, where my family was and where I lived before school. Ultimately, I went to Northwestern in Chicago and really enjoyed it.Erica Pai
I had no idea that it was common to apply to multiple schools, so I only applied to two because they were geographically close. I was only accepted to one, so it made the decision easy! I was lucky that my only offer was from my top pick. Now, I encourage applicants to learn what makes each program unique and decide whether that fits with their goals and interests. For example, if they have a particular interest in lab counseling, be sure to apply to places that have lab rotations.Rachel Mills (@doublehelixTAT)
I chose my school because it was well-established, I loved the faculty I met, and I got the sense that I would be job-ready by graduation. On the flip-side, I turned down an acceptance from another school even though they offered a generous scholarship. It was because the current students said a lot of negative things about the program during my interviews.Kara Bui
Are you earlier in the application process? Check out our previous blog post, Advice for Applying to Genetic Counseling Programs, where genetic counselors, including program directors, share their words of wisdom on how to gain genetic counseling experience and put together a strong application.
Regardless of your application status, we suggest reading our Trailblazing Genetic Counselors series to learn about the leaders in our field. Also, check out our Genetic Counseling Twitter list of over 800 professionals in the field who are also active on Twitter.
And good luck on those interviews!