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Office of Pre-Health Advising

Pre-Genetic Counseling

What Does a Genetic Counselor Do?

Genetic counseling is a clinical profession which helps people to make decisions about how genetic conditions might affect patients and their relatives. Genetic counselors have to understand the science of genetics and the related diseases, but also have to be able to sensitively have difficult conversations with patients about testing, risk, probabilities, and ethics. Common specializations include cardiology, neurology, oncology, pediatrics, preconception, and prenatal, with new specialties added as the science of genetics advances

The Path to Becoming a Genetic Counselor

First, a Bachelor's Degree

To become a genetic counselor, you must first complete a bachelor's degree. This is a separate step, requiring that you choose a major and complete general education requirements. This is different from the system in many other countries, in which health care professionals are on a professional track from the moment they graduate high school. The U.S. system values applicants who have gained a broad education, and who have successfully committed themselves to in-depth study of some particular topic, whether biology or history or music. The point is to show your ability to learn and excel, rather than to complete a narrow preparation for a specific profession.

You must also complete specific prerequisite courses.

Genetic counseling schools also like you to have experience in some form of crisis counseling, such as volunteering with a mental health, sexaul abuse, or suicide prevention hotline.They also want you to be familiar with the profession of genetic counseling, ideally by having shadowd a genetic counselor.

After you receive your bachelor's, you will go on to a graduate program in genetic counseling to receive a master's degree in genetic counseling.

To Gap or Not to Gap

A "gap year" is a year between completing your undergraduate degree and beginning veterinary school. Taking a gap year has the following benefits:

  • Allows more time to gain experience
  • Usually results in a higher science G.P.A. at time of application
  • Full-time work during the gap year can allow money to be saved for use during genetic counseling school
  • Provides a break from schooling!

If you are not taking a gap year, you need to start the process of appling to a genetic counseling program during the fall semester of your senior year.

If you are taking a gap year, you will apply the fall after graduation.

The Application Process

The application process to a genetic counseling program begins roughly a year before you plan to enter genetic counseling school.

At some point in your junior or senior years of college, or early in the summer after graduation, you should consider taking the GRE General Test. This test is similar to the SAT, in that it tests basic mathematical, verbal, and writing skills. It does not test the science topics you learn in the prerequisite courses, so you can take it before all your prerequisites are complete. Not all genetic counseling schools require it, so depending on where you plan to apply you may not need it. On the other hands, if your grades are borderline, it can provide a method of demonstrating that you're ready for graduate school even if a given master's program does not require it.

The October after your senior year (if taking a gap year) or of your senior year year (if not), you will apply through the National Matching Services, a centralized admissions system.

After you apply to the NMS, you will also need to complete anindividual application for each school you are interested in.

Once your applications are in, you will (hopefully!) be invited to some schools for interviews. Interviews typically take place in February or March.

After interviews, you will rank which schools you are most interest in, and they will rank you. In April, a computer will match applicants to schools based on those rankings, and ytou will (again, hopefully!) get to find out where you will be attending.

Prerequisite Courses

Regardless of your major, there are certain courses you must complete in order to gain admission to most genetic counseling schools. These requirements vary considerably from school to school, so it's a good idea to check the particular requirements of schools you are considering appling to well before graduation.

Below is a list of some of the more commonly required prerequisite courses. For more detailed information, contact the pre-health program director.

Required by Nearly all Genetic Counseling Programs:

Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
Gen. Bio. 1 BIO 166  
Gen. Bio. 2 BIO 167  
Genetics BIO 238 BIO 166 + BIO 167
Statistics Multiple courses fulfill  

Required by Most Genetic Counseling Programs:

Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
General Psychology PSY 166  
Gen. Chem. 1 CHE 166 MAT 171 or MAT 172 is corequisite
Biochemistry Multiple courses fulfill  

 Required by Some Genetic Counseling Programs:

Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
Gen. Chem. 2 CHE 168 + 169 Gen. Chem. 1
Organic Chem. 1 CHE 232 + 233 Gen. Chem. 2