March 29, 2023

5 Common Courses in a Genetic Counseling Degree Program

These Classes Are Part of a Great Genetic Counseling Degree

  • Public Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Psychology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Human Genetics

Genetic counselors need to have in-depth knowledge of developmental biology, human genetics, and laboratory procedures, and those are some of the most common courses in a typical genetic counseling degree program. Each university’s course requirements may be somewhat different, and genetic counselors who plan to have an area of expertise may focus on certain classes during their studies. Students should plan on enrolling in these or similar classes as a part of their genetic counseling degree.

Related resource: Top 25 Campus Based Genetic Counseling Master’s Programs

Public Health

A public health course may include topics such as environmental exposures, statistics and healthcare administration. A genetic counselor might take just one introduction to public health course in order to get an overview of population-based health and data analysis. Most genetic counseling programs will also have in-depth courses on biostatistics or data analysis as well as the use of software for conducting genetic analyses and understanding the information provided by the testing.


Epidemiology involves the study of human diseases. Genetic disorders are just one facet of epidemiology. In this course, students will learn about genetic disorders that affect different populations. For example, sickle cell disease is common in people from central Africa, and Tay Sachs disease is common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Epidemiology may also cover the design of studies related to genetic disorders. An example of this could be a cohort study of people who experienced an environmental exposure to a known or possible toxin and determining how many of them or their descendants are affected by a genetic disorder.


Genetic counselors need to be able to relate to their clients. When delivering information that could produce an emotional reaction in the client, the counselor will need to show compassion and empathy. Psychology classes are usually required for genetic counselors. These classes explore different personality types, ways of communicating and methods of interpersonal relations. Genetic counselors may also gain a better understanding of how to relate to their colleagues and other professionals in healthcare and research.

Developmental Biology

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, another essential course for genetic counseling degree programs is developmental biology. In this class, students learn about the cascades of processes that take place during fetal development. The class usually explores normal development as well as the things that can go wrong. Developmental biology intersects with human genetics at multiple points, so students will learn how an error in cell division or DNA replication could result in a genetic disorder. Conversely, students will also learn how a mutation in a gene can affect fetal development.

Human Genetics

Genetic counseling degree programs typically require several classes in human genetics. An introductory class could explore DNA, meiosis and mitosis. It may also explore how mutations arise and what may trigger them. Heredity and genetics may be included in the introductory course or as a separate class. Familial genetics is typically included in the case study portion of these classes. For example, students may follow the path of hemophilia in the British and European royal families.

Each of these five courses is typically part of the first semester of study for a master’s degree in genetic counseling. The courses will typically get more in-depth as the student progresses through the degree program. Taking these five common courses for a genetic counseling degree program provides the student with a solid foundation for a successful career as a genetic counselor.

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