Guest Post: How to Get Into (and Thrive in) Genetic Counseling Graduate Programs ((By Sarah))

The following is a guest post by a First-Year in my (Jade) program.  We’re glad to hear from you, Sarah —  take it away:

 

Graduate School.  Sounded intimidating.  Sounded like something that would be impossible to get into and that would then consume my life.

Well, that is what I thought when I was going through the application process anyway.  After numerous applications (I applied to 8 schools) and interviews (I chose to interview at 4), I remember feeling like I would never get accepted.  And, after reading the student biographies some schools posted (including my own) I was CONVINCED I would not get in.   However, I made it, and I am so glad that I did.

 

So, how do you get in?  That is the question I am sure every student applying would love to have answered.  Here are 3 tips you might find helpful:

 

  1. Be Genuine.  It is important for you to be who you are.   And, you will be happier in your program if you are.  Every program has its differences and similarities.  You want a program that fits who you are.  I knew I wanted to be able to relate to people well, so a strong psychosocial aspect was key for me.  But it’s not for everyone and you will “feel that out” through the interview process.  And of course, make sure who you are is reflected in your application.

 

  1.  Dress the Part.  This may sound less-important, but allow me to explain.  Graduate schools want someone who is serious about being a Genetic Counselor, which is why it is crucial to demonstrate your professionalism through appearance.  First impressions are crucial, and your attire is part of that first impression.  So, dress professionally [blazer/jacket + skirt/dress pants].  Dressing the part makes you look like you really want a place in a program.  Also, I would recommend a portfolio, so you can take notes, or write down questions to review for yourself pre-interview.  This will also help your feel more prepared and organized.

 

dress

Sarah’s Interview Picks: Long skirt at least to the knee, shoes with low heels, simple bag and minimal jewelry, shirt with a non-revealing neckline, and a professional blazer.  Remember, if you wear a watch, do not keep peering down at it during your interview – you do not want to appear bored or uninterested!

 

3. Prepare a LOT OF QUESTIONS.  Nothing was more difficult than running out of questions to the question: What questions do you have for us?  Particularly since you’re trying not to ask every interviewer the same questions.  You need to get as much information as you can, so prepare a variety of questions that also reflect the specific program.

 

My favorite question:

How did you get into this profession?

 

Another helpful tip:

If you meet anyone you love, or really “hit it off” with while at an interview, GET HIS OR HER CONTACT INFO!  I am currently roommates with one of the girls I met, only once, at our interview.  She was able to remember my name and find me online.  And, of course, it is GREAT to know someone when you move 14 hours away from home to a strange place and find yourself having to make friends all over again!

 

Recommended Undergraduate Experiences: 

  1. Anything in a healthcare setting (including volunteer work!)
  2. Any laboratory experiences ( biology or psychology are very helpful)
  3. If available, consider taking these courses: developmental biology, embryology, any classes related to cancer, cell biology, and an array of psychology courses [in addition to your prerequisites… of course]

 

Best of luck in your application journey!

-Sarah

 

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22 thoughts on “Guest Post: How to Get Into (and Thrive in) Genetic Counseling Graduate Programs ((By Sarah))

  1. Nicole says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Thanks so much for this post! I am going to be a senior this fall in undergrad and like you, I feel like I have no chance at getting into a GC grad program based on how competitive schools are :/. It’s very overwhelming but I’m really working on preparing myself as best I can! I’m starting to figure out the application process this summer, and any more information you can share on here or with me would be absolutely fantastic. Thanks!

    • Jade says:

      Hi Nicole –
      This is Jade! Thanks so much for your comment; I just informed Sarah of your reply, in case she has any added doses of wisdom. We appreciate your feedback and will hopefully run more of these posts in the future. Best of luck to you, and PLEASE enjoy your senior year of college 🙂

  2. Hello Nicole-
    This is Sarah! Glad you found the post helpful & loved hearing your feedback. Try not to be intimidated… it seems more scary then it is! Schools are competitive, but once you start looking at the various applications you will get a better picture of things you need to do. First and foremost- enjoy your senior year! It goes by so quick (sorry I sound cliche) so enjoy your time! Then, I recommended some solid excel spreadsheets to keep track of deadlines/what schools need.

    Another thing that you may find helpful is making a quick list of what your think are your strengths and weakness (S&W). (and no two peoples S & Ws will look alike!) You don’t need to spend a lot of time on this, but it will give you a better idea of what you need to do to look better as an applicant. And, keep in mind interviews are important too!

    For example… If I did mine then it may have looked like:

    Weaknesses: GRE scores
    No formal shadowing experience
    Little experience with the GC field

    Strengths: Grades
    LOTS of activities/extracurriculars
    Laboratory + Work with children who have autism
    Non-profit medical clinic/advocacy

    Best of luck! And if you have any further questions please feel free to ask, or email Maps & Genes. I would be more then happy to keep in contact with you via email as well! (Jade will forward me messages if you would like!)

  3. Great post. It would be nice if you could expand on it and provide specific tips and advice on what a student should do in order to be enrolled, since this is quite a competitive degree. Thanks.

    • Thanks so much for the feedback! We loving receiving input. We will work on a follow-up article regarding what one would need to do before applying to programs + tips for those wanting to get into this field (with more specifics!). Please stay tuned! If you or anyone else has specific questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at mapsandgenes@gmail.com.

      #Sarah

  4. Renee says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’m in the process of researching different programs, and you’re right, it is a little overwhelming. But, I now know not to underestimate the importance of interpersonal skills.

  5. Karlena Lara-Otero says:

    Hi Sarah! Thank you for sharing this info. I am also in the application process for a couple of GC programs. I applied last year to one program but unfortunatelly I was not accepted. According to the feedback I received from the program director’s assistant was because I did not have counseling experiece and not enough exposure to the field. Also, my GRE scores are not that good either and eventhough I worked all summer to gain the experience they ask, I still wasn’t able to get better GRE scores. I was wondering, in your experience, how badly can GRE scores impact your overall qualifications? and how much importance admission committee gives to those scores?
    Thank you again for the helpful info.

    • Thanks so much for your response & questions! While I have never been on the application-review end of things ((I am still a GC student — so these are just my thoughts)), I would think that experience would help significantly. Plus, upon interview, it would give you some insightful experiences to talk about. However, I am sure that every program director places slightly more value on different application areas.

      I would think that an interviewer would want to see if you would make a good counselor. What better way then to talk about your experiences and thoughts on real counseling sessions/field exposure? This is also one of the best ways to make sure genetic counseling is truly the career for you. Plus– when in doubt– never doubt the power of a good interview! ((also, you may want to check out my latest maps & genes post!))

      Hope this helps & best of luck this year!

  6. Courtney Alix says:

    Hi Sarah!

    Thanks so much for the great information. I am really interested in genetic counseling and am currently applying to a few programs. I have great grades (3.9 GPA)/GRE scores, have been working as a research technician for the past 3 years, am volunteering with a women’s crisis center, and have shadowed two different genetic counselors while frequently attending talks pertaining to issues around genetic counseling on campus. I feel pretty confident I will land a few interviews and was wondering if you could shed a little more light on your interview experience. Particularly what kinds of questions would be best to prepare for and what you questions you found helpful when learning more about the programs through talking to the students. Thanks again!

    Courtney

    • Courtney-

      Thank you for the comments & questions! We love hearing from potential students. Sounds like you are well on your way to being a well-rounded candidate!

      In prepping for interviews, I went to the career center at my college and did a mock interview. This was really helpful to learn any bad habits or ticks you may have. (ie. saying “like” or “um” too much or playing with hair/jewelry) Typically, they will offer these for free.

      I also searched online for a list of interview questions. I wrote out responses to most of the questions, but you still want interviews to feel natural and not rehearsed. Try to be yourself, highlight skills that would make you a good counselor, and think of memorable examples.

      Some good questions to prep for would include:

      “Tell me about yourself” ***
      “What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses”
      “How did you know genetic counseling was the career for you” ***
      “Describe a time when you worked as a team member. What was your role?”
      “Describe a situation when you had to work with a difficult person. How did you handle the situation?” ***
      “Describe a time when you had to solve a problem/demonstrate coping skills/come to a quick decision.”
      “Tell me about your greatest accomplishment”
      “Is there anything you want me to know that we have not discussed yet today?” ***
      “What questions do you have for me?” ***
      “Tell me about ____ on your resume.” ***

      The ones with “***” are the ones that I know I was asked during interviews. Make sure to highlight communication skills and the ability to work well with others. Most of all— Be yourself!

      Prepare questions for the programs too. Ask about summer rotation options, if they do service learning, about board prep, about living in that program’s city, etc.

      Talk with the students a lot. You will want to fit in well with them since you may be seeing a lot of them the following school year. Ask why they picked the program, what stood out to them, or how they are liking the experiences they have had thus far. Each program will have a bit of a different feel. After interviews, write down your thoughts and some pros and cons about a program so that you remember the details.

      Best of Luck! Let us know if you have any further questions!
      Sarah

  7. Courtney says:

    Should I send thank you emails to the people I interviewed with? Not sure if this would come off as annoying to people who are so busy and have interviewed so many applicants! Thanks!

    • Courtney-

      Thanks for the great question! I think a thank-you can be a great way to show you are interested and also appreciative of your interview experience. I chatted with a few other GCs about this and concluded that:

      1. Hand written thank you notes ((sent via snail mail)) are still the best. This is more personal as well. You had to take time to get the notes, write the message, and mail it to the proper address.

      2. If it is time sensitive (ie. they would not receive the hand written thank-you note prior to making a decision) then email is appropriate. Keep it short and sweet. You may also want to mention something to trigger their memory about who you are… such as something unique that came up in conversation.

      Best of Luck!
      Sarah

  8. Emily Berenson says:

    I am about to start my senior year of college and am getting ready to start the admissions process to GC programs. I am so excited that I have found a field that I feel will be a perfect fit for me. I am however very concerned and nervous about not getting into any programs. I have worked at a summer camp for children with autism for 2 summers which has been great experience and I have also been doing chemistry research at my college with the same professor for over a year now. I am currently studying for the GRE and will also be shadowing a GC over the summer and while at school during the first semester. I will also be volunteering at a crisis hotline as well as an abortion clinic where we provide support and spend time with women going through such a difficult procedure. My one concern is my grades. My GPA is somewhat low (around a 3.0) and I am worried that this will be an issue. Do you have any tips on other ways to strengthen my application that I am not already doing? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • I would keep on studying for that GRE! Consider taking on endeavors that are academically strong (ie. the chemistry lab). Also– buckle down in school to bump up your grades. Keep in mind that you have done a lot of activities and had some excellent experiences as well– even though the GPA may be a weak spot you have additional strengths you can strive to highlight. One area of deficit will not ruin your chances. ((In my opinion)) Take time to do mock interviews and have as many people review your resume/cover letter as you can. Make sure all the strengths you do have have stand out the most! And best of luck!

  9. Kristen says:

    Hi Sara,

    Thank you for this post. It really inspired me and gave me things to focus on. I’m a junior at Virginia Tech, and very interested in genetic counseling. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by thinking of the pressure of not getting into a graduate program, and lately some of the GCs around the area, seem to be discouraging the program. I’m very excited about the profession and feel confident it is a career I would like to pursue. I appreciate you taking time to post this.

    I’m having a hard time shadowing. I live in a small, rural area. The closest genetic counselors are over two hours away, and I have one who has allowed me to shadow her. The others I have contacted and do not seem to welcome undergraduate students. Did you face this problem as an undergraduate? If so, how did you overcome this obstacle?

    Thank you!

    Sincerely,

    Kristen Fisher

    • I am very biased– but I think this is an amazing career path filled with numerous budding opportunities. Growth in the field seems to be increasing by the minute. For example– it seemed there were twice as many job postings this year at the Genetic Counseling Annual Conference (NSGC AEC). So try not to feel discouraged or overwhelmed. But the process it very overwhelming. Think positive!

      I did face this problem. I ended up driving 1-2 hours as well. (yay small town problems). So– going farther may be a good bet. The other thing I did was ask for informational interviews. Often, this is less stressful/less of a time commitment for busy counselors. Informational interviews were an excellent way to meet some counselors that do not see patients as well. To overcome this– I would sum it up in one word– persistence. Keep emailing. If shadowing is not an option, try the informational interview or just correspondence/a Q & A session via email only. I think I emailed over 12-14 counselors and ended up with two informational interviews. Try not to give up!

      Best of luck!

  10. Christina says:

    Hi Sarah!

    Thank you so much for your post! I’ve been surfing the internet for more information about getting into a genetic counseling program and I’m so glad I came across your post. After this winter, I will have two more semesters left until I graduate. I’ve just finished registering my classes for next semester, but I feel apprehensive about leaving some genetics classes for my final semester. Does it matter? It is better to take the classes that are more related to genetic counseling before next Fall so I will receive a grade for those classes or will it be ok to leave them until the end?

    Thank you!

    • Christina–

      Thanks for the question! In my opinion (granted i’ve never run admissions) it would depend on your current GPA to me and past work. How much rigorous academic work have you completed? And how did you preform in this rigorous academic work? It seems to come down to “preparedness for graduate school.” If you have done well in your hard classes– then it probably does not matter as much. However– if you were like me at your stage in school– doing not so great in chemistry classes– I wanted to “prove” I could handle hard academic work. So I did my genetics classes sooner and poured my heart and soul into those ((ie. If you cannot do well in upper level genetics then how will you do in graduate classes in genetics? If you get my drift)) Plus, I had a LOT of psychology classes and was lacking in the “hard science” realm. If you have preformed well on all the other “hard science” areas and have a pretty good GRE score– I would think the time at which you take genetics would matter less. However, if you could bump up at least one course in genetics or one more difficult science course to an earlier semester, I would try to do so! Hope this helps and best of luck!

  11. Reblogged this on maps & genes and commented:

    {Repost} Sharing our “most read” post again! Readers– Please look out for fresh blog post coming your way soon! And some exciting new contributing writers!

  12. M says:

    Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for posting this 🙂 I have a few interviews coming up- and I was wondering how I could go about preparing for them? I saw your previous post about some of the questions you were asked- is there anything else you can think of? Also- did you move away for the program? Right now I have two interviews that are out of Province- I’ll go anywhere because this is my dream job 🙂 But I’m a little nervous about picking up and leaving everything- especially since my husband wont be coming with me. Any advice would be appreciated 🙂

    Mel

  13. Niki says:

    Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for posting this article! I’m an international student. I have great grades, volunteer experience and I’m getting some shadowing experience during my senior year. I’m also confident that I’ll get good GRE scores. I’m very interested in GC but I’m worried that my undergrad syllabus may not cover enough advanced genetics topics. I’ve doing some reading on my own but I have no idea how well I’m preparing myself for a grad program academically. Any tips for international students?

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