Online Master’s Degrees in Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling is an important medical field in which a trained professional evaluates a person or family’s risk of inherited genetic conditions. Despite the word “counseling” in the name, genetic counselors are not mental health providers, although they can provide support and education related to the risks of disease that may have been uncovered during a genetic evaluation. 

Genetic counseling is a medical specialty that is central to healthcare and patient outcomes. It also combines education, research, and support that goes beyond a typical patient-doctor relationship. A person’s genetic makeup can affect their lives beyond what is obvious daily. If a person inherited a genetic trait, they may wish to know their chances of developing a specific disease or condition later. Or, if they are considering having children, they may want to know the potential risks of their children inheriting certain genetic conditions and how that risk may impact their lives.

Genetic counselors determine the risk of inherited health conditions for all ages of people. They do this by having direct conversations with patients to create a thorough family medical and environmental history. This family health history can reveal much about disease risk assessment. The genetic counselor can also help the patients understand the management and possible prevention of certain conditions. Genetic counselors also actively participate in research and can share many resources about common and rare conditions with their patients.

Completing an online master’s degree in genetic counseling is a way to enter one of the fastest-growing careers in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) predicted a 26 percent growth in job openings for genetic counselors between 2020 and 2030.

This explosive growth in this healthcare field is an increased awareness of genetics and family history due to the increased availability of at-home genetics testing kits. Many professional genetic counselors say that these at-home genetics testing kits can be confusing and upsetting when the results are viewed without talking with a professional counselor about the risks. As more people are taking at-home genetics tests, the need to be able to talk over the results with a professional becomes even more important.

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Typical Admissions Requirements for Online Master’s Degrees in Genetic Counseling

Genetic counselors must have a deep understanding of genetics, biology, and biomedical ethics and strong interpersonal skills. Because genetic counselors work directly with patients who are curious about their physical and mental health risks, counselors must be able to successfully communicate with culturally diverse people.

An online master’s degree in genetic counseling is ideal for a student with a strong desire to work in a science field who also wants to work directly with people of all ages. Given those two needs, most applicants have a bachelor’s degree in biological science, including biology, genetics, or biochemistry. Others may have backgrounds in psychology, public health, or nursing.

GPA requirements vary per school but a minimum undergraduate grade-point average for admitted students at most schools would be 3.0. The student should demonstrate completed coursework in statistics, biochemistry, and genetics. Chemistry and biochemistry are typically central to scientific education. Many schools consider a strong applicant to have completed as many relevant genetics and biology courses intended for science majors as possible to strengthen their application (for instance, having only one introductory genetics course intended for non-science majors would likely not be sufficient for many schools).

GREs are typically required for many graduate school programs, although many schools are waiving this requirement during the Covid-19 pandemic. For non-native English speakers, high scores on a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam are required. Part of this need is that successful genetic counseling is highly dependent on excellent verbal communication skills and written fluency.

Many schools will place a higher premium on applicants who have taken the time to observe or job shadow a genetic counselor. This is an excellent way to learn more about the profession and also helpful for the student to know ahead of time if the field of genetic counseling is a good fit.

A personal impact from a genetics counseling experience could also go a long way on a master’s degree application. Having experience with counseling also is of significant value because it allows the prospective student to appreciate and develop some of the necessary skills for the profession. For instance, the student could have a family member with a genetic disorder, or have personal experience with the healthcare system or other community support environments such as volunteering at a domestic abuse shelter or crisis hotline.

Courses in Online Master’s Degrees in Genetic Counseling

An online master’s program in genetic counseling will include a sequence of classes to introduce the student to science topics and genetics-related topics as they prepare to discuss a wide variety of inheritable disorders with patients. Common courses include:

  • Foundations of Genetics and Genomics
  • Pathophysiology
  • Introduction to Genetic Counseling
  • Reproductive Genetics
  • Cancer Genetic Counseling
  • Social and Cultural Foundations
  • Counseling Theory and Practice
  • Advanced Clinical Genetics Concepts
  • Clinical Embryology and Prenatal Diagnosis
  • Clinical Communication Skills for Genetic Counselors
  • Interviewing and Counseling for Genetic Counselors
  • Contemporary Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling
  • Mendelian and non-Mendelian Inheritance
  • Human Variation and Disease Susceptibility
  • Normal/abnormal Human Development
  • Human Reproduction
  • Cytogenetics
  • Biochemical Genetics
  • Molecular Genetics

Supervised Fieldwork Requirements & Internships – Online Master’s Degrees in Genetic Counseling

In addition to academic coursework, most online master’s programs in genetic counseling include supervised hands-on work experience. These practicums and internships typically take place after some core courses are completed. Some schools offer a lot of support from the staff in helping online students find suitable environments for their practicums and experiences in their own communities. 

Other schools are more hands-off and expect the student to find the work environment on their own. Typically, these practicums (a supervised period of observation and documentation) last 100 to 200 hours, and internships (a supervised work experience with traditional job responsibilities) last 600 to 700 hours.  

The accrediting body, the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling, approves programs in which the fieldwork requirements are a minimum of 50 cases, with at least 40 of those 50 cases with individuals being evaluated for risk of or affected by diverse genetic conditions across the lifespan (i.e., patients, not individuals who are involved in research). The 50 cases described must be supervised by an experienced ABGC/ABMGG/CAGC certified genetic counselor. All cases, not just the required 50, must be a mix of prenatal, pediatric, cancer, and other adults without being dominated by one specialty.

At Boise State University‘s accredited online master’s degree in genetic counseling, for example, students are entirely remote/online the full duration of the first academic year. However, in the second year, face-to-face clinical rotations will be required. They recommended that students spend three to four days per week in their clinical rotation sites. The total minimum required hours in clinical rotation settings by graduation is 675 hours.

Program Accreditation for Online Master’s Degrees in Genetic Counseling

To become a Certified Genetic Counselor by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC), the student must obtain a master’s degree in genetic counseling from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)

There are currently several colleges and universities across the United States with master’s degree programs in genetic counseling. There also are four accredited programs in Canada, and one developing program in the United States. Developing programs are not yet accredited by ACGC, but have demonstrated sufficient curriculum development to apply for candidacy status as a new program. Once a new program application is submitted, it takes eight to 12 months for accreditation to be either approved or denied.

Featured Online Master’s in Genetic Counseling Programs

Johns Hopkins University (Onsite)

The master of science program in genetic counseling is a joint effort of three outstanding research institutions: the department of health, behavior, and society at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Bloomberg School of Public Health; the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI); and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Preparing students for genetic counseling careers, emphasizing clients’ educational and psychological needs, this ACGC accredited program provides a strong foundation for conducting behavioral and social research related to genetic counseling. Students in this program will be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to educate policymakers, health care providers, and the general public about genetics and other related social and health issues.

Made up of a minimum of 149 credits and a maximum of 170 credits, the program includes courses such as epidemiologic inference in public health; practical genetic counseling; introduction to genetic counseling; research design in the social and behavioral sciences; health judgment, and decision making; genetic counseling clinical supervision; and therapeutic genetic counseling. In addition to didactic coursework, the program also requires a minimum of 600 contact hours of supervised clinical rotations in various settings.

The major admission requirements include completing an undergraduate degree, prior counseling experience (either voluntary or paid) working with individuals in emotional distress, and completing undergraduate-level courses in genetics and biochemistry. GRE test scores are optional.

Graduates of the program will be eligible to sit for the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification.

  • Location: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH); Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 30 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $14,796 per term

Bay Path University

Bay Path’s master of science in genetic counseling is an online program with two to three campus visits twice a year. Students in this program gain superior skills and knowledge for evaluating, monitoring, diagnosing, treating, and counseling patients. 

Students typically complete the 59-credit program within two years, with the first year of coursework that focuses on general genetics, counseling, and laboratory skills. Students select a capstone project topic during the first semester and commence their research. Students undertake actual clinical experience, capstone project development, and advanced topics in year two.

The curriculum includes coursework in medical genetics; genomics and molecular techniques; introduction to genetic counseling; clinical applications in genetic counseling; psychosocial applications in genetic counseling; cancer genetic counseling; ethics and professional conduct in counseling; and applied research methods in counseling.

Admission requirements to the program include a completed application, official graduate and undergraduate transcripts from an accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0, two short original essays, a current resume, three recommendations, and TOEFL scores for international students.

Graduates of the program will be ready to work in specialized or traditional healthcare fields such as cardiovascular genetics, neurogenetics, hematology, metabolic genetics, psychiatric disorders, prenatal counseling, and personalized medicine.

  • Location: Longmeadow, Massachusetts
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 21 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,160 per credit ($68,440 tuition tuition) plus fees

Boise State University

Boise State’s online master of science in genetic counseling program is full-time for 21 months over five semesters—fall and spring in the first year and summer, fall, and spring in the second year. The curriculum of this program supports the development of ABGC practice-based competencies in genetic counseling. Graduates will be prepared for the ABGC Certification exam.

Comprising 56 credits (41 credits for didactic coursework, 15 credits of fieldwork, four credits of the scholarly project), Boise’s online coursework is delivered in an asynchronous format, which means students can access resources and assignments and complete work on their own schedule provided due dates are met. The program also includes clinical rotations during ‘Fieldwork II-IV’ courses. The estimated time commitment is at least 30 hours per week.

Applicants to the program must have a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution of higher learning or its equivalent, a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, prerequisite coursework (Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Genetics, and Statistics) from an accredited university or college, and previous experiences in developing and using skills relevant to genetic counseling. GRE scores are not required for admission.

  • Location: Boise, Idaho
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU); Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 21 months (no part-time option)
  • Estimated Tuition: $59,000 to $62,000, plus fees; tuition is the same for in-state and non-resident students

Indiana State University – First Year In-Person / Second Year Online

Indiana State’s two-year program offers training in all aspects of medical genetics and basic psychological counseling. Hands-on clinical experiences cover all aspects of genetic counseling, including pediatric, prenatal, adult, and specialty genetics clinics such as cardiology, neurology, industry, and ophthalmology.

This program is structured differently than most others, requiring intensive 21 to 24 months of on-campus learning. The first year of Indiana State’s program is on campus and the second year consists of online courses. The program accepts approximately eight students per year.

Consisting of 62 credits, the program includes courses such as techniques of counseling; foundations in genetic counseling; embryology; multicultural counseling; ethics of genome science and genetic counseling; cytogenetics; genome science; human lifespan development; and cancer genetics.

  • Location: Terre Haute, Indiana
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission; Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Indiana residents ($432 per credit); eligible out-of-state online students ($562 per credit); non-resident and international students ($849 per credit)

Please note that Cincinnati Children’s Hospital also offers several genetic counseling courses and continuing education opportunities online, including instruction in:

  • Cardiovascular genetics
  • Clinical embryology
  • Laboratory genetic counseling
  • Neurogenetics
  • Teratology
  • Genetic counseling case studies

Professors to Know in Online Master’s in Genetic Counseling Programs

Janice Berliner, MS, BS

Bay Path University

Janice Berliner is the program director of the MS in genetic counseling program and an assistant professor of genetic counseling at Bay Path University. She has more than 29 years of experience working as a clinical genetic counselor. She completed her MS in human genetics or genetic counseling from the University of Michigan and a BS from Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey.

Janice Berliner has served on the boards of directors of the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) and the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) and has chaired the 2008 NSGC Annual Education Conference. Janice has published a number of scholarly articles, written several book chapters, and edited a book entitled Ethical Dilemmas in Genetics and Genetic Counseling: Principles through Case Scenarios (Berliner, 2014).

Anne Spencer, MS, CGC
Boise State University

Anne Spencer graduated from the MS in genetic counseling program at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned an MA in Buddhist Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. From 1991 to 1994, she worked as a pediatric genetic counselor at Children’s Hospital Seattle, where she also worked on the Epidermolysis Bullosa Registry.

In 1994, she moved to Idaho where she was the first genetic counselor in the state. She worked at St. Luke’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine primarily doing prenatal counseling but as the only genetic counselor in Idaho, Anne was frequently called upon to assist in other areas such as hemophilia, cancer, neurology, and public health, as well as offer multiple education programs for medical professionals and the general public.

In 2001, Spencer moved to the Idaho State Department of Health, where she provided pediatric genetic counseling in the Idaho State Genetics clinic and assisted with the state newborn screening follow-up programs. She began offering counseling for presymptomatic testing for Huntington’s Disease in 1996 and in 2004 she founded a support group for families dealing with Huntington’s Disease, which she continues to lead. The support group became officially affiliated with the Huntington’s Disease Society of America in 2012 and Spencer served as chair of the Idaho Affiliate from 2014 to 2016. In 2009, she oversaw the transition of the pediatric genetics program from the State of Idaho to St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital.

Spencer has held leadership positions at the National Society of Genetic Counselors, serving on the Board of Directors as the Social Issues Chair and as the chair of the Diversity Special Interest Group. She also has served on the program committee for regional and national genetic counseling conferences. Notably, her publications include a book chapter on cultural diversity, and peer-reviewed articles in the fields of genetics, genetic counseling, and sociology of religion. Spencer is certified by the ABGC and holds a current State of Idaho Genetic Counseling License.

Jobs for Those With a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling

As a genetic counselor, you have many career options.

Become a Clinical Genetic Counselor

Jobs for those with an online master’s degree in genetic counseling include working in a clinical environment dealing directly with prenatal patients, pediatric patients, or adults who are seeking genetic counseling services due to medical or genetic conditions, or a family history of a condition such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or Alzheimer disease.

Work in a Public or Private Laboratory

Genetic counselors who work in labs or industries interpret the results of samples that are sent to laboratories and write result reports. They may advise physicians or other staff on the most appropriate genetic test or test interpretation. They may coordinate with insurance to approve covered testing.

There are also many research opportunities related to genetics. These jobs would require finding patients to participate in research studies, collaborating with researchers, and overseeing the ethics and appropriateness of research studies.

Pursue Opportunities in Public Health

A genetics counselor in the field of public health may work to improve access to genetics services or develop public policy related to genetics.

Vanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia


Vanessa Salvia is an Oregon-based freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As fun as rigorous studies in math and science were, Vanessa took an independent path and developed a prolific career covering lifestyle and healthcare topics for magazines and newspapers, important industries such as concrete construction and building waterproofing, and even hard science. You can get in touch at Sage Media and Marketing.