How To Become A Genetic Counselor

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How Long Does It Take, What Degree Do You Need, and More

Genetic Counselors

Genetic Counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions, such as genetic disorders and birth defects. Provide information to other healthcare providers or to individuals and families concerned with the risk of inherited conditions. Advise individuals and families to support informed decisionmaking and coping methods for those at risk. May help conduct research related to genetic conditions or genetic counseling.

Becoming One
Very Hard
Master's degree
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Table of contents
  1. Summary
  2. Steps to become one
  3. Popular degree levels
  4. How long does it take


Degree Master's degree
Degree field Genetics and Genetic Counseling
License or certification Many states and most employers require Genetic Counselors to become certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
Duration to become one Six years
Difficulty to become one Very Hard

Aspiring Genetic Counselors typically need a Master’s degree to pursue this career. Genetic Counselors often earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Genetics and a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling.

Many states and most employers require Genetic Counselors to become certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

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Genetic Counselors Requirements

Step 1: Excel at Science in High School

The first step in becoming a Genetic Counselor is to explore the biological sciences. High school students should take science courses each year instead of stopping after meeting their state’s science requirements.

Most states require high school students to complete Biology and two additional science courses. After completing the required science credits, take the highest level of science available to enhance your college applications. You may complete Chemistry, Physics, or advanced placement (AP) science courses.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Before earning a degree in Genetic Counseling, you need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. When selecting a Bachelor’s program, ensure that it fulfills the entry requirements for your preferred Master’s program. You may need to complete specific coursework during your undergraduate studies.

Some Master’s programs require applicants to complete undergraduate courses in Biochemistry, Statistics, and Advanced Genetics. Most Master’s programs do not require a specific major. However, aspiring Genetic Counselors typically major in a biological science such as Genetics, Biology, or Biochemistry.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling

Becoming a board-certified Genetic Counselor requires you to earn a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling or Genetics. Most Masters of Science (MS) in Genetic Counseling programs are two years in length.

Master’s programs contain a combination of classroom learning, clinical internships, and fieldwork. Internships and fieldwork provide hands-on training in clinics and hospitals. You will interact with patients and assist with diagnosing genetic issues.

During an MS program for Genetic Counseling, students learn more about genetic testing, counseling techniques, ethics, prenatal genetics, and clinical genetics. You may also explore various specializations within the Genetic Counseling field. Subspecialty areas include cardiology, neurology, hematology, pediatrics, cancer, and obstetrics.

The Master’s program that you complete should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). There are about 40 ACGC-accredited programs in North America. If the program is not accredited, you may not qualify for board certification.

Step 4: Become a Board-Certified Genetic Counselor

About half of the states in the US require Genetic Counselors to become licensed. The licensing requirements vary but you typically need to obtain certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Even if your state does not require licensing, employers typically prefer to hire board-certified Genetic Counselors.

Becoming certified requires you to pass an exam. The exam is computer-based and administered at an approved testing center. You have four hours to complete 200 multiple choice questions, including 170 scored questions. You need to answer a minimum of 125 questions correctly to pass the exam.

Step 5: Apply for Genetic Counseling Positions

After earning your certification, start looking for Genetic Counseling positions. About 43% of Genetic Counselors typically work in hospitals. Other common employers include physician offices, medical labs, outpatient care centers, and universities.

Genetic Counseling is a relatively new field compared to other healthcare professions and is more in demand in certain regions. As of 2019, a total of 2600 Genetic Counselor jobs existed in the US.

If you cannot find employment in your home state, you may need to consider relocating. Some of the states with the highest employment opportunities for Genetic Counselors include Washington, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

Step 6: Continue Your Education

To maintain your Genetic Counseling certification, you need to complete certain continuing education requirements. The ABGC requires Genetic Counselors to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs) every five years. You may also take an exam as an alternative to completing CEUs.

Certified Genetic Counselors are called “Diplomates” by the ABGC. Each Diplomate is responsible for recertification within the allotted time frame. You must also maintain your contact information and keep current with the latest ABGC policies and regulations.

What degree do most Genetic Counselors have

Master’s degree

We did a survey to ask other Genetic Counselors what degree they had when they first became one. Here are the results.

Master’s degree

Less than a High School Diploma

High School Diploma

How long does it take

Six years

Becoming a Genetic Counselor requires about six years of college. You first need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, which often takes four years to complete, followed by a two-year Master’s program.

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