#87 Genetic Counseling Grad School Apps (Part 1)

#87 Genetic Counseling Grad School Apps (Part 1)

A panel of four incoming genetic counseling graduate schools discuss the application process. This is part one of two podcast episodes, we discuss how to gather the experience to have a competitive application. Early next year (2019) we will also release a follow up episode focusing on the second part of the application process: interviews, ranking and matching.

We surveyed over 50 incoming genetic counseling students (enrolling Fall 2018) who went through the last application process, which was also the first time the Match System was used. Their feedback has been summarized below. We hope prospective and applying students find this summary and episode helpful! 

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The Genetic Counseling Incoming Student Panel

Kira Dineen hosts and produces DNA Today: A Genetics Podcast (and radio show), which was founded in 2012 and features over 85 episodes interviewing genetic counselors, patient advocates and other genetic experts. The show was nominated in the 2015 and 2016 Podcast Awards. She is the Communications Lead at My Gene Counsel, a digital genetic counseling company. Kira is also a member of National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Digital Ambassador Program (aka #NSGCGenePool). She received her Bachelor's of Science degree in Diagnostic Genetic Sciences with a concentration in Cytogenetics at the University of Connecticut. Kira is excited to be in Sarah Lawrence College’s Genetic Counseling Class of 2020.

Brynna Nguyenton will be a first year genetic counseling student at The Keck Graduate Institute. She earned her BS in Biology with a minor in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience from San Diego State University in 2016. Brynna’s professional interests include accessible healthcare, neuropsychiatric and cancer genetics, and promoting scientific literacy and education in the community. She is also the lead staff contributor of the genetic counseling blog, Maps and Genes. Outside of genetic counseling, she enjoys thrift shopping, traveling and trying new foods, and spending time outdoors with her Husky/Shepherd puppy, Kenobi. Check her out on Twitter

Katie Church is a member of the 2020 Genetic Counseling class from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. Originally from Colorado, in 2017 she graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Biology with minors in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Throughout undergrad she spent time volunteering with adaptive recreation and a domestic violence hotline, helping with research, shadowing various genetic counselors, and staying active in her sorority. Post graduation she worked as a research assistant in a fly genetics lab and a high school cheer coach.

Brianna Van den Adel was born and raised in the small northern town of Kitimat, B.C., Canada. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Psychology at The University of Northern British Columbia in 2017. With her recent acceptance into the Master of Genetic Counseling program at The University of British Columbia, she looks forward to completing her degree and working towards introducing the field of genetic counseling to Prince George, and serving the northern communities of British Columbia.

On This Episode We Discuss:

  • Overall Application Timeline

  • Cost of our Application Processes

  • Preparation for Applications & Helpful Resources

  • Prerequisites, Extracurricular Activities & Recommended Experiences

  • Finding Genetic Counselors to Shadow

  • Writing the Personal Statements

  • Letters of Recommendation: How Many to Request & Who To Ask

  • Differences Applying as an International Student (Outside US)

  • Deciding Schools: Features to Focus on & Number to Apply to

Want to learn more about genetic counseling? I have an entire category of podcast episodes dedicated to the field here, you can also scroll through episodes until one piques your interest. Hearing from patient advocates, in these episodes, is also a great way to gain understanding for the patient perspective and how genetic counselor have (or could have) helped in their journeys. 

Stay tuned for the next episode of DNA Today on August 17th. New episodes are released on the first and third Fridays of the month. The follow up episode where we discuss the interview, ranking, and matching part of the application process will be released early 2019 (we promise, before interviews start). In the mean time, see what else I am up to on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and iTunes.

Questions/inquiries about the application process for the four of us can be sent to info@DNApodcast.com. Interested in getting in contact with a current student at a specific school? Shoot us an email and we will work our networks to try and connect you!

Advice for the Genetic Counseling Graduate School Application Process

To expand our advice, we reached out to fellow incoming genetic counseling students. Here is a summary of over 50 students' words of wisdom for prospective and applying genetic counseling students.

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Currently, in August 2018, there are 43 accredited programs (here is the full list from The Accreditation Council of Genetic Counseling) in Canada and the United States. Incoming students from 28 of these schools took part in our survey. It’s also worth noting that 6 more schools are a candidate for accreditation or have submitted “Letter of Intent” to start a new program, these are located at the end of the ACGC list hyperlinked above.

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National Matching Services Inc provided their own statistics for this first year of the North American genetic counseling programs using their service. There were 1328 total applicants who registered in the Match, which is reflective of how many students applied to programs. Out of these 1328 applicants, 557 withdrew or did not submit ranks, which means these students did not receive any interviews or opted out of the application process at this stage. The remaining 771 applicants were invited to interview(s). Finally, 402 of these 771 students were matched with a program, which is 52% of students who were offered interview(s). Therefore 31% of students who applied to a genetic counseling program were matched with one. Based on the 57 students who completed our survey, a large percentage of students matched with their first rank. This is displayed in the bar graphs above.

How did you connect with a genetic counselor(s) to job shadow?

What activities/experiences did you do to enhance your application?

  • Genetic Counseling Internship/Assistant

  • Interview and Shadow Genetic Counselors

  • Laboratory Experience (pathology, cytogenetics, molecular genetics etc.)

  • Tutor/Teacher Assistant

  • Crisis Hotline and Counseling (HIV/AIDS, Shelters, Clinics)

  • Camp Counselor for Kids with Special Needs (Hole In The Wall Gang Camp & Camp Erin etc.)

  • Conferences and Genetics Events (NSGC Prospective Students Symposium)

  • Genetic Counseling Open Houses at Grad Programs

  • Science Honor Societies in College

  • Volunteer

  • Disability Communities

    • Rare Disease Community (NORD and Undiagnosed Disease Network)

    • ASL/Deaf Community

How did you decide which schools to include in your applications? Which features were important to you?

  • Location

  • Class Size

  • Program Focus

  • Cost (Tuition and Living)

  • Rotations (Sites, When Begin, Subspecialties)

  • Financial Aid Tracks

  • Supplemental Activities

  • Reputation and Legacy

  • Faculty and Staff

  • Prerequisites

  • Curriculum

  • Board Passing Rate

  • Diversity of Patient Population

  • Alumni Network (How Large and Where They Work)

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The scatterplot above shows how many schools applicants applied to, along with how many interview invitations they received. Results varied with some students receiving interviews from all the schools they applied to, while others received only one interview despite applying to many schools. The respondents to the survey all matched with a program, so this data is not reflective of students who did not match. 

How did you prepare for your interview day?

  • Re-read Application Materials

  • Practiced Potential Interview Questions

  • Mock Interviews (Career Services, Friend, Boss)

  • Relax and Sleep

  • Review Feedback from Previous Year(s)

  • Review Uniqueness of Program

  • Prepare Questions to Ask

  • Research on Genetic Counseling Topics

  • Advice from Past/Current Students, Professors, Genetic Counselors, Mentors etc.

  • List Key Points and Elevator Pitch

What factors did you use to assess programs when ranking? What was your top reason for your number one choice?

  • Location

  • Program Gut Instinct

  • Cost (Tuition and Living)

  • Unique Extracurricular Opportunities (LEND, Double Masters, Accelerated Program, etc.)

  • Connection with Faculty and Students

  • Rotations (Specialties, Starting)

  • Research Opportunities

  • Program Curriculum Structure Fits Applicant’s Learning Style

  • Class Size

What was the cost of your application process?

Note: Some respondents included their GRE and travel expenses, while others did not.

  • Mean: 1341

  • Median: 1000

  • Maximum: >3000

  • Minimum: 100

If you are an international student, what was different about your process?

  • Some programs required US citizenship

  • Only US requires GRE

  • English language requirement

  • Difficult to rank US and Canadian schools together

If you are a second-time applicant, how was the application process different, now that it is a match system?

  • Match process was less stressful (1 email vs. 3 days of calls)

  • Match process was more in favor of the applicant

  • Confusion learning with match process

  • Harder to rank programs because did not know where programs ranked you

  • Consider ranking well before match day

Did you find any resources helpful when applying?

Any other advice to future applicants?

  • Don’t give up and stay positive, it’s a competitive field and there are many qualified applicants

  • Be yourself, programs want to get to know who you are

  • Ask for feedback, if you didn’t get in, contact programs to see what you can improve on and work on it

  • Shadow or intern as much as you can, expose yourself to genetic counseling and know what the field is about

  • Take up advocacy and volunteer experiences you’re passionate about, show your passions and how they connect to genetic counseling

  • Get to know fellow applicants, great support system

  • Rank programs honestly, National Matching Services favors applicant’s rankings

  • Cold email everywhere find a genetic counselor(s) to shadow, intern or interview

  • Know who you’re interviewing with, do your research

  • Create an interesting personal statement, keep revising and have others look over it

  • Comfortable and professional interview outfit

  • Find out what makes you unique and be able to communicate it

  • Apply to as many schools as you can to increase your chances

  • Reach out to programs and ask questions before applying

  • Self-care

  • Mock interviews

  • Be a genetic counselor assistant if possible

  • Start applications early

  • Trust the process

Thank yous.....

  • All the incoming genetic counseling students who took the time to fill out the survey to share their advice.

  • Ellen Matloff, Gabrielle, and Hebbah who helped design the survey.

  • My guests for this podcast episode: Brynna Nguyenton, Katie Church, and Brianna Van den Adel.

  • Another shoutout to Brynna for helping me to summarize all the survey information into this blog post.

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