How to Choose the Right Genetic Counseling Degree Program
- Class Size and Student to Faculty Ratio
- Research and Specialities
- Graduation Rate
There are several things a student should look for in an excellent genetic counseling degree program. In order to pursue a career in genetic counseling, it is necessary to get a master’s degree. The programs are highly competitive and difficult to get into, so it is important to choose to apply only to the ones that are the right fit.
The program must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. This makes the student eligible to take the genetic counseling board exam, which is necessary to become a genetic counselor. Students should specifically look for the accreditation rather than worrying too much about the exact name of the degree program, which can vary. A master’s degree in medical genetics, genetic counseling or human genetics are among the names the program might have, but as long as they are accredited by the correct body, they allow the student to take the exam.
2. Class Size and Faculty to Student Ratio
Most good genetic counseling degree programs are small ones. Classes should be small as well. Ideally, the student to faculty ratio will be under 16:1 although there are some very good programs that are slightly larger. Students may want to be more cautious about programs with a ratio larger than 20:1 since this may simply leave the program and faculty with too few resources to deliver a top-notch education. Few programs have more than 30 students total.
3. Research and Specialties
It is important for students to choose a program that has faculty with the same specialties they are interested in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, specialties include pediatric, cancer, prenatal, neurogenetics, psychiatry, genomic medicine and cardiovascular health. Students who are uncertain about what area they want to specialize in may want to do more research before applying. Many applicants shadow genetic counselors to get a sense of what they can expect from various specialties. Research also helps ensure students enter the program with a relatively current idea of what is happening in this fast-moving field.
The program should have a good reputation and not just among professionals who attended other programs. Students should try to talk to graduates and get a sense of the program’s strengths and weaknesses and what they thought about it overall. However, students should not feel they can only attend a top program with the best-known reputation. Choosing a program that is in line with the student’s area of interest is still more important. In genetic counseling, it is not necessary to graduate from the top-ranked school in order to find a good job.
5. Graduation Rates
It will not matter if it is the best program in the world if few students can finish it. Ideally, the graduation rate will be at least 90% although some programs may have rates that drop as low as 80% or 75%. Below this point, students may want to look into the reasons. There may be too little support for students, the program may simply be too expensive or there might be other barriers.
The BLS reports that genetic counseling is a very fast-growing area, and there are likely to be many opportunities opening up in the years ahead in this area. An excellent genetic counseling degree program will prepare a student well for success in this well-paid field.