What Pre-Genetic Counseling Students Want Master’s Programs to Know!

A shadowing, GRE, and money tell-all –– inspired by conversation with fellow pre-genetic counseling students.

I’ve applied to enough jobs and scholarships to have had the humbling experience of writing within a word count. While in the past I’ve struggled to advocate for myself in a few words, today I’ve decided to word-vomit the truth –– a Pre-Genetic Counseling Tell-All, if you will –– covering the struggles of gaining shadowing experience, the monstrosity that is the GRE, and more!

Genetic Counseling Master’s Programs, I’m talking to YOU!

Money, money, MONEY

Applying and attending graduate school is EXPENSIVE (and you can’t deny it). The average pre-genetic counseling student spends a little over $1,000 to participate in a single year’s application process with some students spending upwards of $3,000. With students averaging 5-6 applications a year, the cost of fees and traveling for interviews can add up.

As you and your universities push towards diversity and inclusion, you have to admit that the costs of even applying puts applicants of lower socioeconomic status at a severe disadvantage. Does it really have to be this way?

Get rid of the MONSTROSITY that is the GRE requirement

Help your future students and wave the GRE good riddance! This standardized test creates a plethora of issues for undergraduate students including having time to study, funds to offset the cost, and the resources to take it online due to COVID-19. Not to mention the overwhelming fear that these tests do not accurately represent a student’s ability to perform well in their future profession.

Removing the GRE requirement would open the door for applicants who struggle to afford the application process (remember the convo we just had?) and would give students more time to participate in activities that are important to their professional development (think shadowing and advocacy experience!!!)

Though the GRE creates problems for students outside of genetic counseling, you can be the first to take initiative in removing this requirement.

Speaking of “shadowing” and “advocacy” experience…

…please show mercy to those who may not have a full resume. Gaining LIVE “shadowing experience” from a certified genetic counselor can be time consuming and even impossible. “Advocacy experience” can also be a major time commitment as it often includes regularly volunteering for call centers or working with those with disabilities.

From finding contacts, emailing strangers, setting up interviews, meetings, and a full volunteering schedule –– gaining these experiences is a privilege available to very few. While we’re also studying, working, and participating in organizations, do not be surprised if applicants who want to gain “shadowing” and “advocacy” experience turn in a resume with one but not the other.

Let’s be real. Do interviews NEED to be in-person?

This year, the rise of COVID-19 has been closely followed by the rise of telecommuting and virtually-hosted meetings. Many genetic counseling programs are prepared to offer virtual interviews to this year’s applicants, but as students we wonder why you are not offering virtual interviews all the time?

Among the many other time commitments and financial obligations undergraduate students face when applying to graduate school, flying around the country for in-person interviews is a mind-boggling additive.

Some programs are sensitive to those who cannot afford tickets or to take off work, but students are still afraid to request an exception because of the fear that they will be looked down upon by not visiting in-person.

No Brainer Alert: You should tell us about financial opportunities

Many students make their graduate school decisions solely based on the availability of TA/PA positions, scholarships, or financial aid. While many schools don’t offer these benefits (which is a problem of its own), TONS of schools simply do not disclose opportunities to applicants until interviews. Utilizing this approach is extremely disheartening for applicants as the insane tuition rates likely prevent them from applying to your programs in the first place.

Many regular open-house-attendees have heard program directors address financial questions with “we hope you would choose to attend our program regardless [of scholarships]” as if money is no object, or with “we offer a few scholarships to our top ranked students” as if any of us truly understand what “top ranked” means.

Without full transparency of how many students could receive financial opportunities, your applicants are likely to look for a more financially responsible education elsewhere.

Take our GPAs with a grain of salt

We’ve all heard that students are not defined by their GPA, but if you want applicants who will make successful future genetic counselors, you need to EMBRACE that idea.

Reading applications with word count requirements, you never truly understand an applicant’s work schedule, quality of teachers,  mental health, or other unaccounted circumstances. Admissions committees rarely get to see that part of an applicant because sometimes there is simply no way to explain it.

In a COVID-19 world, we especially ask that you look at other parts of our resume, where you will find information about our work ethic, responsibilities, leadership skills, and more. There you will find information much more important to our future success than if we got a AB versus a C in Organic Chemistry.

Most of us are afraid we’re too late to the party

Many students who discover the field “later in life” fear they are expected to become super-applicants in a short amount of time. When it comes to advocacy, shadowing, GPA, GRE scores, and leadership roles, gaining experience can be really overwhelming to a student learning about genetic counseling as a junior or even sophomore in college.

It’s discouraging for us to be unsure if students who knew they wanted to be a genetic counselor in high school are at a greater advantage of getting in. With very few resources available from programs to help gain these experiences, and with VERY LITTLE information about the EXACT AMOUNT of shadowing, advocacy, or research experience programs expect us to have, some of us are a little lost. 

And that brings us to the kicker –– when do you want us to apply?

Not only do we worry about the basic application requirements  –– advocacy, shadowing, GPA, GRE scores, leadership roles, research –– recently, more programs are expecting applicants to have “life experience”. Some programs value taking a gap year and prefer applicants who have been out of college for a while but often don’t disclose this (shocker), wasting our application fee and time. If you want us to apply at a certain time, DISCLOSE IT.

Let’s talk about COVID-19. Again.

Though the concerns stated above are very much real, we take solace in knowing that COVID-19 may be evening out the playing field –– but is it really? As students, we see programs temporarily taking off the GRE requirement and temporarily halting in-person interviews, but do you truly understand the ways COVID-19 has affected our experience?

Shadowing experience in a clinic is non-existent, and call centers are FULL to the brim with volunteers with no where else to turn. Many of us are out of work, living in unusual circumstances, and dealing with mental and physical health issues as a side effect. 

We see fellow students struggling with the same issues, but we know the competation will still be tough. We’re pushing ourselves to find filler-opportunities, and may be working past our breaking points just to “catch up” to truly impossible standards. We ask that you keep this in mind when judging applicants this year.

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