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Nutritionist Degree Programs: What You Will Study


If you’re interested in becoming a nutritionist or dietitian, here are your curriculum and degree paths.

Table of Contents

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 nutritionist degree. 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.

Nutritionist Certification

What certification will I need?

Certification for nutritionists comes from a variety of professional agencies. Other licensure requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. Click the button below to learn about certification requirements and options.

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What will I learn in my courses?

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 nutritionist degree course listing might look like this:

Nutrition Foods
Chemistry Biochemistry
Biology Nutritional sciences

Nutritionist certification

There are two types of nutritionist certification options: Professional and academic. The latter is offered by many schools around the country and there are plenty of concentrations to choose from.

Here are a few examples of nutritionist certification programs you might consider:

Food, Nutrition and Health Plant-based Nutrition Sports and Fitness Nutrition
Nutritional Therapist Child Nutrition Eating Disorders and Obesity

Earning nutritionist certification can serve a few purposes. Some students simply want to “test the waters” to decide if nutrition is the right career for them. A basic nutrition certificate program teaches you about the fundamentals of healthy eating, obesity in America and the scientific side of food.child-nutrition

If you aren’t ready to commit to a longer degree program, an introductory nutritionist certification program can build your knowledge without costing you a lot of time and money.

Nutritionists who have already earned their degree can return to school for a specialized certificate in areas such as child nutrition. These short programs—usually a few courses—provide advanced training and a new skill set to nutritionists.

To earn a specialized certificate, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree to enroll.  Be sure to check the specific prerequisites for your preferred certificate program before applying.

Certified clinical nutritionist degree

individual-nutrition-planningA certified clinical nutritionist degree program teaches students to focus on an individual’s nutrition, not necessarily what is recommended for the general population. In other words, you’ll be taught how to look beyond the Food Pyramid.

Your studies in clinical nutrition will include discussions about digestion, the immune system, allergic reactions and other biochemical processes. You’ll examine the nutritional value of different foods and how cooking and processing affects the quality.

If you’re interested in the details of food service, distribution and production, a certified clinical nutritionist degree could be a good fit.

You can earn either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in clinical nutrition. An undergraduate program will include classes in biology, anatomy, food science and biochemistry. To become certified by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB), you’ll need to complete a number of additional courses such as herbology, nutrition and aging and nutrition assessment.

A master’s degree in clinical nutrition will delve into more complex topics. As an example of what you can expect, here are a few courses offered in Life University’s MS in Clinical Nutrition program.

Counseling Research and Evidence-based Practice Contemporary Nutrition
Advanced Biochemistry Management Skills

A clinical nutrition master’s program is typically open to students with varying education backgrounds. For instance, if you have an allied health background, but not in nutrition, you may be able to complete prerequisites before matriculating.

Registered dietitians (RDs), on the other hand, may receive credits for previous coursework.

Nutritionist master’s degree

cooking-demonstrationA nutritionist master’s degree program with a holistic approach typically focuses on how food plays a role in the mind-body-spirit connection. Another type of graduate degree—Applied Nutrition—examines nutrition research and theories. This type of degree is more clinical in nature but still supports the same goals of disease prevention and good health.

Like other graduate degrees, a nutritionist master’s degree allows students to choose a specialization. Since you already have the fundamentals of food science under your belt, a master’s program allows you to dig deeper into a specific niche. Here are a few examples of program specializations:

  • Nutrition and Clinical Health Psychology
  • Women’s Health
  • Nutrition and Human Development
  • Nutrition and Public Health

A nutritionist master’s degree is more than just classroom instruction. You can expect to attend cooking demonstrations, conduct field work and complete an internship and thesis. The hands-on experience will prepare you to better serve your current and future clients.

To help you narrow down your nutrition school of choice, take a look at each program’s summary to learn who the curriculum is designed for. Some degrees are intended for nutritionists who work in certain fields, such as social work, so you want to be sure you’re education is perfectly matched with your career goals.

How long will it take?

students-heading-to-classFor 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 can take between two and three years to complete.

Are online programs available?

online-school-studentThere 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.

Nutritionist salary

As you begin your search for the right nutritionist degree program, you’re probably wondering what type of salary you can expect once you graduate.

Here are the facts: Nutritionists earn a median annual salary of $55,240, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The demand for this career is expected to grow over the next several years which could translate into more opportunities for aspiring nutritionists.

A nutritionist salary is dependent on several factors including geographical location, experience level and job specialization. For instance, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,500 in 2012 whereas the top 10 percent of nutritionists boasted an income of more than $77,590.

Your nutritionist degree will also distinguish you from others in the health care field. Health educators, for example, earn a median annual income of $41,

There are a number of ways you can increase your salary during the course of your career. One option is to become an expert in a specific area such as fitness nutrition. Many clients are willing to pay more for a nutritionist who is a leader in their field.

If you decide to run your own nutrition practice, building a clientele can be a challenging, but rewarding, endeavor. As you gain more experience and earn a solid reputation in your field, more clients are likely to flock to you for nutrition and health advice.

Are there prerequisites?

If you plan to earn an undergraduate degree, most programs will require the following:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Satisfactory GPA
  • Satisfactory SAT or ACT scores

Master’s degree programs typically expect students to have:

  • Bachelor of Science in nutrition or related field
  • Satisfactory GPA
  • Minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

What accreditation is there for my program?

Accreditation is an important factor when considering nutrition programs. Attending an accredited school makes you eligible for federal financial aid and allows you to attend another accredited college or university if you decide to further your education.

You’ll want to look for schools accredited by regional accreditation boards and accrediting organizations focused on a specialization, such as the Commission on Accreditation for Diabetics Education.

Find School information

Find the school or program that matches your career goals.

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