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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.
Top 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 Degree 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, fundamentals of dietetics, world nutrition, food science, life cycle nutrition, medical nutrition, dietetic management, sports nutrition, applied dietetic management of nutrition programs, nutrition counseling, community health, 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, dietetics & 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 Nutrition
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.
Advanced doctoral classes in dietetics will include a host of leading edge courses. Examples of these dietetics courses include: research methods in nutrition, clinical research, advanced qualitative research, health statistics, nutritional assessments, vitamin functions, epidemiological methods, metabolism, nutritional biochemistry, community nutrition, 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.
Educational Requirements for Nutritionists
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 in nutrition science may include courses in:
- Nutrition and Health
- Food Technology
- Sports Economics
- Minerals and Vitamins
- Cell Biology
- Nutritional Genomics
- Food Science
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 – Starting with a list of priorities that is near and dear to you is a perfect place to begin. Create your own list or find a sample list of questions on our College Admissions Guide to build your priority list.
- Request feedback – Ask for feedback from family members, counselors, school alumni, teachers, and friends. The input you receive about your priority list will help refine and improve your list before moving forward to step number three.
- Perform a self-assessment – Carefully analyze your strengths, opportunities, likes, and weaknesses. Placing each in a quadrant will provide a visual representation of what you are good at doing and what you like to do in nutrition science.
- Gather information – Collecting admissions information from accredited universities is the next step to tackle. Carefully overlay what the school offers with what you find important in a career. Prioritizing your goals will lead to better outcomes and a more efficient decision about your future. Trustworthy digital portals like MatchCollege help millions of students every year to research schools and degrees. Get matched to online colleges and campus-based schools with our proprietary matching technologies.
- Getting matched – With quality information in-hand, narrow your school choices and assess probability of admissions. Analyzing admissions policies and requirements with your profile will help you get down to a few school choices.
- Financial aid – Once your application for admissions is in queue, you will need to quickly gather financial aid options. Connect with the school's financial aid team and examine scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and student loans while you wait for a decision on admissions.
- Acceptance – Aligning your priorities and career goals with the school’s nutrition degree and overall cost allow for a better decision for your future. After accepting a school, you must attend orientation, schedule a time to meet with an academic counselor, and register for nutrition classes.
- Degree - Diligently work hard to learn all you can and focus on completing your degree. This phase ends with you earning a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree in nutrition from a CADE accredited college nutrition, nutrition biology, or nutrition science.
- State Requirements - Verify any and all requirements to become a nutritionist with your state of residence. Typical work requirements will include six to twelve months of experience in a state-approved program.
- Standardized Exam - Prepare to sit for the nutrition board’s examination and pass the standardized test to earn your nutrition certification.
- Licensure - Apply for a nutritionist or dietetic license from your state of residence. During this phase, you will begin looking for work in the field at large or small organizations that fit your aspirations.
- Professional Development - While working, keep a keen eye on growing your transferrable skills. Adding tools and skills to your proverbial toolbox will help grow your career year over year. Plan to register for continuing education credits even if your state licensing board does not require it annually.
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Employment Opportunities for Nutritionists
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 various private corporations, non-government organizations, government research facilities, public agencies, and community health providers. Below you will find the top five largest employers of nutritionists as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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 proper eating habits, principles of nutrition, and overall behaviors associated with personal wellness
- Consulting with doctors and medical providers to understand restrictions, limitations, restrictions, or known patient allergies before creating 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