Best Master’s in Genetic Counseling Programs

Best Master’s in Genetic Counseling Programs

| Staff Writers

Best Master’s in Genetic Counseling Programs
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These rankings of genetic counseling master’s programs highlight some features of the best genetic counseling schools. Genetic counselors assess and advise their clients about the likelihood of potential inherited conditions, such as cancer or diabetes, and their risks for passing genetic disorders and birth defects to their children.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), advances in medical testing and technology have increased opportunities in the profession. The BLS projects a 21% job growth rate between 2019 and 2029, and board-certified genetic counselors with degrees from accredited programs should experience the most robust job market.

Students in genetic counseling programs study developmental biology, epidemiology, psychology, and public health. The curriculum also includes supervised clinical rotations at cancer centers, hospitals, prenatal diagnostic centers, and other healthcare organizations. A master’s in genetic counseling degree usually takes 2-3 years to complete.

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Best Master's in Genetic Counseling Programs

  1. Northwestern University
    Location

    Evanston, IL

    Offered through Northwestern University's Center for Genetic Medicine, this master's in genetic counseling provides students with the foundational knowledge needed for careers in this evolving field. Northwestern began offering a genetic counseling degree in 1990. The school admits 20 students annually for this 18-month genetic counseling degree.

    Coursework covers topics in cancer and adult genetics, dysmorphology, psychosocial aspects of genetic counseling, and risk assessment and communication. Degree-seekers enroll in clinical practicums their first semester, which acts as an introduction to the advanced counseling techniques applied later in the program. As the degree culminates, students research and defend original thesis projects.

    Each prospective student must possess an undergraduate degree in a science-related field with a minimum 3.0 GPA, along with experience in topics like human genetics, psychology, and statistics. Applicants must also submit GRE scores. Enrollees can pursue tuition remission through work-study, funding for research, and scholarships.

  2. Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Johns Hopkins University (JHU) offers a master of science in genetic counseling through the department of health, behavior, and society while working closely with the National Human Genome Research Institute. With broad academic and career-centered resources, graduates provide effective genetic counseling while educating policymakers and healthcare providers about issues in the field.

    This 30-month, 80-credit master's in genetic counseling involves traditional coursework, clinical rotations, a thesis, and written examinations. Required courses include statistical methods in public health, practical genetic counseling, and intro to medical genetics. JHU mandates 400 hours of supervised clinical rotations beginning in the second quarter and continuing through degree completion

    As part of the degree-seeker's thesis, each enrollee presents a publishable, original work of research as the degree comes to a close. Each candidate must submit an online application, along with official transcripts, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement.

  3. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
    Location

    Houston, TX

    Founded in 1989, University of Texas's genetic counseling program admits approximately 40 students annually from a pool of about 200 applicants. This master's in genetic counseling is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and balances the scientific and psychosocial aspects of the field.

    The majority of coursework falls within the first year of study. Courses cover topics in cancer genetic counseling, prenatal genetic counseling, and psychosocial issues in genetic counseling. As the degree continues, enrollees focus on master's thesis research and clinical rotations in several different locations. As a degree-culminating project, graduate students propose and complete clinically focused research projects and written theses.

    A successful applicant typically possesses an undergraduate 3.5 GPA or better and GRE scores above the 50th percentile. The university also strongly recommends experience in client advocacy, volunteer experience, and some genetic counseling exposure. Undergraduate experience should be firmly rooted in science, psychology, and mathematics.

  4. Boston University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Offered through Boston University's school of graduate medical sciences, this master's in genetic counseling trains students through a combination of rigorous coursework and dynamic fieldwork. With a stated goal of graduating competent, motivated, and sensitive genetic counselors, this two-year program offers educational experiences in the heart of Boston.

    The first year of this genetic counseling master's program focuses primarily on coursework. Over the first two semesters, students explore professional issues in genetic counseling, prenatal genetics, and counseling techniques. The second year shifts to on-the-ground fieldwork and the development of a degree-culminating research capstone. The capstone project allows enrollees to synthesize theoretical ideas and practical skills while contributing publishable research to the field.

    Each candidate must complete an online application and provide official academic transcripts, GRE scores, a resume, three letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. Learners can pursue funding through financial aid, scholarships, and on-campus work, along with external scholarships and awards.

  5. Ohio State University-Main Campus
    Location

    Columbus, OH

    As a relatively new program, Ohio State University's genetic counseling program graduated its first class of master's candidates in 2016. With a stated mission of training knowledgeable and compassionate genetic counselors, students gain advanced knowledge in genomics, genetics, and psychosocial counseling through evidence-based practice.

    With the majority of coursework occurring in the first year of study, classes include foundations of genetics, genetic counseling, and medicine. Clinical practicums begin in the first semester and continue throughout the program. In the second semester, degree-seekers formulate and research potential topics for their master's thesis projects.

    The admissions department conducts interviews between January and April, considering each candidate through an application and an interview. Each applicant must possess a science-based undergraduate degree and some exposure to clinical/genetic counseling. The admissions department does not require GRE scores.

  6. Augustana University
    Location

    Sioux Falls, SD

    Augustana University's (AU) master's degree in genetic counseling is a 21-month, full-time program that integrates traditional classroom learning, hands-on experience, and clinical rotations. In the first year, students engage with coursework at the Sioux Falls campus. As the curriculum shifts towards practicum experience, half of the graduate students remain in South Dakota, while the other half can complete their degrees in San Diego, California.

    The core curriculum covers topics in communication and interviewing skills for the genetic counselor, genomics and business, and reproductive genetics. Spanning the majority of the degree, each student completes four practicums in genetic counseling. Learner responsibility progresses throughout the program as students develop their proficiency in clinical/research techniques.

    Those interested in the master's program at AU must possess a science-focused undergraduate degree, along with evidence of substantial coursework covering biology, chemistry, psychology, and statistics. Prior volunteer and professional experience within the field is also strongly recommended.

  7. Case Western Reserve University
    Location

    Cleveland, OH

    Housed within Case Western Reserve University's (CWRU) department of genetics and genome sciences, this genetic counseling master's program is bolstered by an internationally recognized reputation in the field. The two-year master's degree combines didactic coursework, clinical training, research experience, and laboratory exposure. CWRU prepares graduates to provide competent and compassionate genetic counseling firmly rooted in scientific practices.

    This 40-credit curriculum employs substantial coursework and research while requiring four eight-week clinical and laboratory rotations, along with a six-week summer clinical rotation. Course material includes genetic concepts, embryology, counseling principles, and ethical and professional issues in genetic counseling. As the degree concludes, graduate students present their original work during the program's research showcase.

    Those admitted into the genetic counseling master's program at CWRU can receive a yearly stipend through departmental funds. Students should contact the university's financial aid department for supplementary financial assistance.

  8. University of Maryland Baltimore
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling, University of Maryland, Baltimore, offers a full-time, two-year master's in genetic counseling. Directed at motivated students interested in becoming a part of a growing field in genetics, this program cultivates clinically oriented professionals working at the intersection of genetic science and its impact on families, individuals, and communities.

    The first year focuses on coursework, covering topics like human genetics, clinical genetics, and clinical cancer genetics. During this time, students engage in a yearlong research class while volunteering with support groups. Clinical rotations begin in the first year and continue throughout the program. The second year emphasizes these rotations, along with weekly seminars and workshops.

    Each candidate for this genetic counseling degree must complete an application and supply three letters of recommendation, undergraduate transcripts, GRE scores, and a personal essay. Applicants must possess crisis counseling experience, along with exposure to a genetic counselor or geneticist.

  9. Virginia Commonwealth University
    Location

    Richmond, VA

    Established in 1990, Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) genetic counseling program offers a full-time, campus-based master's program lasting 21 months. This 60-credit degree combines traditional coursework, hands-on clinical experience, and advanced research methods to prepare students for careers in this growing field. VCU graduates can secure certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

    Students enrolled in this master's degree in genetic counseling start their clinical training in their first semester, while also completing the majority of required coursework during the first year. Classes explore topics in intro to human genetics and techniques in genetic counseling. The latter half of the program dedicates itself to advanced clinical rotations and directed research.

    Interested applicants must possess one year of undergraduate study in biology, chemistry, and behavioral science, along with one semester of genetics, biochemistry, and statistics. Admitted students typically possess a GPA in the 3.3-3.5 range. Candidates must also submit GRE scores.

  10. University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    The genetic counseling program at the University of Pittsburgh provides students with a strong foundation in clinical counseling, coupled with state-of-the-art training in the science of genetics. This master's in genetic counseling is rooted in three end goals: an understanding of the psychosocial elements of counseling, expansive clinical experience, and scientific training in genomics and genetics. This genetics counseling program admits about a dozen students annually.

    Along with first-year coursework, learners engage in observational rotations, an online embryology module, and a human genetics seminar. Beginning in the summer between years one and two, degree-seekers begin a genetic counseling internship. During rotations, students gain exposure to clinics specializing in cardiovascular genetics, fetal diagnostics, and lysosomal storage disorders.

    As a capstone project, degree-seekers complete thesis projects that engage faculty across disciplines. Prerequisites include several science-based undergraduate classes, including biology, chemistry, statistics, and psychology. Each candidate must provide GRE scores and transcripts demonstrating a cumulative 3.0 undergraduate GPA.

Applying to a Master’s in Genetic Counseling Program

Applicants to genetic counseling master’s programs must hold a science-based bachelor’s degree, with a minimum 3.0-3.5 GPA and prior coursework in biology, chemistry, human genetics, psychology, and statistics. Other common requirements include transcripts, GRE scores, recommendation letters, resumes, and personal statements. Interviews may also be part of the admissions process.

Many programs prefer candidates with work or volunteer experience in client advocacy or counseling, along with exposure to genetic counseling.

The BLS reports that approximately half of U.S. states’ medical boards require licensing for genetic counselors. Other states have legislation pending that will require licensure in this emerging field. State boards that mandate licensure — along with many employers — require genetic counselors to be certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do genetic counselors work?

    Employers of genetic counseling degree-holders include hospitals, physicians’ offices, higher education, outpatient care centers, and medical and diagnostic laboratories. Some genetic counselors work in private practice. The states with the highest level of employment of genetic counselors include New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    The American Board of Genetic Counseling requires candidates for certification to earn their master’s degree in genetic counseling from an accredited program. Top programs, including those listed in this guide, hold program-specific accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling, which ensures high academic standards and career preparation.

  • Is an online master's in genetic counseling a good degree?

    A relatively small and evolving field, genetic counseling offers significant opportunities for growth. The median annual wage of $81,880 earned by genetic counselors outpaces salaries in other counseling fields. Additionally, a 2018 report prepared by the National Society of Genetic Counselors found that 91% of genetic counselors were satisfied with their jobs.

  • What can I do with a master's in genetic counseling?

    Graduates of genetic counseling schools with master’s degrees help clients understand their own risks and those of their children for developing diseases and conditions based on heredity. They assess clients and provide testing for cancers, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disease, among many others. Genetic counselors also work as researchers, educators, and policymakers.

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