Genetic Counseling

What is Genetic Counseling?

Genetic counselors help people “. . . understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.” The process of genetic counseling “. . . integrates the following: interpretation of family and medical histories to assess the chance of disease occurrence or recurrence; education about inheritance, testing, management, prevention, resources and research; counseling to promote informed choices and adaptation to the risk or condition.” (National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Definition Task Force, 2006.)

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. Many genetic counselors are actively involved in teaching and research. The profession is growing rapidly with the number of certified genetic counselors increasing over 400 % since 1992. Read more details about the scope of practice here. 

Want to See What Genetic Counseling Looks Like?

Gaining Experiences

Preparing Academically

Genetic Counseling programs are competitive with a minimum 3.0 GPA requirement. Progam prerequisites vary by school.

  • Biology (one year)
  • Chemistry (one year)
  • Biochemistry (one semester or one quarter)
  • Genetics (one semester or one quarter)
  • Psychology (one semester or one quarter)
  • Statistics (one semester or one quarter)
  • Organic Chemistry (one semester or one quarter)

Additional courses that may strengthen your academic record may include:

  • Human development
  • Ethics/Bioethics
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Embryology
  • Epidemiology
  • Calculus

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

Applying to Genetic Counseling Programs

Students who wish to pursue a Master's degree in Genetic Counseling may get an undergraduate degree in a major of their interest, then apply to a graduate program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.

In addition to a Bachelor's degree with a competitive GPA, you will need the following:

  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
  • TOEFL Examination for international students.
  • Transcripts from all the undergraduate and graduate institutions you attended.
  • Letters of recommendation (average three) from faculty, employers, and supervisors/mentors of volunteer & support services experience.
  • Personal statement.
  • Advocacy experience volunteering as a counselor (e.g., crisis counseling, bereavement counseling) or working with individuals who have a genetic conditions or disability.
  • Intern/volunteer/shadow and speak to a genetic counselor to show you have explored the field and are familiar with the profession.
  • Research and/or laboratory experience can also strengthen your application.

Average GRE Scores for Applicants/Matriculants

Avg GRE for Genetic Counseling

Supplemental content

National Society of Genetic Counselors

The NSGC is your go-to place when considering a career as a genetic counselor. To learn more about a career in genetic counseling such as work settings, primary roles, specialty roles, salary, and benefits check out this helpful guide.

Register for the GRE

The GRE is not a course-dependent test, meaning there are not specific UCD courses you need to take to prepare. The best way is to give yourself time to study the test by buying to 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.