Guest Post: Applying and Interviewing Advice from the Trenches

Hello potential genetic counseling students!

My name’s Austin and I am currently a first year genetic counseling student. Olivia asked me to share some information and tips on the process of applying and interviewing at graduate programs, so I’ve spent the last few days trying to remember what was helpful to me during a process that feels like it occurred so long ago (time flies when you’re having fun, as they say).

The first thing to think about is where to apply. There aren’t an overwhelming number of programs, but some important things to consider and do some research on are: the program “character” or philosophy, the school itself, and the geographical location. It can be difficult to find a program that perfectly fits all three of these criteria, but there are usually quite a few that get close enough to consider. I would also encourage applicants to apply to at least three schools, even if you have a clear-cut front-runner that you are interested in. The interview process is a great way to get a better feel for the programs that weren’t necessarily your top choice, and extra interview practice never hurt anyone.

But before we get to interviews, there’s the fun and exciting application process. Different programs have different requirements, so it’s important to become familiar with what they are asking for, and I would say you can never start too early on these. This is your first impression to a school and you want to put your best foot forward, so make sure to be concise while still communicating what you want them to know about you. Most schools have a written autobiography portion of the application, and you really want to make sure to highlight things about yourself here that will set you apart from others and show that you will be a stellar genetic counselor (extracurricular or volunteer activities, participation in advocacy programs, etc.). I would strongly recommend having several people (preferably with excellent grammar and editing skills, or people who have previously applied to graduate school) take a look over your written materials and talk with them about any feedback they have for you. Don’t feel like you have to incorporate ever piece of feedback you get – these documents represent you and you want to feel comfortable with what you’re submitting.

 Next Step: the Interview! Each school has different qualities that they are specifically looking for that they feel would best fit their program and these factor into choosing who they want to meet in person. Interviews can be exciting and nerve-racking but I think it’s important to remember that not only are they interviewing you, but you are also interviewing them. Try not to be nervous (impossible task for most I know, myself included), but remember that these interviews mean that they like what they know about you so far and are looking to get to know more. Come prepared with background knowledge about the school and the program and be ready to ask any questions that you have – interviewers LOVE questions (I’d definitely put more emphasis on quality rather than quantity here).

My technique was to try to anticipate what kind of questions were going to be asked and run through mock interviews with friends. Some basics you can pretty much count on are:

  • Why do you want to be a genetic counselor?
  • What about this program interests you?
  • What are some characteristics that you have that you feel will make you a good genetic counselor?

There will of course be many more questions than those three, but I can’t spoil ALL of the fun for you. I find, from my own experience and talking with my classmates, if you have a good understanding of and have really thought through these three major questions, all of the other questions they throw at you will be much easier to answer. Interviews are also a great time to talk about your experiences shadowing a genetic counselor (which I think all programs require, but even if they don’t, should be something you’re doing). I think it shows that you have a clear understanding of how the profession operates, and that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Finally, what happens if you either don’t get an interview, or you don’t get in? It can be kind of disheartening, but it’s important to know that a lot of people need to apply to graduate programs more than once before they get accepted. Genetic counseling is a very competitive field, and there aren’t that many programs (and a lot of those programs only accept a handful of students). If you didn’t get an interview, I would suggest reaching out to the contact person (usually the program director) and letting them know that you are still very interested in genetic counseling and in their program, and ask what you can do to make your application stronger for next year.

The same goes for if you had an interview but didn’t get in – I would contact the interviewers (either by email or phone), thank them for the opportunity to meet with them, express that you are still very interested in their program and ask what you can work on to strengthen your application for the next cycle of admissions. This will show them that not only are you mature enough to accept rejection (which we all have to do at some point), but also that you are undeterred in your pursuit of genetic counseling as a career.

Well folks, it’s been great to have the opportunity to share what I have learned through the process of applying and interviewing to genetic counseling graduate programs with you. I hope you all find at least some of what I was able to pass on to be helpful.

Best of luck and keep your chin up!

Austin

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