In This Article
- How to Become a Nutritionist
- Nutrition Degrees
- Online Nutritionist Programs
- Nutritionist Certification
- Job Duties
Nutritionist degrees: A comprehensive guide
The level of education you need to practice in the field of nutrition isn’t quite as cut and dry as other subjects. Unlike dietetics, which typically requires a bachelor’s degree, supervised experience and licensing to legally practice, there are far fewer standardized criteria for the less medical-based field of nutrition.
Unfortunately, this can make choosing an educational path a bit confusing. Factors such as your career goals, financial resources, and any licensing or certification you seek will all influence the level of education that’s right for you.
But as with many fields, more career opportunities could open for you the more you educate yourself. Most earn at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition in order to get a good job in the field. Those who wish to take on high-level roles or go into research or teaching may find that a master’s or doctoral degree is the most beneficial.
What nutritionist degree programs are available?
You can become a nutritionist at every level of postsecondary education, and even through certificate programs. The right degree for you depends on your particular interests and aspirations.
In general, the types of nutritionist education programs listed below can help launch your career, including but not limited to:
A closer look at each education level
Be sure to also research any licensing and certification regulations in your state to find out if you need a certain degree to obtain a license.
What are the prerequisites for a nutrition degree?
The requirements to enter into a nutrition program vary from institution to institution, so it’s always good to check with the school directly. That being said, most programs have similar requirements.
For entry-level programs
If you’re entering a certificate or associate degree program, you may not need to meet any prerequisites. Some community colleges don’t require you to have a high school diploma or equivalent to enroll in a nutritionist program.
For undergraduate programs
Most bachelor’s degree programs, on the other hand, require a high school diploma or GED, a good score on an entrance exam like the SAT, and a satisfactory GPA—often at least a 3.0, or a 3.5 for more competitive nutrition programs.
For graduate-level programs
Master’s degree programs typically require students to have already earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a closely related field and have acceptable scores on the GRE or a similar school-administered exam.
What GRE scores are considered “good” vary widely across schools, though average scores for top graduate programs are around 150 out of 170 on the Verbal and Quantitative sections and 3.5 out of 6 on Analytical Writing.
For doctoral-level programs
For entrance into a doctoral program, you might be required to have a master’s degree, though some schools accept those with bachelor’s degrees in nutrition or another science-based subject. These typically allow you to work on a master’s and doctoral degree simultaneously in less time than it would take to earn them on their own.
In addition to the above, almost all degree programs at the bachelor’s level or higher will ask that you also submit some sort of personal statement or essay plus letter(s) of recommendation with your application.
Nutrition degree concentrations
Many schools offer specializations or concentrations within their nutrition programs. A concentrated degree can be a great option because it allows you to focus on a particular area within the field of nutrition. This in turn could open the door to specific jobs because of your specialized knowledge.
Schools may only offer a few concentrations within their nutrition program (if any), while some schools may only offer specialized nutrition programs, as opposed to a generalized nutrition degree. Keep in mind that schools that offer these degrees may call them by slightly different names. Some common concentrations offered include:
Preparing yourself for a career in nutrition
If you’re thinking about going to school for nutrition, you may want to know what to expect out of your degree and what’s to come after graduation.
Professional skills you’re meant to gain in school
Every program’s curriculum is a little different, especially when comparing different degree types. Even so, almost all nutrition education programs are going to touch on some shared foundational topics in nutrition. When you earn a nutrition degree, you should graduate with knowledge and skills such as:
Credentials you can earn
Beyond a degree, there are numerous voluntary credentials that you can earn as a nutritionist. Since most credentials have certain education requirements, accruing some credentials will most likely happen after you’ve completed your education.
Having a certification can boost your credibility as a practitioner and assure clients of your ability to successfully perform your job. Here’s a breakdown of the education you’ll need to earn some of the most common nutritionist credentials—keep in mind, however, that your education level may not be all you need to qualify:
Internship and practicum requirements
Gaining hands-on experience can be crucial for helping prepare you to work directly with clients. While most certificate and undergrad programs won’t require an internship themselves, you’ll most likely need between 900 and 1,200 hours of supervised experience to sit for any necessary licensing exams in your state, if necessary.
Therefore, if an internship or practicum is not built into your degree program, it may be a good idea to pursue an internship while you’re going to school or after you graduate.
Most graduate programs should already include an internship or other fieldwork that meets these requirements, particularly in states where supervised experience hours are required for licensure.
Tools and technology you’ll learn to use
Although each program’s curriculum differs, you may learn about some of the modern technology and software that nutritionists and dieticians alike utilize in their practices.
Lots of nutrition professionals use nutrition and diet software programs with their clients. These software programs provide nutrition information about foods, create diet plans, and track food and calorie intake. Some common nutrition software programs include:
You may also learn about instruments that some nutritionists use to assess the health status of their clients, including:
How much does nutritionist schooling cost?
The cost of your education varies widely depending on the school, its location, and the level of degree. According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average total costs for tuition, fees, and room and board are just over $10,000 a year for an associate’s degree, roughly $20,000 for a bachelor’s at a public university and over $41,000 a year for a bachelor’s at a private institution.
The average total cost of a master’s degree came in at $25,000 a year, while a research-focused doctoral degree cost $32,000. Students of all levels can find grants and scholarships to help them pay for school, as well as potentially get tuition remission for work-study, teaching, or research. To learn more about the process, head over to our financial aid resource.
What should I look for in a school?
Once you’ve decided to get a degree, it can be challenging to know which school and program to choose. There are several factors that any prospective student should consider when deciding what program you want to enroll in.
If your state requires licensing to practice as a nutritionist, one of the most important things when choosing a school is to verify that it’s an accredited institution and program.
Having this credential means the school has been vetted for its quality of education, and it’s also necessary if you wish to receive federal financial aid. What’s more, credits from an accredited school are more likely to be accepted if you decide to transfer or use them to meet admission requirements for a higher-level degree.
You can verify a school’s current accreditation status by searching the database provided by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Depending on where you live, your school should be accredited by one of the following regional agencies:
You’ll also want to look for programs that are specifically accredited for dietetics and nutrition, as these ensure that you’ll get the education that’s necessary to qualify for licensing or certification. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) approves both programs and internships designed for students who are preparing for careers in these fields.
Questions to ask yourself about nutritionist programs
Beyond verifying accreditation, you’ll also want to ask yourself a number of other questions when comparing your options:
On that note, if you’re looking for a way to make a college education more affordable, scholarships should be your first consideration.
Scholarships for nutrition students
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) provides financial aid to qualified applicants, and as the name says, it’s free to fill out. Keep in mind that you must attend an accredited institution to qualify for the FAFSA.
There are also a ton of scholarships out there offered by schools themselves, companies, and other organizations. Some are open to anyone regardless of who you are or what you’re studying, while others are open to a specific group of people.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation is the largest provider of dietetics scholarships in the world and awards over 100 named scholarships annually for students at every level of education. Prizes range in value from $500-$25,000. Be aware that the Foundation only awards scholarships to students in ACEND-accredited programs.
Starting your nutritionist career
As a nutritionist, you could go on to work in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, food service facilities, and community organizations or open your own private practice. Those with graduate degrees could take on leadership roles within the government, helping to set new programs and policies in place or finding research or teaching positions at the university level.
Those who are members of the Commission on Dietetic Registration also have the option to become certified in specialty areas of:
- pediatric nutrition & pediatric critical care,
- renal nutrition,
- sports dietetics,
- and weight management.
Not only can having certification lend credibility to your resume, but offer you the chance to pursue continuing education, gain access to leading research in the field, and network with other nutritional professionals.
Regardless of your plans, a successful career begins with a solid educational foundation. Use our search for programs near you widget to browse vetted schools.