Prospective GC students, this one is for you! It is getting to be that time of year again… application season. We hope this may help! Also note—this is just from the prospective of a current GC student!
1. If you have not shadowed a genetic counselor yet… DO IT soon. The more shadowing the better. Also, shadowing in several different specialty areas is always a great idea if you can find counselors that have time to spare! If you do not know where to start to gain this experience… you can use the find a genetic counselor tool on the NSGC website. You can search by your zip code, and each counselor should have indicated on his or her listing if they welcome student contact or not. When I went through this process, I cold-emailed about 10-15 genetic counselors.
2. IF YOU CANNOT SHADOW… do an informational interview. I had two informational interviews that were really helpful on my road to becoming a GC. Programs need to see that you tried to get familiar with the field and that you understand as best as possible what it is that a GC does. That way, when asked, “so how did you know a career as a genetic counselor was a good fit for you?” you will have specific reasons why you are passionate about this field.
Truth be told… prior to graduate school I had never seen a genetic counseling session (gasp). This is rather unusual though, as I looked around at all other applicants and my current fellow classmates. While I did get asked about this in every interview, just having informational interviews does not make it impossible to get in. However, you should have strengths in a lot of other areas to make up for this!
3. STUDY for and take your GRE… soon! Likely many of you reading this have already taken the GRE. Make sure you actually studied and are happy with your scores. If you are wondering how you measure up… average GRE scores of people admitted to GC programs can be found on the NSGC website. My scores we somewhat below average ((Math is not my strong suit)), but my GPA was strong. If you have a weak GPA, getting good to excellent GRE scores will be important. You need to demonstrate that you are ready and able to do rigorous academic work!
4. Advocacy experience. This is something very important to add to your resume if you have not already done so. Work on a crisis hotline, volunteer you time in a shelter for battered or at risk women, or spend time with people who have special needs. Variety can be good, so try spending time assisting with a few different advocacy groups. I spent time working with children living in a home for women at risk or who were previously the victim of domestic abuse. Then, I spent several days a week working at a free health care clinic filing medical records and scheduling patients.
5. LABWORK…. yes, I understand many of us try were trying to get away from the traditional “lab” but the experience is still a great one. Particularly if you can work on anything related to genetics or with people who have special needs. Try biology, psychology, and neuroscience labs. This also can show that you have additional strengths academically.
6. Prioritize you resume. The coolest or most genetic counseling relevant things should be the first topics a reader comes to. Shadowing first, then informational interviews, advocacy work or research experience, etc. Showcase any skills you feel will make you a great genetic counselor. Also, be sure to highlight any academic achievements. Show off your smarts, so to say. I listed “relevant coursework” at the bottom of my resume to highlight my excellent performance in key classes like genetics, developmental biology, and organic chemistry. This may be something to consider. DO NOT list all classes you got an A in, but focus on the key courses. Not sure what courses are “relevant?” You may want to look on each of the GC programs’ websites or on the NSGC website at the coursework that is required or recommended for prospective students.
Try thinking, “what would a program like to see?” when prioritizing that resume or CV of yours. This is a time to be both formal and professional. For example, even though being in a sorority was a great experience, it does not prove that you can perform and excel academically, so putting it first may not be in your best interest. I had a great sorority experience myself, but I needed to highlight “Sarah: smart, academic, and professional,” so I listed it on the second page of my résumé under leadership experience. Also—keep it to two pages in length! I recommend meeting with career services on your campus to review your resume or CV. (Many also do mock interview sessions!) While you are doing this, gather up transcripts from all colleges that you have attended as well, even if it was just for one class.
7. That excel spreadsheet is your new BFF. Make an excel spreadsheet of the programs you are applying to, the deadlines for each, the requirements, contact information, etc. Over time, this sheet will evolve into more of a pros and cons list. They have a template excel spreadsheet you can use on the NSGC website. This will be vital. Keep it up to date as well… because you may think you will remember each program but it is hard to remember everything. For me, I remember ranking my schools by which ones I thought I would want to go to most. After my interviews, it was fascinating how much my list changed.
8. A word document is your other BFF. Make a document listing the programs you are applying to and key information on each. I complied my list from the website of each program. That way, you are ready when interview time comes around to ask some excellent questions.
9. Write that personal statement already. It may seem odd to write about yourself, but this can play a critical role in getting you an interview slot. Be creative and unique. Space is limited for interviews (and the number interviewed depends on the school), so make your statement!
10. Packets. This was something I did that my professors loved. I went to Wal-Mart and got 3 snap-closure plastic envelopes. I made one for each professor I asked to write letters of recommendation. In this packet, I wrote them a personal letter explaining why I chose them, what I learned from them, and why I was passionate about genetic counseling. Then, I added my résumé’ as well as a list of schools I was applying to with the details on where to send the letter for each. If it was to be sent by mail, I included an addressed and stamped envelope.
BONUS: That question everyone asks…. How many schools should I apply to? Well, it depends on where you want to go. I would say around 6? I applied to 8 and interviewed at 4, other people I know have applied anywhere from 2-4 to 10 schools! So it really depends on where you want to be and how much money you want to spend on applications, interviews, etc. Don’t overwhelm yourself but at the same time some schools may surprise you! I never expected to be living where I am today but I am loving every minute of it! (Well, until test time rolls around again anyway…)
Best of luck! & Please feel free to comment or email us with any questions!
& The video version from Canada!