Should I apply?
You're taking that first step. You've heard about genetic counseling, maybe in the news, maybe from a teacher or family member who has gone in for testing. And you're thinking to yourself "Maybe this is the career for me!"
And rightfully so! Genetic counselors have such a dynamic career in a field that is constantly changing as technological improvements are made. It is such an exciting time to be involved in the world of genetic counseling, but first it's important to know...
What is genetic counseling?
There are many resources available that help explain genetic counseling. The website for the National Society of Genetic Counselors provides a very comprehensive definition:
"Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. This process integrates:
- 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, 2005
This video provides an easy to understand view of the profession and breaks down the roles of a genetic counselor.
What is a Genetic Counselor?
Genetic counselors (GCs) help provide information to patients and families with genetic conditions and determine any risk to other family members or future generations. They assist patients through the decision-making process of genetic testing, supporting their choices.
A genetic counselor wears many different hats and can take on a variety of different roles. Below are just a few examples of what genetic counselors can be responsible for.
- Liaison between physicians and patients
- Detectives: analyzing pedigrees, searching for causative mutations
- Advocates: provide supports, fight for testing coverage
- Working in a variety of settings: research, clinical, laboratory
- Providing individualized care and support to patients
- Educators: public, patients, other health care professionals
"Genetic Counseling is a unique career that combines expertise in genetics with the ability to clearly and compassionately discuss genetic health issues with patients"
Sarah Lawrence College Class of 2016
Some clinical specialties include:
- Assisted Reproductive Technologies
- Metabolic Disorders
Just to name a few!
Not just clinical!
- Public Health
- Policy development
- Genetics Laboratories
And many more!
Where Do I Apply?
Sifting through the 34 accredited genetic counseling programs in North America can be daunting, especially if many programs seem similar. In getting to know each program more, you might find that there are some small and sometimes big differences! Some things that distinguish programs from one another can include:
- Location: Is it nearby health centers or other places where genetic counselors work? Is it easy to commute to? Will you enjoy living in the area for two years or more?
- Rotations: When do rotations begin (i.e. some program rotations begin the first week of class)? How many hours of clinical experience will you receive? Are there a variety of rotation sites to choose from? What specialties are they in?
- Program Length: How long is the program (generally 2 years)? Is there a part time option?
- Instructors: Who will be your instructors? Do the instructors stay the same for most classes? How many classes have guest speakers? How experienced are the instructors?
- Campus: What is the culture of the school this program belongs to? Is it part of a medical school? Is it a large campus or small one?
- Cost: Program costs can vary drastically. If a program requires you to move, how much is the cost of living in that city?
- What housing options are available? Don't forget to factor in costs for applications and flights to interviews.
- Your Interests: Critically think about what you are looking for in your training. Are you committed to a specific specialty? If so, does the program offer a rotation in it?
- Research: How much emphasis does the program put on research and completing a thesis/capstone, and how does that align with your interests in research?
Some of this information can be found online but not always. Check to see if the schools host information sessions - some may even allow you to sit in on a class to observe! You can get invaluable information by reaching out to the admins, faculty and current students.
Most students can’t – and don’t want to – apply to every school in country, so creating a list of spreadsheet of the positives and negatives of each program can be helpful in deciding which program you will choose to apply to. You can also use this to rank your favorite programs. A spreadsheet can also be useful to you throughout the interview process in tracking deadlines, whether application materials have been received, tracking interview dates, and making notes about interviews. You can find an example of one of these spreadsheets here, to give you some ideas of what to include.
How do I apply?
Applications can have many pieces to keep track of, so it's important to be organized and make sure that you are submitting a complete application that follows a program's requirements! Typically, applications will consist of:
- Transcripts from all schools attended
- Check to see if an official transcript is required. If so, make sure you order these early!
- GRE and/or TOEFL scores
- Reference letters, usually at least 2
- Make sure to give your references lots of time to complete a letter and instructions on where/how to submit
- Some letters are submitted online, others require mail delivery
- Curriculum vitae, or a structured form which lists your activities and experience
- Be sure to include the most relevant experiences at the top!
- Try to avoid including high school experiences (unless extremely relevant)
- Personal essay and/or statement of intent
- There are lots of writing resources online, such as Purdue University's writing lab
- Take advantage of any resources at your school if you can!
- Application fee
- Do you need to get a money order from the bank?
If you're applying to more than one program, make a spreadsheet or some other form of a checklist to help you stay organized. Breaking down the application pieces and setting deadlines can help make it feel less daunting.
Applications can be due as early as December for entry the following Fall! Give yourself plenty of time to finish an application and allot some time for proofreading (send it to your friends, mentors, supervisors, etc.). If you have to mail in your application, make sure you account for holiday delivery standards.
It's time to relax! You've submitted your application(s) and it's now out of your hands. Reward yourself for doing the best that you could - grad school applications are tough, and GC program applications are particularly demanding. Take this opportunity to practice self-care, which is an essential skill for all genetic counselors!
Preparing For the Interview
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
Congratulations on getting the interview!
You're probably very excited and a little overwhelmed at the same time, especially if you've got multiple interviews lined up. Deep breaths... you're one more step closer to becoming a GC! Here are some common questions during the planning process:
Where will I stay?
It's important to plan how you'll be traveling to the interviews and where you'll be staying. Ask your school where the hotels are nearby and if they have any discounts for students who are interviewing. Plan out ahead of time how you will get between your interview and where you plan on staying.
Some schools can even set you up to stay with a current student who lives in the area. It's a great way to save $$ and get to a better feel for the program. Airbnb is also a good option when you're on a budget (just make sure it's where you can get a good night's sleep). Plan ahead for possible travel delays! Interviews are February through April, and depending where and how far you need to travel, a spring snowstorm or other weather event can derail your travel plans. If it works in your budget and your schedule, it can make a world of difference for your stress levels if you have some breathing room in the event of travel delays or flight cancellations.
What do I wear?
When in doubt, go with business formal. Women usually wear a dress suit, pant suit, or dress pants with a blouse and cardigan. Men usually wear a full suit and tie or a nice blazer. Bring layers so that you can adjust as needed if your interview space is warmer or cooler than you expected. Wear what you feel comfortable in, and feel free to show your personality through fun colors and accessories etc. but remember, first impressions are important!
DURING THE INTERVIEW
Common Interview Questions:
Why do you want to become a genetic counselor?
Why do you want to attend this specific school?
Tell me about yourself!
Is there anything in your academic record you'd like to address?
What does a genetic counselor do?
How do your experiences make you an ideal genetic counseling student?
It is usually helpful to do a mock interview as it's different hearing your answers in your head versus out loud. Even talking through answers out loud by yourself can help you realize how it sounds when you answer a question.
Some programs may present you with a genetic counseling scenario and ask how you would react, or what the important considerations are.
- Be prepared for questions related to your personal statement, as interviewers may ask you to elaborate on themes or events that you’ve mentioned in it. If you wrote it many months ago, a quick read to refresh your memory may be in order!
Think of some questions to ask the interviewer at the end - it's a chance to make sure their program is a good fit for you!
Likewise, think of some questions to ask currents students as you'll likely meet some.
Take notes on your impressions throughout the day so you can refer to them later.
- Especially if you interview at multiple schools, this can be very helpful when Universal Acceptance Day arrives and your memory of the schools you visited has blurred together.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
You made it! Before you try to forget about it all...
Send out (email is fine) thank you notes to your program director(s) and/or interviewers, thanking them for the interview. There are many resources available online with tips for writing thank you notes following an interview if you feel unsure of what to write or how to format one. If you’re sending thank you notes or cards in the mail, consider bringing cards and stamps with you on the interview trip and dropping the card in the mail before you leave town, or writing the card on your trip home so that everything is fresh and the card arrives soon.
Check out some blogs of students who have gone through the interview process (such as this student-run blog).
- If you had ranked you favorite schools before the interview, look at it again. Has your ranking and opinions about the school changed since the interview? If you interviewed at more than one school and haven’t ranked them yet, decide how you would rank the programs in preparation for Universal Acceptance Day. It's good to do this early while you have the visit fresh in mind. This spreadsheet may be helpful in organizing your thoughts and decisions.
- Treat yourself! Interviews can be draining and wear you down, especially if you attend multiple interviews. Is there a landmark you can visit nearby before you leave town from your interview? Or, make sure to treat yourself when you get home. You deserve it.
As you wait for Universal Acceptance Day ( a day where offers are sent out across North American programs), remember to relax and practice self-care!
If you've received an offer on Universal Acceptance Day, congratulations! We hope our website contributed to your success! ;)
If you've been wait-listed, don't be discouraged!
- Unmatched applications that have been waitlisted, but not accepted to a program, can contact schools on this list to see if they have empty spots in their program after the acceptance deadline passes. Be prepared for an additional application process, as some of the schools may require you to submit application materials or attend an interview as part of this process.
- Make sure you contact program directors or admission directors at the schools you interviewed with to ask how you can improve your application for next year. This can be very helpful in planning how to be a stronger applicant for the next application cycle.
We are a group of diverse genetic counseling students from the Sarah Lawrence College human genetics program. We know that applying to grad school can be challenging because we've been through it. We'd like to help you navigate the process by offering personal experience and curated resources!
Designed By: Sam C., Michelle N. & Suvina T.