VCU Bulletins

Genetic Counseling, Master of Science (M.S.)

Program accreditation
Accreditation Council of Genetic Counseling

Graduate program director
Rachel B. Gannaway, M.S., C.G.C.
Department of Human and Molecular Genetics
(804) 628-3507

Additional contact
Tahnee Causey M.S., C.G.C.
Assistant program director and recruitment contact
(804) 628-4078

Program website:

Refer to the program search function of the online VCU Bulletins for a complete listing of all programs, concentrations and related curricular options.

Human Genetics, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Human Genetics, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)/Genetic Counseling, Master of Science in (M.S.) [dual degree]

Apply online at

Admission requirements

Genetic Counseling, Master of Science (M.S.)

of entry:


Applications received prior to Jan 15 given priority consideration

GRE within five years of application
International applicants must score 100 or greater on the TOEFL.

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School:

  1. Applicants must have successfully completed undergraduate training and hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited university or college.
  2. Prerequisites for admission include six credit hours each of biology, chemistry and behavioral science (psychology, anthropology, sociology, religion or philosophy) and three credit hours each of biochemistry, statistics and genetics. It is recommended that all prerequisite courses have been completed with 10 years of application.
  3. Students accepted to the program are generally drawn from applicants with an undergraduate grade-point average minimum of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale or equivalent), with an average GPA of 3.3 to 3.5 for matriculating students.
  4. The Graduate Record Examination is required for admission; there is no MCAT substitution. Matriculating students generally have GRE verbal scores at or above 153, quantitative scores at or above 144 and a performance above a score of 3.5 on the analytical section.
  5. Applicants holding an undergraduate degree from foreign institutions must display an acceptable level of English proficiency by achieving a score of 250 on the computer-based TOEFL examination or 600 on the written version.
  6. Additionally, successful applicants often have experience with shadowing genetic counselors and medical geneticists, interviewing genetic counselors and exposure to individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities. Exposure to crisis hotlines, support groups and community activities related to individuals with disability and genetic conditions is also helpful.

Note: The department receives an average of 80 to 100 applications annually. Of those, 25 to 30 are invited for an onsite interview, and five to seven students matriculate.

In the last five certification cycles (2009 to 2013), graduates of the program have an 86% pass rate on the ABGC/ACGC national certification examination.

The program participates in the AGCPD program match. Please see the NSGC website for information for prospective students at

Note: See also information regarding the Virginia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities VA-LEND Certificate at

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university.  These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

General academic regulations for
all graduate students in all graduate programs at VCU

Program goals

  1. Competency in genetic counseling
  2. Eligibility for certification by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
  3. Preparation for careers in genetic counseling and human genetics

Successful candidates will demonstrate competency in all four genetic counseling domains: I – communication skills, II – critical thinking skills, III – interpersonal, counseling and psychosocial assessment skills and IV – professional ethics and values.

Student learning outcomes

  1. Competency in practice: The candidate should demonstrate development of competency in the responsible practice of genetic counseling. This will be assessed in the clinical setting by certified genetic counselors and medical geneticists. The assessment is based upon the clinical competencies established by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. This competency is documented with written and oral evaluations at the completion of each of the seven clinical rotations by the rotation supervisor.
  2. General knowledge of sciences: The candidate should demonstrate a general knowledge of the elements of the sciences as related to genetic molecular/cellular bioscience and a detailed knowledge of his or her area of research, including an appropriate familiarity with the research literature. The student is evaluated by academic performance, face-to-face and written evaluation of clinical performance in multiple rotations by multiple supervisors and annual written and oral exams.
  3. Communication skills: The candidate should demonstrate that an appropriate level of oral, written and visual communication skills have been acquired. This is achieved by evaluations of clinical rotations both written and verbal that are based on the competencies established by the American Board of Genetic Counseling and the scope of practice as set forth by the National Society of Genetic Counselors

Degree requirements

In addition to the general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students must complete a minimum total of 60 credit hours. The program is a full-time, on-campus program. Students are expected to complete their course work in four semesters (21 consecutive months). To be considered full-time, the VCU School of Medicine requires students to register for 15 credit hours in the fall and spring semesters. Occasionally special circumstances may occur that could require a temporary leave of absence. The VCU Graduate School requires that master’s degrees be completed in a maximum of six years.

In order to be considered in good academic standing, a student must maintain a 3.0 GPA. Students who fail to maintain a 3.0 average are permitted one semester to bring their averages up to the required level.

As part of their course work, students begin clinical rotations in the spring semester of the first year and continue through both semesters of the second year. Students are required to engage in clinical experiences during the intervening summer as well.

Students must pass a written comprehensive exam at the conclusion of the first two semesters of study and a written and oral comprehensive exam prior to graduation.

Students are required to complete a research project during their course of study. The purpose of the research project is to give the student hands-on experience in developing a research question or exploring a professional or program problem, reviewing the literature, and attempting to answer the question or problem. Projects will enhance the student’s professional development and represent a strong component of the “portfolio” of experience brought to the job interview process. Projects can range from laboratory to clinical and may include development of educational materials, videotapes or patient protocols. All projects are required to have defined goals and/or hypotheses to be tested. Institutional review board application and review is often required for student research. Publication and professional presentation are strongly encouraged.

Students are encouraged to consider projects in the first semester and to choose a project topic by the second semester. The project proposal is due to the program director by the first of June during the student’s first year of study. All project proposals must be approved by the faculty member with whom the project will be performed and the program director. Some projects will require review by the Office of Research and Innovation for subject protections, and some projects may require that the student seek grant funding or participate on an existing faculty grant. The student is responsible for preparing documents and meeting these requirements in a timely fashion.

By the beginning of the fall semester of the second year, students must have selected the members of their research committees. The research committee must include at least three faculty members with one outside of the department. Additional members may be added if needed for optimal project advising.

The student’s supervisors and the genetic counseling program director work together in mentoring the student. Students are provided ongoing written and verbal evaluation regarding their academic and clinical progress.

In addition to participating in course work and counseling rotations, students in the department also participate in a number of community and education programs.

The straddling of the student and professional roles is a lifelong process in the changing field of human genetics and genetic counseling. Graduates of this program will be contributing members of the clinical genetics team of counselors, physicians and basic scientists and contributing members of commercial genetic testing laboratories and the developing field of human genomic medicine.

Curriculum requirements

Courses Credit hours
Required courses 57
ANAT 612 Human Embryology 2
CLED 602 Techniques of Counseling 3
HGEN 501/BIOL 530 Human Genetics 3
HGEN 502 Advanced Human Genetics 3
HGEN 510 Classic Papers in Human Genetics 1
HGEN 525-526 Practice of Genetic Counseling 6
HGEN 527-528 Medical Genetics 6
HGEN 600 Clinical Genetics (placement) 1
HGEN 600 Clinical Genetics (rotation) 9
HGEN 622 Cancer Genetic Counseling 3
HGEN 690 Genetics Research Seminar 4
HGEN 691 Special Topics in Genetics 2
HGEN 697 Directed Research in Genetics 6
IDDS 602 Leadership in Developmental Disability 2
OVPR 601 Scientific Integrity, OVPR 602 Responsible Scientific Conduct or OVPR 603 Responsible Conduct of Research 1
PATH 691 Special Topics in Modern Instrumental Methods (diagnostic genetic testing) 2
SLWK 609 Foundations of Research in Social Work Practice 3
Recommended electives 3
ALHP 708 Ethics and Health Care 3
CLED 630 Clinical Supervision in the Counseling Profession 3
ECSE 541 Educational Foundations for Collaboration and Universally Designed Learning 3
EPID 580 Public Health Ethics 1
EPID 600 Introduction to Public Health 3
EPID 603 Public Health Policy and Politics 3
PHIL 602 Biomedical Ethics 3
PHIS 619 Mitochondrial Pathophysiology and Human Diseases 3
PSYC 650 Advanced Child Psychopathology 1 or 3
RHAB 614 Counseling, Death and Loss 3
SBHD 605 Introduction to Social and Behavioral Health 3
SBHD 608 Health Communication 3
SEDP 532 Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder 3
Other electives may be acceptable with written approval by the program director.  
Total graduate credit hours required (minimum) 60

Typical plan of study

Many students often end up taking more than the minimum number of hours required for a degree program. The total number of hours may vary depending upon the program, nature of research being conducted by a study or in the enrollment or funding status of the student. Students should refer to their program websites and talk with their graduate program directors or advisers for information about typical plans of study and registration requirements.

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Degree candidacy requirements

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Graduation requirements

Other information

School of Medicine graduate program policies

The School of Medicine provides policies applicable to all programs administratively housed in the school. Information on master’s programs is available in the Graduate Bulletin at



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