A degree in nutrition (also called dietetics) is a science based degree that teaches students the role of food and in human lives and how it affects health, well-being, and even the prevention of disease. Individuals with any degree in nutrition can only call themselves "nutritionists". They are able to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN or Dietitian) only after completing a clinical internship year and passing a national exam.
Online Nutrition Degrees
Some schools will offer their bachelor's degrees in nutrition either partially or completely online. These programs offer additional flexibility with timing of classes and course load. The online program will require the same course load and credit hours as the traditional format, but may utilize additional online platforms to facilitate discussions and submit work. The cost for online programs will vary by program, but overall may cost more due to out of state tuition. It is important to fully research online programs first to find both a good fit with the course load and cost of attending.
Online master's degrees in nutrition are less common than bachelor's degrees. This may be because once receiving a RDN, many professionals do not find it necessary to continue education. Masters of Public Health in Nutrition, however, are more common. These courses are ideal for the public health or nutrition practitioner looking to expand their career or education further. These programs will focus on nutrition from a population or community perspective and integrate more socio-cultural aspects than basic sciences.
Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition
Individuals interested in a bachelor's degree in nutrition must first meet the college or university's admissions requirements. Application into the program usually consists of a personal statement and an interview. Some programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council on Education of Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). These programs have passes rigorous examinations to ensure the coursework will adequately prepare students for a career in nutrition and dietetics.
Course work for a bachelor's degree may include food studies (the historical, cultural and sociological aspects of food), public health nutrition, research, physiology, biochemistry, mathematics, and clinical practice. An internship at the end of course work is required for the majority of programs. These internships can be very competitive, so it is recommended that during course work students conduct appropriate extracurricular activities, gain work experience and even assist with research if available.
Once graduated with a bachelor's in nutrition, many choose to take their license to become an RDN. A bachelor's degree in nutrition is the minimum education needed to take the licencing exam. While it is not a required licence to work in some aspects of nutrition, the career options are much more limited for those without. The designation will often change to a Food Scientist rather than a nutritionist.
Master's Degree in Nutrition
Once receiving a bachelor's degree, some may choose to continue their education in nutrition. There are many options available to potential students. Different degree options are available for those who have or have not received their RDN or another professional degree (RN, MD, etc.). These degrees will be either highly research based, focusing on food safety, toxicology, or food processing, or clinic based. For those interested in public health, a Public Health Nutrition or concentration is also available. A PHN will focus more on community education, clinical practice, and nutrition.
Entry into each of these will require a GRE score, an undergraduate in either nutrition or a related field, work experience, and letters of recommendation. Course work for each degree program can be tailored to the concentration the student chooses. Foundational classes in research, public health, advance nutrition and clinical skills will be required. To graduate most programs will require a thesis and/or a apprenticeship.
Doctorate Degree in Nutrition
A doctorate degree in nutrition is ideal for those who desire to work in academia or in a high level research position. Requirements for a Ph.D. in nutrition include a GRE, transcripts from all post-secondary programs, a resume outlining previous academic training, work experience, and research experience, letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. An interview is also often a requirement to ensure the applicant meets the criteria and expectations.
The course work for a doctorate in nutrition may require some prerequisite studies to ensure a solid understanding of nutrition. This may include research methods and foundational courses in nutrition. During course work, the doctorate degree will require both research and teaching / curriculum development for undergraduate or graduate level courses. The research conducted will narrow the specialty of the individual and further both their knowledge and the greater body of research. This research may or may not be included in the dissertation requirement that includes a research proposal and oral examination.
Where Can You Get a Nutrition Degree?
Degrees in nutrition are available in many colleges and university across the United States. One key factor to consider when applying to schools is whether or not the school is accredited by the Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. These schools will adequately prepare a student for the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist licence exam. It is also important to consider the student to teacher ratio and availability of internship and extra curricular activities offered by or with the help of the school.
What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree?
A degree in nutrition provides a foundation for a number of different career options. Options before receiving a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist licence include careers in:
- health food stores
- education and advocacy
- public relations or communications
- community health organizations
However, having a RDN licence will open more doors. With a RDN and a degree in nutrition an individual can work as a clinical dietitian for hospitals, military bases, large organizations and rehabilitation facilities. They can also work in public health, pharmaceutical companies, academia and in the government.
Why Work in Nutrition?
A degree in nutrition is two sided. The scientific side requires attention to detail, critical thinking and the ability to understand sometimes complex concepts and data. The other side must also be able to cooperate and work with others. A certain amount of integrity, dependability and concern for others is needed in most careers in nutrition. A degree in nutrition is best for individuals who are interested in not only the science of nutrition, but also how it affects individuals and populations.
Another reason to obtain a degree in nutrition is that the projected growth for jobs in nutrition and dietetics (with an RDN licence) is expected to grow at a faster than average pace, meaning there will be a demand for dietitians. The main industries currently hiring are governments and health care and social assistance with a median annual wage of $57,000 (source)