Online Master’s Degrees in Genetic Counseling

“Genetic counselors are equipped with the scientific expertise of genetics and the empathetic approach of counseling, blending these skills to help individuals understand and integrate genetic information into their lives and families.”

Brianne Kirkpatrick Williams, MS, Licensed and Certified Genetic Counselor, Consultant, and Writer

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 central to healthcare and patient outcomes. It also combines education, research, and support that goes beyond a typical patient-doctor relationship. People’s genetic makeup can affect their lives beyond what is obvious daily. If a person inherits 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 people of all ages. They do this by directly conversing 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 certain conditions’ management and possible prevention. 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 (2023) predicted a 16 percent growth in job openings for genetic counselors between 2022 and 2032.

This explosive growth in this healthcare field is due to 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 kits can be confusing and upsetting when the results are viewed without talking with a professional counselor about the risks. As more people take at-home genetics tests, the need to talk over the results with a professional becomes even more important.

Keep reading for more about what jobs are available to genetic counselors and how to find accredited online master’s degrees in genetic counseling.

Featured Genetic Counseling and Health Programs
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Meet the Expert: Brianne Kirkpatrick Williams, MS, LCGC

Brianne Kirkpatrick Williams, MS is a licensed and certified genetic counselor, writer, and consultant with expertise in consumer DNA testing and genetic identity. A personal experience discovering unknown genetic relatives led her to create Watershed DNA, an online resource and consultancy offering guidance and support to those seeking biological family or making unexpected discoveries due to DNA. 

Williams has written and co-authored multiple journal publications and books and has spoken widely on biological family searches and surprise discoveries since 2015. She speaks frequently with the media as an ancestry and DTC expert for the National Society of Genetic Counselors. What is something many people don’t know about the genetic counseling profession?

Williams: Genetic counselors are equipped with the scientific expertise of genetics and the empathetic approach of counseling, blending these skills to help individuals understand and integrate genetic information into their lives and families. Most people only meet a genetic counselor if needed, so we often spend time explaining our profession and background. 

Our work spans various settings: some of us are part of hospital or clinic teams, while others, like myself, operate independently in private practice or take on specialized cases. Additionally, genetic counselors can be found in academic roles as adjunct professors or researchers and working with nonprofit organizations. Our diverse roles reflect our shared educational foundation rather than our daily tasks. What is one piece of advice you would give to a genetic counselor who is starting out?

Williams: I advise recognizing the competitive nature of entering this field and the diverse applications of genetic information. While I hesitate to suggest having a backup plan, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility of applying multiple times over several years and being open to relocating for your training. 

Genetic counseling programs vary in focus; some may emphasize laboratory science, while others might concentrate more on psychological and social aspects. Although all programs adhere to a core curriculum, your training experience can significantly differ based on the program’s specific strengths in certain areas of genetics.

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

Genetic counselors must deeply understand genetics, biology, and biomedical ethics and have 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 communicate with culturally diverse people.

An online master’s degree in genetic counseling is ideal for a student who wants to work in a science field and 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 is 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 and genetics-related topics as they prepare to discuss various 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 extensive 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 weekly 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 (On-campus)

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).

This ACGC-accredited program prepares students for genetic counseling careers, emphasizing clients’ educational and psychological needs. It 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, healthcare providers, and the general public about genetics and other related social and health issues.

The program consists of a minimum of 149 credits and a maximum of 170 credits and 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 (voluntary or paid) working with individuals in emotional distress, and 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

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 focusing on general genetics, counseling, and laboratory skills. Students select a capstone project topic during the first semester and commence their research. In year two, students undertake actual clinical experience, capstone project development, and advanced topics.

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

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 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)

Medical University of South Carolina 

The genetic counseling program offered by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is a comprehensive course designed to prepare students for a rewarding career in the field of genetic counseling. The program, which leads to a master of science in genetic counseling, combines rigorous coursework with hands-on clinical training to provide a solid foundation in genetic science, counseling, ethics, and research methodologies. 

With a strong emphasis on patient care, the MUSC genetic counseling program aims to develop compassionate and competent genetic counselors who can effectively guide individuals and families through the complexities of genetic disorders and testing. Graduates of this program are prepared to take on roles in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, research institutions, and public health agencies. 

  • Location: Charleston, South Carolina
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission; Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

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

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 working in labs or industries interpret the results of samples 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 public health may work to improve access to genetics services or develop public policy related to genetics.

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond, MEd


Rachel Drummond has used her expertise in education and mindfulness to guide aspiring counselors since 2020. Her work emphasizes the importance of integrating reflective mindfulness into counseling techniques, helping readers understand how mental and physical well-being can enhance their professional practice and personal development in counseling.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.

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.