By: Ellie Kaplan
Hello blog visitor!
This blog post includes some advice I have to offer about selling yourself on an application and in an interview, whether you have applied or are considering applying! See posts below this one for some helpful general tips about applying or preparing for interviewing.
I was lucky enough to discover genetic counseling at 12 years old. Knowing what I wanted to do when I entered college allowed me to begin looking into graduate school requirements and speaking with genetics professionals to get insight into the field and to begin strengthening my application early on. I majored in Biology, which took care of academic requirements, but I wanted to start getting involved in opportunities that would both strengthen my application as well as help me make the best of my short (!!!!!) college experience. However, if you found out about the field at a later age, don’t worry! Many of my classmates found out about it in college and obviously were also successful in finding great opportunities to prepare them for graduate school.
On any program’s website you will see requirements as well as suggestions of what faculty would like to see on your application. Do not get overwhelmed. Obviously you need to meet all the requirements, but do not feel that you need to do every single suggestion listed in order to be qualified. Applications are more about quality than quantity, i.e. it is much better to have a few relevant experiences (or even one) in which you can talk about passionately rather than a few days of volunteering at multiple organizations. (You should definitely still volunteer where you can – but I think you get the point.)
I would highly recommend meeting with a program director early on, especially if you are close to a program. If not, many are happy to email or talk with you over the phone. It will most definitely make you stand out when you do apply, especially if you keep in contact with them following your initial meeting or conversation. I am from Chicago so it was easy for me to meet with the program director at Northwestern during my sophomore year of college and get guidance from her as to what I was doing right and what else I could be doing. I was also able to sit in on a class and meet with the students. That experience was a push in the right direction for me, especially when she gave me advice on what to continue doing as well as what to get involved in before applying.
Like I said, find relevant experiences for your graduate school application. When I say relevant, I don’t mean word-for-word what programs suggest you do (although that doesn’t hurt). If you want to do something that you think makes you a strong candidate, learn how to explain that in an interview. For example, I remember Cecelia (our program director) specifically asking me during my interview why I chose to volunteer with homeless LGBT populations one summer during college. I explained that the reason I chose to work with many different populations was because I wanted to be prepared to work with different types of people upon entering graduate school and my career. I was able to explain something on my resume that was not necessarily a “standard” experience seen on an application. As it turns out, my approach has helped me tremendously since I started rotations last semester because one of my strongest skills according to my supervisors was building rapport and appearing comfortable around all of my patients.
Keep in mind that all of us find our own ways into genetic counseling. Many of us have different interests that help us decide that this is our dream career. Therefore, the route I took is by no means the best route for you, but simply something to keep in mind as you search for opportunities to make yourself a stronger candidate. My best advice is to always be on the lookout for opportunities and to take as many as you can. Feel free to email my classmates about some activities they participated in!
In conclusion, spend your time wisely. Do what you love and do things that will push you in the right direction. Sometimes you can combine them and have a truly valuable experience that can one day help you in becoming a genetic counselor. Good luck and feel free to email any of us if you need some inspiration! 🙂