What to Look for in a Genetic Counseling Program

Finding the right graduate school program is hard (ask anyone getting their masters or PhD!) But the struggle can be even greater for students looking to apply to an accredited genetic counseling program, all of which are highly distinguished and incredibly competitive. 

So how do you find the right program for you? 

There are many ways you can narrow down your favorite schools. Here I’ve included MY checklist for finding my dream school. And before you ask, I have NOT narrowed down my top schools…yet. It takes time to do research and to make such a big decision, but I hope you find this checklist as helpful as I do!


Even when applying to my undergraduate university, location was one of my greatest motivators. Having much younger twin brothers, I knew I wanted to stay close to home and am so lucky to have the University of Wisconsin just a short 20 minute drive away.

But my brothers have grown, and so have I. I’m ready to move away from Wisconsin and hope to find a grad school somewhere new and exciting. So wherever you want to live –– closer to home or farther away –– deciding location can drastically narrow down your list of options. Even deciding if you want to live in a big city versus a college town can cut your options by half.

However, be wary of narrowing your options TOO MUCH. If you decide you want to move to Colorado, but find living in Denver too expensive later on, you’ll be SOS when you discover the University of Colorado Denver is the only program within a 200 mile radius. This checklist is just starting and you’ll have many more opportunities to cut your options later.

Cost of Tuition and Living

If cost is not a factor in your graduate school decision, you’re very fortunate. However, the harsh reality for most applicants is that the cost of living and tuition can make or break their thoughts on a school. Most likely, the largest part of your research will fall under this category. You’ll need to look at the cost of rent, tuition, and travel to get to school, and you’ll hopefully find that your favorite school can offer scholarships, TA positions, or more. 

However, this part of the checklist is when you may need to make decisions based on where you are at this time of your life. You may decide that taking a gap year to earn money will help you better afford your dream school, or that waiting to move right before classes start versus a few months early will help you save a few thousand dollars on big-city rent. Whatever best fits your budget, know that there are a lot of factors to consider that could make your grad school experience not just financially feasible but financially responsible.

Program Focus

Another less-famous detail to keep in mind is if your favorite graduate school program has a specific focus. While all schools introduce most specialties of genetic counseling (prenatal, cancer, etc.), some programs offer dual curriculums or specialize in different areas of the field. 

For example, most schools offer the ability to complete  research, but if you’re interested in going into genetic counseling research specifically, completing your degree through the National Human Genome Research Institute at John Hopkins University may be the best option for you.

Or if you’re interested in policy or public health, the dual degrees in public health and genetic counseling offered by the University of Michigan or the University of Pittsburgh may be more your style. Luckily, if you don’t have a preference in program focus at this time, you’ll know you’re getting a great, comprehensive education no matter which accredited program you attend.


While location, cost, and program focus are most important to me, you may find that other factors are more influential in your decision making. Maybe you want a smaller or bigger cohort and are interested in researching the class size of each program. Or maybe you’re looking to gain certain skills from your rotations and want to know more about where and when programs offer them, and in what specialites. 

No matter who you are, it’s important to determine these deal-breakers and use them to your advantage to make the best graduate school decision for YOU.

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