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A Look at Online Dietitian Degrees

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You’ve been doing your research. You’ve decided that the registered dietitian (RDN) route is the right career path for you. You’ve reviewed dietitian degree options at colleges and universities.

But you are a busy mom, or a career changer with a fulltime job, or have other constraints on your time and you are wondering if it’s possible to study dietetics online. And if so, how do you know which online RD programs you can trust and which you need to avoid?

In This Article

“The good news is that there are numerous courses and online dietitian programs in this field and a lot of people enroll in them,” says Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of ChampagneNutrition.com. The key is making sure you find a program that is accredited.

“Just like they do for traditional programs, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®), the accreditation arm of the Academy, certifies online programs that meet its criteria for RDs/RDNs.” ACEND even provides a helpful list of online schools that do not meet its requirements for accreditation.

The Rise of Online Registered Dietitian Programs

At some point in your journey toward becoming an RDN, or to maintain your license as one, you are likely to take online RDN classes to meet basic requirements, acquire continuing education credit for renewing your license—or, even, obtain a degree.

Online dietetics degrees are now considered as legitimate as those earned sitting in a classroom.

Accredited online courses and programs for dietitians have come a long way in the last ten years and online degrees are now considered as legitimate as those earned sitting in a classroom on campus. In ACEND-accredited programs, requirements for graduation, coursework and faculty are generally the same for both traditional and online degrees, and diplomas do not specify whether the degree was earned online or on campus.   

But the reality is, earning you dietitian bachelor’s degree online is very different from a traditional classroom setting. However, armed with the right information and with expectations for this experience clear, you’ll be ready to tackle your degree.

Who Are Online RDN Programs For?

At first glance, being able to take classes when it’s convenient for you—anytime day or night—is an attractive alternative to attending classes on campus, but it’s not for everybody. To succeed, you must be fully committed, self-driven, and well-organized.

Many schools set up clear expectations from the start. For example, the University of North Colorado (UNC), an ACEND-accredited school, advises that prioritizing and managing course time around your already busy personal schedule is the key to success—as is being able and willing to do the following:

  • Excellent Preparation: Read the syllabus, review the course timeline, and familiarize yourself with the “online” classroom (typically a cloud-based digital portal you will receive login access to) before diving in so you have an overview of what to expect and what is required.
  • Good Time Management: Set aside time each day to work on classwork. Treat it like you would a job; establish specific blocks of time for study and “report in” at the designated times.
  • Set Personal Reminders: Add key dates to your personal calendar for assignments, tests, and reports. Develop progress goals for larger assignments or papers and enter those. Plan research times and study sessions for daily work, test prep, and papers and add those to your calendar as well.
  • Ask for Help: Whether it’s clarification on course assignments or assistance with technical issues, do not hesitate to ask the tech desk or instructors and fellow students for help, sooner rather than later.
  • Create a Dedicated Work Space: A dedicated workspace at home or your office will help with focus and organization.
  • Save and Back Up Your Work: Just as in business or personal finances, you’ll want to save everything and save often. You’ll also want to back-up your files to more than one location.

You may be thinking that these are factors that would be good for either traditional or virtual classes. Yes, they would, and they are especially important for those studying dietetics online and who are working on their own.

If you are not well organized, are shy about asking questions, have trouble prioritizing, dive in before you’ve prepared, don’t keep good track of due dates, and generally “wing it” in most situations, you probably don’t have the personal discipline required for successful completion of an online dietician program.

What Should I Look For in an Online Dietitian School?

Can you really get a quality education for a dietician in a virtual setting, and achieve readiness for on-the-job duties of a dietitian? Absolutely—and they’re often taught by the same people who teach in classrooms.

The University of Southern California’s (USC) Leonard Davis School online ACEND-accredited MS in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity (a common dietitian master’s degree area of study), for example, is commonly taught by regular faculty.

This is often the case for other programs and schools listed in the ACEND database. As you search for the right school for you, immerse yourself in the field via the various need-to-know resources for dieticians, and pay attention to the answers to these questions:

Is the RD Program You’re Looking at Accredited?

Check regional accrediting bodies to verify that the institution is accredited. Check ACEND to make sure the degree program at that institution is accredited for RDNs.

Does the Program Offer the Specialty You Want?

All virtual dietetics degree programs list specific required classes and electives for graduation on their websites, which you can easily access and review.

What Qualifications Do the Faculty Have?

Faculty need to meet the same dietetics qualifications as those teaching in traditional programs. Most institutions of higher education require professors in upper level and graduate courses to have a minimum of a doctoral degree in an academic field of study and be subject matter experts in the field in which they teach.

How Does Learning Dietetics Online Work?

Colleges and universities offering online dietetics degrees are committed to offering virtual students an academic challenge and a true university education. Using web-based software such as Canvas, schools create an virtual classroom where students studying dietetics online do the same things as those in traditional classrooms:

  • students turn in assignments,
  • access course content remotely,
  • interact with their professors and other students virtually,
  • take digital quizzes, share information online,
  • and collaborate on projects.

In fact, that same software designed for online RDN courses is also used to provide additional structure and support to traditional classroom courses taught at the school.

The main difference between remote learning and classroom learning is:

  • Much of the interaction occurs in writing, using the online discussion boards, emails, and classroom software.
  • Interaction occurs asynchronously (not at the same time). There are deadlines, but students post and turn in assignments on their own schedules.

In many ways, getting an online education in dietetics is a lot like being on social media. If you live with a phone in your hand, you’ll be familiar and comfortable with the process. With social media, while not everyone is online when you are, you feel engaged and connected. The same holds true for your online classroom community.

What are the Technical Requirements?

Most RD schools post technical guidelines online and provide robust technical support so that technology is not a barrier for students. For the most part, the tools and classroom software are web-based. Generally, you’ll need access to a device with reliable internet access; a high speed connection is recommended.

Desktops and laptops work better than tablets or phones (although the later is fine for reading, checking assignments, etc.). Wired internet connections are highly recommended for proctored tests and live video. School websites will specify the minimum requirements for PCs, Macs and browsers.

Generally, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are recommended; Internet Explorer and Edge are not recommended and are not supported in some environments.

Do You Need to Be Physically Present for Anything?

That varies, depending on the school and the program. The advisor for the virtual dietitian program you are thinking about will clarify this for you. In general, almost all the curriculum is online, but there are some exceptions, depending on the school.

For example, some of the science classes may require lab work. USC, for instance, requires a one-week Professionalization Seminar orientation. Students who apply for Dietetic Internships usually need to be onsite for rotations at the medical center or public health facility to which they’ve been assigned. Your advisor will walk you through the options for how to deal with these situations.

What Kind of Academic Support Exists for Online RDN programs?

Just like traditional students, as an online student, you’ll have access to a wide range of campus resources from the comfort of your home, your office—or your local park for that matter. For instance, Kansas State University, like many other schools, offers the below services for online learners. Be sure to ask what services the school you’re looking at provides.

  • Academic advisors for the path you wish to take
  • Academic coaching to help you conquer a difficult class
  • Tutoring online via video conferencing
  • Writing Center to improve your skills  by working with a writing tutor
  • Textbook assistance in locating books and materials
  • Library access for research
  • ID Center for student ID cards
  • Assistance with online testing and proctored exams (where, when, how)

How Much Does an Online Degree in Dietetics Cost?

laptop symbolizing online learning

This will vary widely, depending on the school, the RDN program, the location and other factors. Most colleges post estimated costs for tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation online for their programs. When looking at these, remote students can discount room and board, eliminate parking on campus and reduce some other items.

But they may need to adjust tuition upwards; some schools charge more per unit or credit hour for online dietetics classes. Also, if you are an out-of-state student, even though you are an online student, with some schools you may need to pay the non-resident tuition at a public college. For example, at the University of Vermont, 2021-2023 tuition for the two-year MS program is $16,280 for residents, but is $41,280 for non-residents.

Private universities tend to charge the same tuition for everyone, residency is not a factor. The same is true with for-profit online schools, if they even offer dietetic programs, but it’s important to make sure the school you’re looking at is accredited; some are not. The College Board calculator is a good resource for help in estimating your expenses.

Are Financial Aid & Scholarships Available?

Just as they are for traditional students, both financial aid and scholarships are available to online students enrolled in accredited degree programs and schools. Most colleges and departments describe available scholarships and how to apply, as well as the process for financial aid, on their websites. 

How Do Employers View Online Dietitian Degrees?

The online RDN programs and traditional programs accredited by ACEND are comparable and degrees that are issued do not indicate whether the program of study was in the classroom or online. In fact, in the world of dietetics, online study at both the undergraduate and graduate level is not unusual.

Employers are very familiar with the RDN education, supervised practice, and national examination requirements for RDN’s established by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). As a result, employers tend to focus on your experience in the Dietetic Internship and your work history.

The good news is, dietitians are in high demand. Often students are recruited right out of college and most schools do provide some guidance in the job search process.


Written and reported by:
Natural Healers Team

ginger hultin ms rdn cso

With professional insight from:
Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO
Founder, ChampagneNutrition®