Best Genetic Counseling Programs

| Psychology.org Staff

Best Genetic Counseling Programs

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Thanks to the popularity of DNA testing services like 23andMe and growing interest in genealogy, demand for genetic counselors is on the rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of openings for genetic counselors could increase by 26% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

What to Look For in a Genetic Counseling Program

Genetic counselors typically spend a total of six years in higher education, which includes completing both a bachelor's and a master's degree.

Genetic counseling curricula comprises medical and molecular genetics, research, and psychology courses. Most master's degrees can be completed in two years of full-time study.

It can be difficult to determine which genetic counseling program is best for you. Consider the following factors when selecting a program.

The universally recognized accrediting body in the field of genetic counseling is the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). Verifying that your program holds current accreditation from this organization is essential if you live in a state that requires licensure for genetic counselors.

You should also investigate a program's track record in connecting students with clinical opportunities. The experiences you have outside the classroom can help you build your network, determine your specialty, and shape the direction of your career. Some states may even require clinical experiences to gain licensure.

Tuition for genetic counseling programs can range from $10,000 to more than $40,000 per year. The sticker price of some programs can be intimidating, but don't let it deter you if it meets your other requirements. You may be surprised at the financial aid available to you.

Federal loans are available by completing the FAFSA, but schools also offer scholarships, work studies opportunities, and teaching assistantships to help students finance their education. Make sure to research your financial aid options before deciding on a program.

Programs with low staff-to-student ratios, an indication of small class sizes, enable students to make personal connections with peers and professors. Having a solid professional network is important when looking for employment post-graduation.

Admission requirements vary, but most genetic counseling graduate programs require a bachelor's degree, academic transcripts, and completion of certain prerequisite courses. Many programs also require letters of recommendation, a personal statement or essay, and competition of the GRE or another standardized exam.

Practical Requirements

Requirements for genetic counselors vary by state. At present, not all states issue licenses in genetic counseling. But an increasing number are moving towards adopting board certification as a requirement. Even in states that don't offer licensure, most employers prefer to hire genetic counselors that are certified in the field.

Candidates who plan to pursue certification need a master's degree in genetic counseling accredited by the ACGC. Some states also require a certain amount of supervised hours, fulfilled by clinical experiences. Most states also require genetic counselors to complete a specific number of continuing education credits to maintain an active certification.

Career Relevance

Almost half of all genetic counselors work in hospitals, but they can also work in labs, health maintenance organizations, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.

The median salary of genetic counselors was $85,700 as of May 2020, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% earned less than $67,000, and the highest 10% earned more than $126,000. Those who worked in medical and diagnostic labs earned the highest median annual wage.

Genetic counselors often collaborate with dietitians, obstetricians, oncologists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients receive comprehensive information about their health.

Many genetic counselors specialize in a certain area, such as prenatal, pediatric, neurological, or cancer genetics.

Featured Online Programs

Best Genetic Counseling Programs

#1 Online College in California

University of California-Irvine

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 84%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UCI began its genetics counseling program in 1973. The UCI School of Medicine offers the MS in genetic counseling through the Department of Pediatrics. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and prepares enrollees for certification by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

The 89-quarter-unit program enrolls about 6-8 students annually. Full-time enrollees can complete the degree in two years. Coursework covers topics like cytogenetics, client screening, and hereditary cancer counseling. Students apply their skills during supervised clinical experiences.

Enrollees produce a publishable research thesis to culminate the degree. Students complete most classes and clinics at UCI's medical center in Orange and at local children's hospitals. Admission requires a bachelor's degree in psychology or the physical or natural sciences. The department requires GRE scores.

#2 Online College in Illinois

Northwestern University

School Information
Location Evanston, Illinois
Admission Rate 9%
Graduation Rate 94%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 2% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Northwestern enrolls 21,000 students on three campuses in Evanston and Chicago, Illinois. The Center for Genetic Medicine in Chicago offers the MS in genetic counseling. Students develop genetic counseling skills to practice in various clinical settings and specialties. The program's coursework, clinical experiences, and thesis prepare learners for the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification exam.

The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. Students can complete the degree in just 18 months. Enrollees study adult genetics, medical genetics, and the psychosocial aspects of genetic counseling. They use their knowledge of research methodology to complete a research thesis project.

Degree-seekers apply and integrate classroom lessons during clinical rotations that begin early in the program. Students discuss cases and counseling issues through a journal club that meets each term. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and prerequisite coursework. Prospective students need a minimum 3.0 GPA.

#3 Online College in Maryland

Johns Hopkins University

School Information
Location Baltimore, Maryland
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 93%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The nation's first research college, Johns Hopkins partners with the National Institutes of Health to offer the MS in genetic counseling. Students take classes on campus in Baltimore, Maryland, and can complete the full-time program in 2.5 years. Accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling, the program prepares students for the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification exam.

The program uses a psychotherapeutic counseling model that emphasizes clients' psychological and educational needs. Students complete 149 credits covering areas like human genetics, cancer genetics, and practical genetic counseling. Enrollees complete more than 600 hours of supervised clinical rotations in a variety of settings. 

Degree-seekers culminate one of the nation's best genetic counseling programs with a publishable thesis study. Accepted students typically receive a 30% tuition discount and a $10,000 scholarship. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, prerequisite coursework, and prior counseling experience.

#4 Online College in New York

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

School Information
Location New York, New York
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 3% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

New York City-based ISMMS is a global leader in medicine, scientific training, and biomedical research. The MS in genetic counseling program requires full-time enrollment and takes 21 months to complete. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. Students learn from faculty renowned for their expertise in diagnosing and treating genetic disorders. 

The curriculum covers topics like medical genetics; genetics counseling; and culture, illness, and community health. Students learn how to collect, analyze, and present research data. Enrollees study how to analyze human genome sequences, beginning with their own. Degree-seekers apply their learning during several clinical rotations.  

Students may receive financial assistance through fellowships, merit-based scholarships, and work-study opportunities to offset costs in this self-pay program. The program boasts a 100% placement rate for graduates seeking employment in the field. Applicants must first register with the genetic counseling admission match administered by the National Matching Services. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and prerequisite coursework.

#5 Online College in Massachusetts

Boston University

School Information
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Admission Rate 19%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

BU's Graduate Medical Sciences offers a 48-credit MS in genetic counseling. The full-time program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and takes two years to complete.

In their first year, enrollees study clinical genetics, cancer genetic counseling, and clinical applications. In year two, they focus on fieldwork and more advanced topics such as genetic counseling subspecialties. 

The program offers many clinical settings for fieldwork, including BU's medical school and teaching hospital. Over the summer, enrollees spend six weeks completing a full-time rotation at an external site. Another component involves public education. Degree-seekers give lectures about genetics at schools, resident groups, and other public forums. 

Learners complete a capstone such as a research project or case study and literature review. Admission requires a bachelor's degree in a major such as genetics or psychology. The department also requires college-level prerequisite coursework.

#6 Online College in Ohio

Ohio State University-Main Campus

School Information
Location Columbus, Ohio
Admission Rate 54%
Graduation Rate 86%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 34% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Ohio State's College of Medicine is a leader in healthcare delivery and education. The school's MS in genetic counseling trains scholarly and compassionate genetic counselors. Students move through the accredited two-year program as part of a small cohort. The curriculum introduces learners to foundations in medicine, genetics, and genetic counseling.

Enrollees develop advanced clinical skills in pediatric, cancer, and reproductive counseling. With elective credits, students can pursue advanced training in an area such as bioethics. Degree-seekers complete a series of clinical practicums beginning in the first year. They can access about 50 sites throughout the Midwest. 

Students culminate the program with a research thesis. Graduates enjoy a 100% placement rate in genetic counseling and related fields. Applicants must register with National Matching Services. Admission requires counseling experience and a bachelor's degree in biology or a related science major.

#7 Online College in Ohio

Case Western Reserve University

School Information
Location Cleveland, Ohio
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 84%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

CWRU's Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences is internationally known for clinical and research expertise. The school's 40-semester-hour MS in genetic counseling is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and prepares enrollees for national certification.

Learners study embryology, advanced medical genetics, and genetic counseling principles. Advanced topics include cancer genetics and genetics research. The program's practicums include four eight-week clinical rotations and a six-week summer clinical rotation at various facilities. Enrollees engage in applied learning through activities like clinical patient conferences and a yearlong collaborative practice course. 

CWRU also offers an MS/MA in genetic counseling and bioethics. Both programs boast a 100% placement rate for graduates. Students pay tuition and fees but may receive a monthly stipend scholarship. Applicants must first register with the National Matching Services' genetic counseling admissions match. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, and prerequisite coursework.

#8 Online College in Oklahoma

University of Oklahoma-Health Sciences Center

School Information
Location Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

OUHSC hosts a full-time MS in genetic counseling program that takes two years to complete. The College of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics offers the program. Enrollees complete coursework and clinical rotations on campus in Oklahoma City.

Coursework covers topics like human population genetics, cancer genetics, and prenatal diagnosis and screening. Enrollees complete supervised clinical practicums in various genetic areas. They also conduct original research for a thesis. Students review research at genetics journal club meetings and participate in presentations at local support groups.

Oklahoma residents pay the most affordable tuition. Nonresidents pay in-state tuition and receive a salary if they secure a graduate research assistant appointment. Applicants must register with National Matching Services. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and GRE scores.

#9 Online College in Alabama

University of Alabama at Birmingham

School Information
Location Birmingham, Alabama
Admission Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 63%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

UAB offers a 21-month, full-time MS in genetic counseling. The program prepares enrollees for professional certification from the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Students receive training in genetics counseling and specialties like prenatal, cancer, and adult genetics. Clinical training includes direct patient contact at pediatric, adult, and specialty clinics.

Students complete rotations at UAB and clinical partner sites in other states. Through the genetics counseling journal club, degree-seekers review, present, and discuss medical genetics and genetic counseling literature. The program offers a one-year post-graduation fellowship to one student who will receive advanced clinical training in cancer genetic counseling. 

The school may offer scholarships, assistantships, and work opportunities depending on the year. Applicants must register with the National Matching Services. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and prerequisite coursework and supplemental activities.

#10 Online College in Pennsylvania

University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus

School Information
Location Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 57%
Graduation Rate 83%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 4% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Pitt offers the nation's second-oldest genetics counseling program. The MS in genetics counseling is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and provides training in the science of human genetics and genomics. About 10-12 students enroll in the program annually. 

Students begin the program exploring principles of genetic counseling and the molecular basis of human inherited disease. The curriculum teaches counseling theory and applications, methods of genetics testing, and case-management skills. Learners complete clinical rotations in patient care at medical facilities in Pittsburgh. Students complete a research project in an area of interest and produce a research thesis.

Enrollees can customize the degree with a dual option such as an MS in genetic counseling and MPH in public health genetics. Learners can also customize with certificates in areas like global health and public health genetics. Admission to one of the nation's best genetic counseling programs requires a bachelor's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, and prerequisite science and statistics coursework.

Frequently Asked Questions


What's the difference between a genetic counselor and a geneticist?

Clinical geneticists or medical geneticists are physicians who hold medical degrees, requiring more time in higher education than genetic counseling.

Do genetic counselors perform tests?

Genetic counselors do not perform tests. Rather, they can tell you which tests could be useful to take and help you understand the test results.

Can you get a master's degree in genetic counseling online?

Yes. There are programs hosted mostly online, but they usually require students to come to campus a few times a year.

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