Genetic Counselor

Genetic Counselors (GCs) are healthcare professionals who work with people that have been diagnosed with an inheritable condition or may be at a higher risk of developing an inheritable condition. GCs are trained in both medical genetics and psychological counseling and work with individuals, their families, and other medical providers. They assess patients’ risk of disease based on their personal and family history, determine the genetic testing that may be appropriate for them, and interpret and communicate the results of that testing. Most GCs specialize in one area of genetics. The most common specialties are prenatal, pediatric, and cancer genetics.

Job Settings

GCs work in a wide variety of settings. Many work directly with patients, doctors, and other GCs in hospitals and clinics. Others do research, teach at colleges and universities, or work for medical diagnostic laboratories that provide and interpret genetic testing. Most GCs work full-time in the same location with a regular Monday through Friday schedule. Some GCs, however, travel between clinics or work from home using telehealth software.

Daily Responsibilities

The average workday for a clinical GC may include meeting with patients, collecting patients’ family histories, evaluating patients’ risk of genetic disease, writing medical records, consulting with other health professionals, receiving test results and explaining them to patients, communicating with insurance companies, and researching genetic diseases with which they may be unfamiliar.

Important Skills

GCs must have both a strong scientific background and strong interpersonal skills. They should be passionate about bettering the public’s understanding of genetics and advocating for people with genetic diseases and other disabilities. They must also have very strong communication skills, as GCs must be able to effectively communicate with both other medical professionals and with patients, who may lack knowledge of genetics or have an emotional reaction to a diagnosis that they or a family member have just received.


The mean annual salary of a GC in the United States is $89,710, and half make between $74,060 and $103,700. Salary varies by location, from $83,640 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to $93,950 in the New York area to $133,640 in the San Francisco area.1

Job Outlook

Genetic counseling is a rapidly expanding field and is projected to grow 21 percent between 2019 and 2029. This growth rate is about twice that of other medical professions, and far above the average growth rate of all occupations. However, genetic counseling is a small field, so this growth represents the addition of only about 600 new jobs.2

Pros and Cons


  • Rewarding: Many GCs find it rewarding to help patients and their families
  • Work-life balance: Most clinical GCs work 40 hours per week, have a standard Monday through Friday schedule, and never have to be on call
  • Quickly developing:  The fields of medical genetics and genomics are constantly making exciting new discoveries
  • Great job outlook: Many graduate students have a job lined up before they graduate


  • Competitive: Admission to graduate school is competitive. Only about 50% of those participating in the Match (see below) receive an offer from a graduate program3
  • Employer location: Most employers are located in urban areas, so moving for a job is common
  • Emotional difficulty: Working with patients, and especially those with incurable diseases, can be emotionally taxing

Career Paths

All aspiring GCs must have a bachelor's degree. A STEM degree is not required, but prerequisite courses in genetics, biochemistry, statistics, and psychology are often required. Some aspiring GCs choose to enter graduate school directly after getting their bachelor’s degree, while others take a gap year to gain experience or work in other professions for many years before deciding to go to graduate school. Eventually, all must complete a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). These programs are typically about two years long and full-time. They often include courses in human genetics and psychological counseling, clinical rotations in different specialties, and independent research projects. Once their graduate degree is complete, most GCs elect to take a certification exam from the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) in order to become a Certified Genetic Counselor (CGC). Many states require certification and licensure to practice as a GC.

Preparing for Graduate School

Genetic counseling graduate programs differ in their requirements, but most require applicants to complete prerequisite undergraduate courses in biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, psychology, and statistics. Some programs may require additional prerequisite courses. Most programs require a strong undergraduate GPA, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Many programs also require applicants to submit Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores. Prospective applicants should spend a significant amount of time shadowing and speaking to practicing GCs, and specifically those with different specialties. Applicants should also have substantial advocacy and counseling experience, such as working or volunteering with hospice care, individuals with disabilities, crisis hotlines, domestic abuse shelters, or peer counseling programs. Graduate programs appreciate applicants with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Those interested in applying to programs should carefully research the schools that they are interested in attending and take note of their prerequisites, the GPAs and GRE scores of their accepted students, their application requirements and recommendations, and their application deadlines.

Application Requirements & Timeline

Genetic Counselor programs have different requirements and application timelines. To plan for your application, it's a good idea to put together a spreadsheet to track each school's requirements including prerequisite courses, entrance exam, letter of recommendation, observation hours, timeline, and any other requirements. A template spreadsheet can be found here: Genetic Counselor Application Requirements. Feel free to download and adapt to your purposes.

The Genetic Counseling Admissions Match is a service used to efficiently match applicants to graduate programs. The Match collects a ranked list of programs from each applicant and a ranked list of applicants from each program and then runs an algorithm to determine the best matches. Applicants must still apply individually to each program that they wish to rank. Applicants should carefully research the programs they rank because they may have different focuses and clinical rotations available. Some programs offer rotations at a connected academic medical center, while others may have more self-selected rotation options or focus more heavily on research. Most programs are small, with only single or low double digit graduating classes, so an individual’s fit into the program can greatly affect their experience. It is important that applicants carefully select how they rank programs in the Match because the Match’s result is binding. A general application timeline is shown below, but applicants should carefully check the deadlines for their application year and the programs they wish to apply to.


Pre-Application Take the GRE, write personal statement, request letters of recommendation, observe practicing GCs, gain counseling and advocacy experience
Mid-December before year of attendance Registration deadline for the Match
Mid-December to January Deadlines for all application materials to be submitted to programs
January to April Programs invite applicants to interview
Early to mid-April Applicants submit a ranked list of their preferred programs to the Match
Late April The binding results of the Match are released
Summer or Fall Programs begin




Financing Your Education

The total cost of genetic counseling graduate programs varies widely, from under $10,000 for in-state students at some public universities, to over $80,000 at some private universities. Many universities offer scholarships, financial aid, work study opportunities, loans, or other means by which students can reduce their financial burden. Additionally, state schools often offer lower tuition to in-state residents. Some prospective GCs choose to work and save money before applying to graduate school, while others hold a part-time job while in graduate school. Prospective GCs should carefully consider their financial situation and the level of debt they are willing to accept when deciding which programs to apply to.

Specialties within Genetic Counseling

Most GCs specialize in one area of genetics. The most common specialties are prenatal, pediatric, and cancer genetics. Genetic counseling graduate students choose a specialty after their clinical rotations. Those specializing in prenatal genetics work with people who are pregnant or are planning to start a family to determine whether their child may have a higher risk of genetic disease. Those specializing in pediatric genetics work with children who may have a birth defect or a genetic abnormality that becomes evident in childhood. GCs specializing in cancer genetics work with people who have been diagnosed with cancer or have a family history of cancer. They may recommend that a patient be tested for cancer-causing genes, help them interpret their risk of cancer, and determine whether additional screening may be necessary.

Additional Resources