How to Become a Genetic Counselor

How to Become a Genetic Counselor

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

Aspiring genetic counselors must complete master's degree in a science-intensive field, such as a premed program, chemistry, biology, or biochemistry.

These programs provides students with the scientific and mathematical knowledge necessary for success.

The preparation timeline below provides an example premed curriculum:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Biology I
  • General Biology II
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Pre-Calculus
  • Calculus I
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Microbial Diversity
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Biochemistry I & Lab
  • Biochemistry II & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Psychology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Public Speaking
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Developmental Biology
  • Chemistry & Cancer
  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Pathenogenic Bacteriology & Immunology
  • Capstone
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

2. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)

In order to be accepted into a graduate program, students must pass the Graduate Requisite Examination (GRE) with a sufficient score to be accepted into the school they're interested in.

The GRE is a 6-section, 4-hour comprehensive exam that is broken down as following:

Section Section Breakdown
1 Analytical Writing Section
  • 2 writing assignments
  • 60 minutes
  • Tests student's abilities to assess arguments and communicate ideas.
2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections
  • 20 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes per section
  • Tests student's abilities to solve mathematical problems and interpret data.
2 Verbal Reasoning Sections
  • 20 questions per section
  • 30 minutes per section
  • Tests the ability to understand and analyze written material
1 Unscored Section
  • A duplicate of one of the above sections

3. Earn a Master's Degree (2 Years)

Completing a master's degree in genetic counseling at a properly accredited university is essential. Topics of study include molecular genetics, cytogenetics, ethics, counseling, and both clinical and population genetics.

Candidates should ensure that all courses and programs have Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) accreditation.

Search for Accredited Genetic Counseling Programs

The preparation timeline below provides an example graduate genetic counseling curriculum:

Year Courses
  • Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling I
  • Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling II
  • Embryology, Teratology, and Prenatal Genetics
  • Clinical Applications in Human Genetics
  • Counseling Techniques and Helping Relationships
  • Genetic Counseling Fieldwork
  • Genetic Diagnosis and Laboratory Methods
  • Clinical Genetics
  • Social, Cultural, and Ethical Issues in Genetics Genetic Counseling Seminar
  • Cancer Genetic Counseling
  • Genetic Counseling Fieldwork
  • Advanced Genetic Counseling
  • Metabolic Genetics
  • Advanced Risk Assessment • Advanced Topics in Medical Genetics Genetic Counseling Seminar

4. Earn the Certification (Optional)

Once the counselor earns a degree, the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) offers an exam which confirms the student as a certified genetic counselor.

Becoming certified is not a requirement to enter the field but does typically lead to more opportunities and an edge in the hiring process. However, a certification speaks to the individual's authority and trustworthiness on the subject, so earning one is highly advisable. 5

5. Earn the Required License

Many states require counselors to become licensed before beginning to practice. Genetic counselors should check their state and local registration.