An applicant must successfully complete requirements of both the UW-Madison Graduate School and the Master of Genetic Counselor Studies program (MCGS) to be considered a qualified applicant.
Most applicants have a balanced set of experiences, clear communication skills and strong letters of recommendations as well as high academic achievement. Strong applicants demonstrate an insightful process toward their career development and a high level of maturity.
Applicants must have a bachelor's degree. Although a specific major is not required, most applicants have a degree in a biological science (e.g. biology, genetics, biochemistry).
The average GPA of admitted students is 3.5. In following the Graduate School’s requirements for admission, a minimum undergraduate grade-point average (GPA) of 3.00 on the equivalent of the last 60 semester hours (approximately two years of work) or a master's degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.00 is required. If a student has an undergraduate GPA less than 3.0, coursework completed after graduation demonstrating a higher GPA will be considered.
An applicant must complete courses in biochemistry, statistics and advanced genetics. An appropriate biochemistry course generally requires prerequisites that include at least one semester of chemistry and organic chemistry. Advanced genetic courses are typically designed for life science majors (e.g. biology, genetics, or molecular and cell biology majors). Generally, only having one introductory genetics course intended for non-science majors is not sufficient. We encourage students to take as many relevant genetics and biology courses as possible to strengthen their application. All required courses should be taken prior to applying as it is difficult to evaluate courses “in progress” at the time of application.
Completion of the GRE is required. This exam is used as a marker of likelihood of academic success. There is no specific cutoff value; a brochure (pdf)created by the Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors includes average GRE scores of applicants. The Subject GRE is not required.
Test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL)
As per the requirements of the Graduate School, "Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English, must provide an English proficiency test score." Given that the profession of genetic counseling is highly dependent on excellent communication skills, applicants must have a high degree of fluency in verbal and written communication. Strong candidates have TOEFL scores approaching 110 (iBT). TOEFL scores less than 100 (iBT) will not be considered for admission.
Genetic counselor observation/exposure
Observation of a genetic counselor(s) is a good method to learn more about the profession. This process is to help one identify if the field of genetic counseling is a good fit with one's personal and career goals. Recognizing that this clinical experience is not always possible, interviewing genetic counselors is a reasonable option. Simulated genetic counseling sessions are available on the National Society of Genetic Counselors website as an additional resource to supplement other exposure. Please list such experience in your resume/CV.
Advocacy or counseling experience
Given the nature of this profession, having experience in advocacy or counseling is of significant value. Such experience helps one appreciate and develop interpersonal communication skills, have a better understanding of the patient or person's experience, and to have a better understanding of the healthcare system or other public service system. Applicants typically have experiences from many different settings including: Planned Parenthood, domestic abuse shelters, crisis hotlines, peer counseling, homeless shelters, hospice care, or working with individuals with physical disabilities or intellectual impairment.
Letters of recommendation
Three letters of recommendation are required that demonstrate one’s academic, professional and advocacy strengths.
As noted on the National Society of Genetic Counselors website, applicants often engage in various types of experiences outside of the typical classroom. Experiences should aid in their decision to pursue a career in genetic counseling. Most applicants have held various types of jobs, completed research or laboratory work, or volunteered with various organizations such as Special Olympics.