Genetics Career Guide - Education & Salaries

The field of genetics has to be one of the most exciting and dynamic frontiers in science today. While genes have existed for more than a century, the application of genetics to applied sciences and medicine is still fairly new. For example, while forensic DNA analysis is a mainstay in contemporary crime investigation, the first conviction based on DNA evidence didn’t happen in the United States until the late 80s, with the trial of Tommy Lee Andrews.

Today, geneticists work on various subjects, from DNA analysis in forensics to one of the many companies that now offers individual genetic testing to determine someone’s heritage and help them find members of their extended family. Genetics is broadly applied in the medical field, where patients’ genetic profiles can lead to better outcomes based on more individualized treatments. Genetic counselors focus entirely on advising patients and their caregivers on treatment options best suited to their genetic makeup.

The job outlook for careers in genetics looks promising, reflecting the rapid growth area of medicine and research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022), opportunities for genetic counselors are expected to swell 18 percent nationally between 2021 and 2031—a rate that the BLS terms “much higher than average.”

However, genetic counselors are only one part of the complex equation that makes up this field. Researchers, instructors, and lab technicians may all be associated with studying genetic material. They should be expected to profit from the immense interest in this area of expertise, both on the side of the sciences and on the part of the industry and the financial sector.

But what careers exist in genetics, and maybe more importantly, how does an individual pursue one of the interesting paths that this field offers? This guide is intended to help orient individuals interested in genetics by exploring a few of the most popular career paths in genetics today. In addition, it offers a few selected educational programs that can lead to a specific profession within this exciting scientific frontier.

Please note that all career outlooks and salaries are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—the latest figures available as of July 2023.

Become a Genetic Counselor

According to the Centers for Disease Control, genetic counselors are responsible for informing individuals about how genetic diseases and conditions may affect them and their families. Professionals in this field are trained in recognizing hereditary genetic traits that can result in specific defects or illnesses and give patients in their care insights into how this may affect their health and well-being.

Jobs and Pay

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2022) reports that the average annual salary is this field is $93,120, putting individuals at the higher end of the income bracket. With the mentioned 18 percent growth in this particular field, jobs for genetic counselors should be in good supply in the foreseeable future.


For genetic counselors to practice their profession in the US, they must be certified. Currently, the only path to certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling is to complete a master’s program accredited by this organization. Below are two selected programs that fit this bill.

University of South Carolina

The University of South Carolina offers a fully accredited master’s program in genetic counseling in Columbia, SC. The university boasts an 84 percent first-time passing rate for board certification for its graduates and is fully accredited by the ABGC. For students looking for a hybrid learning experience, it also allows them to take some required courses remotely.

  • Location: Columbia, SC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($34,477); non-resident ($70,520)

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, WI doesn’t just boast a prominent arts scene, but the storied University of Wisconsin. Prospective genetic counselors can earn their fully accredited master’s here as well. UW’s program is broken into a science and a counseling curriculum, allowing students to gain a foothold in the associated genetic science that informs their profession and the techniques and philosophy that informs the counseling process.

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HI)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($1091,98 per semester); non-resident ($3.821,66 per semester)

Become a DNA Analyst or Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists may well be one of the most visible and talked-about professions in genetics. Because of the role that they play in modern crime scene investigations—and their portrayals in movies and television shows—forensic scientists may have the most star cachet out of all the professions listed here. Responsible for collecting, analyzing, and archiving evidence from crime scenes and accidents, these individuals are now an important part of investigations in which biological or other evidence material is collected and analyzed.

Jobs and Pay

Forensic science technicians are listed in a category of their own by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where they can expect a very healthy 11 percent growth rate in their profession (2021 to 2031). According to the BLS, the average pay is $69,260 annually. However, forensic science technicians have quite a bit of room for advancement into supervisory roles and academics, making this a great starting point for a career in forensic science.


An entry into the field can be provided with a bachelor’s program, and numerous colleges and universities across the country now offer some form of degree plan for prospective forensic scientists. A selection of them can be found below.

St. Mary’s University

St. Mary’s University is located in San Antonio, Texas. It offers three different tracks for prospective students interested in forensic science: a bachelor’s of science with a biology option, a bachelor’s of science with a chemistry option, or a bachelor’s of arts with an emphasis on criminology. This three-tracked system is fairly unique and allows students to set an emphasis during their BA or BS.

  • Location: San Antonio, Texas
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $17,077 per semester

Fayetteville State University

Fayetteville State University is located in the town of the same name in North Carolina, and offers a bachelor of science in forensic science through its College of Health, Science, and Technology.

FSU boasts of an instructor-to-student ratio of one-to-ten, and emphasizes the individualized learning environment that the university offers through its promotional materials. According to its website, Fayetteville State University’s forensic science program can help prepare its students for the following careers:

  • DNA Analyst
  • Toxicologist
  • Drug Analyst
  • Trace Evidence Analyst
  • Fingerprint Examiner
  • Researcher in Biology, Biotechnology, or the Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Food and Drug Inspector
  • Serologist

Compared to many other programs, FSU’s forensic science program can be considered quite affordable, even for students not entering with a North Carolina residency.

  • Location: Fayetteville, North Carolina
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($1953,50 per semester); non-resident ($3953,50 per semester)

Become a Genetic Engineer

Genetic engineers represent one of the most future-facing aspects of the world of genetics, and it is arguably within this field that much of the technical and medical innovations develop. Genetic engineers study and work with all genetic material, not necessarily human. For example, genetic engineering is now a significant part of the agricultural sector, where it is used to select for favorable aspects in vegetables or animals.

Jobs and Pay

Genetic engineering is a highly skilled profession whose practitioners are well-educated, making this a high-paying career for most individuals. According to the BLS, “bioengineers and biomedical engineers,” the category that most neatly fits genetic engineers, can expect a mean yearly salary of $108,060. Also, the BLS anticipates job openings will increase by 10 percent between 2021 and 2031.


The entryway into genetic engineering is undoubtedly using a bachelor’s degree. Still, most prospective practitioners are encouraged to pursue graduate degrees and postgraduate education to help them gain the best possible foothold in the field and maximize their earning potential. The following PhD programs in the U.S. are uniquely suited to prospective genetic engineers:

Stanford University

Stanford University is undoubtedly one of the most well-regarded institutions for higher learning in the U.S., if not the entire world. Stanford offers a PhD program in genetics uniquely suited to applicants hoping to maximize their options in the job market.

While Stanford is a private university with high tuition, it offers a stipend of nearly $50,000 a year to its PhD students. It provides ample opportunities to connect them with other sources of grants, scholarships, and funding.

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Varies
  • Estimated Tuition: $51,882 to $97,353 per year, minus stipend and additional funding

Boston University

Boston University offers a PhD in genetics and genomics through its Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. BU focuses on biomedical research and training the next generation of scholars and researchers and hosts its own Genome Science Institute. The storied Massachusetts school is a great fit for prospective genetic engineers and researchers looking to qualify themselves for a medical career in genetics.

  • Location: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Varies
  • Estimated Tuition: $51,882 to $97,353 per year

Become a Research Assistant

Research assistants represent a halfway point for many individuals in genetics. Genetic research assistants can be found in thousands of institutions and facilities around the country, working on subjects as diverse as human genomic information as that of animals or plant life. With private and public interests alike taking such a big interest in the field, genetic research assistants should have few issues in finding employment in the foreseeable future.

Jobs and Pay

As research assistants with a background in genetics are spread across multiple fields and industries, hard numbers are difficult to come by. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 2022 average salary for medical scientists as $110,670 per year. Further, the BLS expects positions to swell 17 percent nationally between 2021 and 2031—much faster than average.


While some positions require a master’s degree, many employers who employ research assistants are open to applications from individuals with bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, depending on the field and depth of expertise required, many research assistant positions may be open to undergraduate and graduate students, allowing them to build a resume while completing their studies. Listed below are several bachelor’s programs in genetics across the United States that can provide a fruitful starting point for prospective research assistants.

Arizona State University (Online)

Arizona State University is well-known for its extensive offering of online courses and certificate programs. For students hoping to attain a bachelor of science degree without needing to attend in-person classes, the program offered by ASU may be a great fit. Graduates of the Arizona State online program are awarded a bachelor of science in genetics, cell, and developmental biology

  • Location: Tempe, Arizona
  • Accreditation: the Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36+ months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($18,136 per year); non-resident ($14.822 per year)

Clemson University

Clemson University is a public institution in Clemson, South Carolina. Its bachelor of science in genetics bills itself as a perfect entry point for students looking to attend pharmacy, veterinary or medical school after completing their undergraduate requirements. On its website, Clemson boasts many tie-in programs and a strong alumni network that may be especially interesting for individuals looking to build their careers in the country’s southeast.

  • Location: Clemson, South Carolina
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($15,558 per year); non-resident ($38,550 per year)

Other Careers in Genetics

The examples of professions and career paths listed above are just a sampling of the number of specializations available to individuals interested in genetics and genomics. Here are a few other jobs that are attainable with a bachelor’s or higher degree in this field:

  • Epidemiologist
  • Consultant
  • Pharmacological researcher
  • Genetic counselor assistant
  • Instructor
  • Clinical pharmacologist
Johannes Stitz
Johannes Stitz Writer

Johannes Stitz is a freelance writer and researcher based in the Southwest. He’s written about various topics in medical technology careers. Before turning to freelance writing, he spent nearly a decade in the arts as a booker and event manager.