Category Archives: applying

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

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

maps & genes

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.

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Today is the day!

Today marks the start of the decision period for Genetic Counseling programs and GC applicants.  We all wish you the best of luck today and throughout the remainder of the week!

Hope things are going smoothly– or at the very least you are taking steps to stay sane through this process.  Here are three last words of wisdom for you all:

1. Do not give up on your dreams.

Will get in

2. Take time from your day to do something fun.  Take a break– go to dinner– get some ice cream– anything to take your mind off a crazy day ((or to CELEBRATE a crazy day)).

3. Make the best decision for YOU.  Only you know how you truly feel– follow your gut instincts.

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3 things professional 20 somethings should be doing ((by Sarah)).

For all you new or prospective GCs out there… Here are a few tidbits I am ((slowly)) learning about professional life…

My Must Haves:

1. A well-curated LinkedIn.

From professional networking to finding future jobs– you should get a LinkedIn stat if you do not currently have one.  And– keep it up to date! You never know who may see it! ((I have had several companies email me about potential jobs via LinkedIn too!))

2. A proper email AND twitter.

A proper email may seem obvious– but is important to note.  By proper email– think a professional email account free of any hobbies/interests/etc ((ie. “cheer_girl_fo_life@” or “girl_crazy_soccer_stud@” require an upgrad)).  Likely stick with some form of your name.

Now a professional twitter is something I have been thoroughly enjoying//had not thought about much before.  I now have GC friends who I primarily if not exclusively know via twitter.  It is an amazing way to keep up with new occurrences in your field as well.  ((Always be thinking about networking!))

3. Keep that CV updated. ((And references list!))

Whenever you do something new– update that CV right away so you are never caught unprepared.  This also goes for those young professionals who are already employed– you never know when someone may ask for a copy!  ((Thanks to my NSGC mentor for this tip!))

When thinking professional references– build a diverse list of 3-5 complete with emails, phone numbers, and work addresses.

Best of luck!

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Reader Question: Advocacy Work! ((by Sarah))

A delightful reader wrote to us, asking about advocacy work.  What it is, how to find it, and what types to do.  Thanks for the great question!

What it is.  According to NSGC, “Advocacy experiences are an important aspect of the application. Advocacy experiences usually allow the applicant to obtain training in interpersonal and communication skills as well as providing an opportunity to work with the public and people in a one-to-one setting.”
Examples would be volunteering at a rape crisis center or phone crisis line, at planned parenthood or a pregnancy center, at a free medical clinic (like a volunteers in medicine program), at a women’s shelter, or at a shelter or program developed to help people who are in poverty, disabled, or who have chronic disease, etc.  Places are always in need of volunteers and community support.
Experiences teach you many life lessons about how to work well with others while fostering communication skills.  Any experience volunteering in a health care setting would likely help in the application process.  Even jobs helping file medical records or volunteering as a patient scheduler would be beneficial.  ((granted I am not involved with who is accepted…. these are just things I or my classmates have done along the way!))
Where to find it. Try organizations in your local community, look to the yellow pages, local hospitals, and university voluntary service organizations.  The psychology department at my college had a outreach program and course for students interested in the medical field.
Do I need it? I believe programs require or strongly recommend some sort of advocacy.  This is because, as a GC, you need to know how to relate and advocate for the health and well being of the patients you see. Plus- it is always good to give back to the community where you live!

POLL: What blog topics would interest you?

The mission of our blog is to cater to prospective GC students or those who are passionate about genetic counseling.  So we would love to hear what topics you all are interested in!  After all– it is all about our readers and promoting the rapidly growing genetic counseling field!

Getting Into A GC Program: A Follow Up ((By Melissa))

Maps & Genes received a personal email from a prospective GC applicant in response to the latest post of “Getting Into A GC Program:  10 Things TO DO!” by Sarah.  The prospective student was currently an undergraduate in her sophomore year.  Her main question was “how hard is it to get into a GC program?” with her concerns centered around GPA/GRE weighting and shadowing/gaining experience related to an acceptance rate that did not seem too favorable.  Another concern she addressed was where to find a site that ranked the genetic counseling programs.  As she is definitely not the only one to have these questions, we wanted to make our response available for all to read.

First, I’d like to start off by thanking you so much for your interest in the blog… you are our target audience!  It’s even better to hear your thoughts and questions that come to mind as you are considering genetic counseling.
In terms of your main question of “how hard is it to get into a program?”…it seems as though you have been doing great research on programs.  It sounds as though genetic counseling is something you are strongly considering, and I would encourage you to continue in this pursuit.  Although we cannot give you exact answers or know exactly what programs will be looking for during admissions, we can give you advice on how to best prepare yourself to be a good candidate!  Our latest blog post talks about it in detail, but I wanted to address your comments and tailor the advice specifically to your concerns!
I think that the fact that you are just a sophomore gives you a great advantage and a jump start on getting involved.  It is true that the GPA and GRE averages are not ridiculous, but they are competitive enough to let the program know that you are capable of performing well academically.  With the vast number of applications received, it seems as though these concrete values are factored into the “weeding out” process.  What is refreshing to see and what sort of embodies the role of a future genetic counselor would be involvement in extracurriculars related to the field while still maintaining a good academic standing.
The reason I use the word “extracurriculars” is because there are students in genetic counseling programs who never got the opportunity to shadow a genetic counselor prior to applying.  The importance of this aspect just lies within the fact that you know what it means to be a genetic counselor and what it entails.  One of the only guarantees I can tell you is that during the interview process you will have to answer the question “why do you want to be a genetic counselor?”. Should you choose to pursue volunteering at a crisis center or somewhere else, you can take the opportunity to demonstrate how you will use your experiences and apply them in the genetic counseling session.
Lastly, there is no site that ranks genetic counseling programs.  All programs are excellent training and education opportunities for future genetic counselors, and the programs differ more so on geographic location and character than X being better than Y.  When choosing where to apply, it is a very personal decision and you should determine what factors are the most important to you, whether it be staying close to home, finances, curriculum focus, etc.
Sorry for the length, but I hope this gave you some of the answers you were looking for!  Again, you are young in your undergrad and it is great to see that genetic counseling is an interest of yours, so please do not be discouraged by this “low” acceptance rate…just make some contacts to get involved and keep up your grades!  Please let us know if you have any more questions!
And thanks for reading 🙂
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Getting into a GC Program: 10 things TO DO! ((by Sarah))

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!

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3 Things They Don’t Tell You About Becoming a Genetic Counselor ((by Sarah))

1.  You will never go anywhere… ever again… without thinking multiple people have some sort of genetic condition.  It is sad but so true.  That tall skinny man in front of you in the grocery store undoubtably has Marfan syndrome while the baby you pass in the parking lot clearly is macrocephalic.  (or having a head size two standard deviations above the mean, or average, for his size)

Macrocephaly

 Even gas stations are not safe.  I drove by this one the other day!  Does this make anyone else think Long QT syndrome?

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2.  You get overly excited whenever you discover a new genetics-related website or app.  And no, your significant other/parents do not want to hear how excited you are about your new pregnancy wheel app.    Here are a few of my favorite new discoveries!

–  CyDasA tool for drawing karyograms/ideograms.  If there is a patient with multiple duplications, deletions, or translocations and you always wished you knew what it looked like/how big the genetic changes were… then this is the site for you!  I am a big proponent of visual aids so this was an amazing site for me to utilize.  Great for making visual aids for patients! (Note: With some finesse, you can move the X chromosome down next to the Y)  Below is their example.

Karyogram

 46,y,-7,+8,t(9;22)(q341;q112),i(17)(q10),+der(22)t(9;22) 

–  Next Gx DxWe like to call this the Kayak of genetic testing.  It is a user-friendly resource to determine labs offering specific genetic tests along with their costs, specifications, and shipping details.  However, we had found a few errors regarding test cost in the past.  When in doubt, just be grateful GeneTests is back!  This is always a good place to start if you are unsure where to find genetic testing availability and information.

 –  The Pregnancy Wheel App by Duprey Net – A must for anyone in the prenatal world.  Much to my dismay it is not free.  While it only cost a whopping $0.99, I still just hate purchasing apps. This one was worth every cent since it did not lose the “pregnancy wheel” feel.

 IMG_3013

CFTR2 — If you are curious about any kind of Cystic Fibrosis mutation or you have a patient with a mutation that is unusual – This is the place for you to go!  There are over 1,800 different mutations in the CFTR gene known thus far.  Therefore, this is a site to bookmark for future use!  There is also another, similar website out of Canada called the Cystic Fibrosis Mutation Database that has excellent visuals of the CFTR gene and mutation information.  The mutation data from this website has now been combined with the CFTR2 site.  Therefore, if you are looking for a more, “one-stop shopping” experience, CFTR2 is for you!

CFTR

The DNA Exchange If you are enjoying this blog and want to read more postings from other genetic counselors or genetics professionals, take a look at this blog!  Especially if you are curious and wish to know more about hot topics in the genetic counseling field.

3.    You will likely have to explain what your career is over and over again to everyone you come into contact with.  I absolutely love my profession so I don’t mind this too much.  I walk around spreading the word about genetic counseling just about everyday.  You will also come up with a few, easy to explain examples to tell people about when they ask “exactly what will you do??”  However, the Angelina Jolie Effect definitely created more awareness for our field.  ((Even though we all will not be working with women at risk for cancer… Angelina Jolie surely had an impact in the genetics field)).  I will admit though, some days having one simple word like “nurse” to describe my career would be easier!

There are also so many misconceptions still out there.  No, we are NOT making “designer babies” or telling people how to create a perfect human race.  Unfortunately, people who think these things clearly have little understanding of what GCs do and how we work to support patients to make educated, autonomous decisions.  Often what people may say sounds a bit more like a mix between a history book from several decades ago and a sci-fi novel than what I will be doing at my 9-5 job.  This is just one of those things you will face as you enter the field of genetics from any angle.

This is a new, rapidly changing field that is truly on the cutting edge so it is understandable that not everyone knows what it is that GCs do.  More and more, people are starting to know what genetic counselors are, which is both hopeful and exciting.  This is ((one of the many reasons)) why the future is looking so bright for GCs!  And to many of our readers… you too could be/will be apart of this exciting field!

Career and Passion

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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