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What is Nutrition Science?
Nutrition science is the area of study that deals with the effect of food on human and animals, particularly in regards to health, mental health, behavior, and metabolism. Individuals in this field will be responsible for understanding the various effects different foods may have on a given individual and apply that knowledge to a variety of possible functions, including health care, research, safety and other such applications.
What is an RDN?
A Registered Dietician Nutritionist or RDN is a credential earned by experts to help address complex nutrition and food-based issues for individuals and industry. An RDN designation reflects the academic prowess and aptitude requisite to help others translate the mosaic of nutrition information into actionable steps. Registered Dietician Nutritionists can work for public corporations or private industry in a variety of institutions such as: universities, clinics, community hospitals, nursing facilities, primary schools, fitness centers, outpatient facilities, research institutions, or private practices. To become an RDN, you will need to:
- Earn a degree in nutrition science or dietetics from an accredited college or university.
- Get accepted into an accredited dietetic internship (DI) program and complete the required hours of supervised practice.
- Successfully pass the RDN national board exam covering community, clinical, and food systems elements to earn your certification.
- Apply for licensure and begin work as an RDN in your state of residence.
Degrees for Nutritionists
A variety of accredited degree options exist in nutrition science online or in class that you may consider for your future. Each school will have variations to their program and degree options to consider as you look for the perfect college for you. Depending on the degree track, a nutritionist may be able to select an area of concentration in the field such as gerontology nutrition, pediatric nutrition, sports nutrition, or oncology nutrition to name a few options. Degree options in nutrition can include online or classroom-based programs or hybrid programs that combine both on-site and online learning modalities.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Nutrition
Nutritionists seeking an online bachelor’s degree will find them listed in a course catalog as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) depending on the program’s design. Typical BA and BS degree programs in nutrition are four-year programs offering a mix of general education courses like psychology, communications, and philosophy with core coursework to help students think differently about the world around them. The core classes in nutrition from school to school will vary but generally include foundational courses such as: principles of nutrition, nutrition & biochemistry, world nutrition, fundamentals of dietetics, life cycle nutrition, food science, dietetic management, medical nutrition, applied dietetic management of nutrition programs, sports nutrition, community health, nutrition counseling, and clinical physiology. Students earning a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or nutrition science will be equipped to sit for their state’s examination and apply for licensure after all state-based requirements are met.
Online Master’s Degree in Nutrition
The master’s degree track in nutrition science offers students advanced coursework in nutrition and dietetics to prepare student for advanced positions in the field of nutrition or the opportunity to pursue a doctorate degree in the field. The master’s degree in nutrition is most frequently conferred as an MS or Masters of Science which takes 2-3 years to complete of full-time matriculation depending on the school’s curricular design and thesis requirements. Upper level courses in nutrition may include the following examples: nutrient bioavailability, clinical nutrition, nutritional energetics, nutrition & behavior, community nutrition, child nutrition, maternal nutrition, endocrinology, international nutrition, physiology of digestion, obesity, chronic diseases, gene expression, aging, food preference, immunity, dietary assessment, lipid and protein metabolism, nutrition education, and advanced research methodology.
Doctorate Degrees in Dietetics
Doctorate degrees in nutrition, nutrition biology, or nutrition science are conferred as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at most accredited universities and colleges. The PhD program in nutrition can take four to six years of full time matriculation dependent upon the course load and time taken to complete your dissertation project. Upper level classes in the doctoral dietetics program may include: research methods in nutrition, advanced qualitative research, clinical research, nutritional assessments, health statistics, epidemiological methods, metabolism, vitamin functions, community nutrition, nutritional biochemistry, pathophysiology, micronutrients, and macronutrients along with advanced chemistry and biology courses. PhD students will be uniquely equipped to assume management and leadership roles in higher education, research, community-based organizations, and private corporations of all types.
Individuals seeking a degree in nutrition science will typically seek out at minimum a bachelor's degree, with programs preparing students for careers that involve the use of nutrition science. Higher level degrees offer more options, including research positions and teaching opportunities. Programs require students to understand the effect of food on the body through the use of multiple scientific disciplines. Individuals should have strong science and math backgrounds when considering this field.
A curriculum may include courses in:
- Nutrition and Health
- Metabolism and Digestion
How to Become a Nutritionist
To become a nutritionist, you will need to successfully complete a series of discrete steps in order. A summary of those steps can be found below to help you understand the milestones required as part of the process and actionable steps associated with each. The steps to become a nutritionist include:
- Establish a priority list – An example priority list of questions can be found on pages 3-4 of the MatchCollege Complete Guide to College Admissions Guide
- Request feedback – Ask counselors, teachers, family, school alumni, and friends for feedback on your priority list to elicit valuable input.
- Perform a self-assessment – By taking stock of your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes you will more readily be able to winnow down school options leading to a nutrition degree.
- Gather information – Gathering information from accredited colleges and universities to overlay a school’s programs with your priorities. When you marry your priorities with the available nutrition programs, decision making becomes a much easier process. Comprehensive services like MatchCollege will help you quickly get matched to a number of programs of interest to research schools offering on-site or online degrees on this resource page or via our matching
- Getting matched – Once you have received information from a handful of quality schools, you can then assess your likelihood of admissions. Knowing a school’s admissions policies, requirements, education parameters, work experience, cost, and program length is a must. Only then should you apply for admissions to a quality nutrition program.
- Financial aid – After your application for admissions is in queue, you must intimately understand your financial aid options. Determine what options exist for grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans before committing to a nutrition program.
- Acceptance – Aligning your goals with the school’s offerings and overall cost will allow you to make a quality decision about your future. Once you accept a school’s offer of admissions, you will need to schedule time to attend orientation, meet with your counselor, and register for classes.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree in dietetics from a CADE accredited college or university in nutrition, nutrition biology, or nutrition science.
- Verify with your state of residence the work experience requirements for nutritionists. Typical work requirements include 6-12 months in an approved accredited program.
- Register for and successfully pass the nutrition board’s examination.
- Apply for licensure from your state of residence and seek work in the field as a member of a small or large organization in the public or private sector.
- Focus on transferrable skills to help grow your career and skill set. Register for continuing education credits as prescribed by your state to keep your license active.
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Individuals who complete a bachelor's degree in nutrition science will be able to pursue employment in a number of areas relating to health and nutrition. Some may choose to become private nutritionists, others may work with community or other government programs to promote awareness, some may work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices as registered dietitians who assist individuals in finding a diet that best serves the specific needs of the clients. Individuals with higher levels of education may take on research positions, either through private firms or in conjunction with educational institutions or government agencies.
Where Do Nutritionists Work?
A nutritionist can work in a number of industries and sectors of the marketplace. In fact, nutritionists can be found working in a variety of industries for private organizations, government research facilities, community health providers, public agencies, and non-profit organizations. The list below represents the top 5 employers of nutritionists as published by the BLS.
Top Employers of Nutritionists
- Medical and Surgical Hospitals 17,840
- Outpatient Care Facilities 6,870
- Nursing Care Facilities 4,790
- Local Government Agencies 3,960
- Specialty Food Services 3,780
Graduates from an accredited college or university with a degree in nutrition science, nutrition biology, or nutrition be employed in the following sectors of the economy providing coaching, counseling, education, research, and mentoring on food nutrition and well-being.
- Insurance Carriers
- Federal Government
- Recreation Centers
- Community Health Clinics
- Clinical Nutritionist
- State Government
- Food Safety
- Menu Development
- Local Government
Job Growth, Salary, and Related Fields
Job growth for nutrition science related professions is expected to remain steady over the next decade. Opportunities will increase as demand for better health becomes more common place. Greater opportunities will be found in densely populated areas, and urban centers due to the higher concentration of individuals seeking better nutrition. The average salary of a nutritional scientist is approximately $53,000 annually, and varies based on education, certification, location and experience.
Top Job Responsibilities of a Nutritionist
Information gathered via a recent survey administered by the U.S. Department of Labor reveals a list of common job duties performed by nutritionists around the country. We have summarized the list and condensed it into a bite-size list to help prospective students understand daily duties. The top 5 job responsibilities of a nutritionist include the following:
- Counseling clients on quality eating habits, principles of nutrition, and overall wellness associated with food consumption
- Consulting with medical providers and doctors to understand a patient’s limitations, restrictions, or known allergies prior to establishing a treatment plan
- Monitoring food service operations to ensure adherence to mandated standards such as: nutrition, safety, sanitation, and quality
- Advising patients, corporations, and families on dietary plans, nutritional principles, food preparation, diet modifications, and while food selection
- Assessing the nutritional needs, diet restrictions, and current health plans of individuals in an effort draft treatment plans and counseling benchmarks
States with the Highest Employment of Nutritionists
- California 7,860
- New York 4,960
- Texas 4,610
- Florida 2,950
- Pennsylvania 2,860
Top Paying States for Nutritionists
- California $71,430
- Maryland $67,440
- Oregon $67,040
- Hawaii $66,870
- New Jersey $66,540