Genetic Counseling

There are many pieces to the genetic counseling application, including your GPA, GRE score, personal statement, list of experiences, letters of recommendation, and biographical information. Use the navigation below to explore each aspect of preparing for genetic counseling programs.

What is a genetic counselor?

What is a genetic counselor?

  • Genetic counselors help people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. 
  • Genetic counselors are employed in many settings such as medical centers, physician offices, health maintenance organizations, advocacy organizations, governmental agencies, public health departments and biotechnology companies.
  • Those in clinical practice provide education and counseling in areas including reproductive genetics, infertility and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, pediatric genetics, newborn screening follow-up, cancer genetics, neurogenetics, and cardiovascular genetics. 
  • Read more details about the scope of practice here.

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Becoming a genetic counselor

  1. Obtain an undergraduate degree (4 years)
  2. Earn a master's degree at an accredited program
  3. Get certified/licensed by The American Board of Genetic Counselors

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Academic Preparation

Myth: If I'm going to get a C- in a class, I should intentionally get a D or F in that class in order to retake it for a better grade.

Fact: Do not fail a class on purpose in order to retake it for a better grade. Even though the lower grade will not be included in your UC Davis GPA, it will remain on your transcript and most centralized applications will count that first grade into your application GPA.

Additionally, the health profession schools will still see it. It is better to have a C- in the course and improve through other courses in the same discipline than to take a D or F.

Most health professional schools require all prerequisites to be completed with a C or higher. Although you cannot repeat the C- at UC Davis, you will need to repeat it somewhere else either over a summer or after graduation.

If you need to discuss this or any other academic difficulty futher, please make an appointment with a staff advisor. 

Genetic Counseling Prerequisites at UC Davis

Most schools require:

  • Biology (BIS 2ABC)

  • Chemistry (CHE 2ABC)

  • Biochemistry (BIS 102/103 or 105)

  • Genetics

  • Psychology (PCS 1)

  • Statistics (STA 13 or 100)

Some schools require:

  • Human development

  • Organic Chemistry (CHE 8AB or 118ABC)

  • Ethics/Bioethics

  • Interpersonal Communication

  • Abnormal Psychology

  • Physiology

  • Medical Terminology

  • Embryology

  • Social Science & Humanities

  • Epidemiology

  • Calculus

  • Human Anatomy

Note: The above courses are only suggested, not absolute. 

See the Genetic Counseling Prerequisite Chart for a sample list of genetic counseling programs and their requirements.

  • You can choose any major and apply to schools. If you choose a non-science major, you still have to take the science prerequisites required by schools. 
  • HPA recommends that students maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, although many schools will have GPA averages above this minimum.
  • Each school has different prerequisites. Check each school's prerequisites before applying. 

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The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) is...

  • available on a continuous basis throughout the year. Register for the GRE here.
  • includes three sections:
    • Verbal Reasoning
    • Quantitative Reasoning
    • Analytical Writing
  • $160 each time you take it.
  • The GRE is not a course-dependent test, meaning there are no specific UCD courses you need to take to prepare. The best way is to give yourself time to study the test by buying test prep books or taking a test prep course.
  • Whatever you do, do not take the test without preparing! Click here to register for the GRE.

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Experiences

Myth: I can do a lot of meaningful experiences to make up for a weaker GPA.

Fact:  Having many meaningful activities will NOT make up for a low GPA.

You must focus on your grades during your undergraduate years, earn at least a 3.0, and then begin adding experiences. You can always take a year or two off after graduation to gain more experience. It is better to graduate from UC Davis with a higher GPA and less experiences than lots of experiences but a low GPA. 

  • It is important to intern/volunteer/shadow and speak to a genetic counselor to show you have explored the field and have a clear understanding of the profession.
  • Meaningful experiences toward genetic counseling can come from a variety of settings. Programs put a high value on "one-on-one" experiences that include strong advocacy and support services and the development of interpersonal relationships. Programs generally recommend the following areas:
    • Peer counseling/Resident advisor
    • Crisis/Suicide hotline
    • Domestic violence shelter
    • Pregnancy/Family planning center
    • Social worker
    • Homeless shelter
    • Disability support services

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Applying to Genetic Counseling Programs

Personal Statement

Your personal statement should describe your reason for applying to the program, your research interests, future career plans, and other aspects of your background that will aid the review committee in their evaluations. Length requirement varies by program; check each program to which you wish to apply.

Some questions to consider when writing your personal statement (from CSU Stanislaus):

  • How did you decide to become a genetic counselor? Of the various aspects of genetic counseling, discuss those that particularly interest you.

  • What is it about you, in terms of personality, work history, family, and life experience that would assist you to become a genetic counselor?

  • Which personal assets would facilitate—and which might hinder—your effectiveness as a genetic counselor?

  • What experiences have you had with chronic illnesses or genetic diseases and what impact did these have on your life?

  • What other things should we know about you to assist us in evaluating your application

Letters of Recommendation
  • An average of three letters of recommendation is generally required by genetic counseling programs. Letters should come from professors, employers, and/or supervisors/mentors that know you well and can provide evidence of your academic abilities, maturity, and interpersonal skills. Letters are generally submitted online or sent directly to the program.
Interviews
  • Invitations for interviews are sent after all application materials have been reviewed. Qualified students will be contacted with an invitation for an interview with program faculty.
Choosing Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long do GRE scores last for genetic counseling programs?

Most programs require that scores are less than five years old.

What degrees do accepted applicants hold?

Most applicants possess a bachelor’s degree in the biological sciences, genetics or psychology; however, any major is acceptable.

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