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What Qualifications Do I Need to Be a Genetics Counselor?

Genetics counseling is becoming more sought after as increasing numbers of people decide to delve into their ancestry and find out more about their particular health risks. Genetic counselors work with people to help them understand their genetic health risks more fully. They may work with individuals or entire families. Counselors do a variety of things for their clients, such as helping them put together an accurate genetic pedigree, providing them with information on genetic conditions they may have or may carry a marker for that they could pass on to their children, pointing them to reliable testing laboratories, and assisting them in understanding what next steps to take if their genetic testing comes back with any concerning news. If you are interested in entering this exciting and in-demand field, here are the qualifications you'll need to become a genetics counselor.

Choose an Appropriate Undergraduate Major in College

There are no undergraduate genetic counseling majors yet. However, certain majors will prepare you for entry into graduate school as a genetic counseling major better than others. Graduate programs want people with strong science and psychology backgrounds. Biology is an excellent major for anyone looking to pursue this career path. Chemistry is good, too. However, science isn't the only way into this career. An undergraduate major in psychology, social work, or even nursing will also provide you with the prerequisites you need to enter the field. Majoring in one area and minoring in the other is a strong plan.

How to Increase Your Chances of Acceptance into a Graduate Program

Graduate programs in genetic counseling are very competitive. Class sizes range from 4 to 25 students, though most programs get over 100 applicants each year. You'll need a minimum of a 3.0 undergraduate GPA just to apply. You'll also need to meet each program's specific entrance requirements, which vary from school to school. Check with the admissions counselor at the graduate school of your choice to make sure you've met all the requirements for admission to the program.

Make Yourself Stand Out as a Candidate for a Genetics Counseling Graduate Program

Because these programs are so competitive, you need to make yourself stand out as much as possible from the other applicants. Do things like volunteering at genetic counseling facilities or get an internship at one as an undergraduate. If you can't get in at a genetic counseling facility, try for a related field like a psychological counseling organization or even a biology lab. If you can speak a second language fluently, you'll be much more desirable as a graduate candidate as well, because genetics counselors work with people of many nationalities.

You have to obtain a Master's Degree in Genetic Counseling in order to become a counselor. The degree must be from an ACGC accredited program. Once you've obtained your Master's degree in Genetic Counseling, you can take your state's certification exam. Once you pass the exam, you will be a Certified Genetic Counselor and on your way to a rewarding career.

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