Nutrition and Dietetics Degrees: What You'll Study
If you're interested in becoming a nutritionist or dietitian, here are your curriculum and degree paths.
What degree or certification levels are available?
In order to become a nutritionist or a dietitian, you will need either a certificate or bachelor's degree in order to practice, depending on what you specialize in; some nutritionist careers only require a certificate, while all dietitian careers call for bachelor's degrees.
If you want to boost your earning potential and take on an advanced position, you can choose to pursue a master's degree in nutrition. Any degree level you pursue in your nutrition studies has certain benefits— a certificate is less expensive and takes less time to complete, while a master's degree makes you eligible for higher positions.
What certification will I need?
After you earn your degree, depending on what state you're in, there's a good chance you'll also need to obtain a license to practice nutrition or dietetics. In 46 states, there are laws governing dietetics licensure, and 35 of those states require a license. Twelve other states require certification, and one requires registration, a lower level of qualification.
The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) awards the Registered Dietitian (RD) certification, which you can achieve by passing an exam after you've completed your nutrition program, as well as supervised experience.
Other licensure requirements may vary on a state-by-state basis; be sure to research certification organizations in your state before you begin your program.
What will I learn in my courses?
Your courses will depend on what you choose to focus on in your nutrition training program. Studying to become a dietitian involves some different coursework than becoming a nutritionist, but there is a good deal of overlap between the two as well. Specifics will vary by program, but an example of a course listing might look like this:
- Nutritional sciences
How long will it take?
The length of your nutrition training program will vary depending on a few different factors. For nutritionists and dietitians, the standard degree level achieved is a bachelor's. Typically, a bachelor's degree takes four years to earn, though many online programs allow you to earn your degree in a shorter period of time.
In some states, you only need a certificate or associate's degree to be eligible for your nutritionist license, and these can be achieved in two years or less. On the other hand, some nutritionists and dietitians opt to advance to a master's degree, which will add on a few years of school, typically about three additional years on top of your time spent on a bachelor's degree.
Are online programs available?
There are online programs available for nutrition degrees, and they can be a great option for people seeking flexibility and autonomy in a school program.
One of the biggest advantages for students in online programs is that oftentimes, attending school online allows students to move at their own pace, whether that's faster or slower than average. Another benefit is that online programs typically cost less than on-campus programs, which for many students is a huge plus.
How much will my education cost?
The cost of your program will depend on what degree level you want to earn and what institution you attend; a four-year bachelor's degree will be the more expensive option, while a certificate from a two-year institution or program will cost less.
According to College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2012-2013, the average annual cost* for a two-year, public institution is $3,131. Meanwhile, the average annual cost* for a four-year, public institution runs around $8,655 for in-state tuition and $21,706 for out-of-state-tuition.
The average annual cost for a four-year private non-profit school is $29,056 and $15,172 for a private for-profit school.
*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees, books, room and board.
Are there prerequisites?
The only prerequisite for entering into a nutrition or dietitian program is a high school diploma. Because entering into a nutrition program doesn't call for any previous schooling or formal experience, it can be a great career choice for those who wish to return to school or start over in a new field.
What accreditation is there for my program?
When you go to choose your nutritionist program, you'll have a great selection of accredited courses available. It's up to you to decide whether or not attending an accredited program is a priority for you.
One of the biggest benefits in attending an accredited school or program is that it could help you qualify for government financial aid, which for some students is a must.
What should I expect my student-teacher ratio to be?
Every program's student-to-teacher ratio is different—if you choose to enroll in an online program, student-teacher ratios won't apply to you. If you do choose to attend an on-campus program, your student-teacher ratio will likely change over the course of your education; into courses typically have a higher student-to-teacher ratio, and this number will shrink as you advance in your degree.