Nutrition degrees are very popular right now. Some may even say there’s never been a better time to earn an academic credential in the discipline of dietetics and nutrition. After all, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a faster-than-average growth for jobs in this occupational field in the decade between 2020 and 2030. Still, earning a degree of any kind is a major step, and it’s likely you have a lot of questions. If so, you’re in good hands. Our editors have devoted this article to address some of the most frequently asked questions they receive about nutrition degrees.
A word of caution before we begin—the answers given here are intended to provide guidance to students looking for general information about on-campus and online nutrition degree programs. They’re not specific to any particular school or program. If you’re looking for specific information such as admissions criteria to a certain college or university or tuition costs associated with a school or program, visit the school’s website, or better yet, speak to a school official. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s dive into the pile of nutrition degree FAQs below.
What’s the Difference Between a Dietician and Nutritionist?
The distinction between a dietician and a nutritionist may be subtle, but if you’re thinking about investing your valuable time and money into a nutrition degree program, you need to know the difference. While these two types of healthcare professionals may perform many of the same functions in the broad nutrition industry, dieticians typically have more training and are therefore qualified to perform higher-level tasks such as making certain diagnoses and treating specific medical conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease with medical nutrition therapy, for instance. Both nutritionists and dieticians may perform some or all of the following tasks:
- Conducting individual nutritional assessments and providing personalized recommendations regarding dietary and lifestyle changes to improve a person’s overall health and wellbeing
- Creating educational materials for teaching others about personal nutrition, including brochures, flyers, articles, and web pages, for example
- Developing individualized treatment plans for clients, reviewing them periodically, and assessing progress
- Conducting individual and group research in the field of nutrition and dietetics
- Diagnosing and treating food-related medical conditions such as eating disorders and food addictions, for instance
- Planning nutritional food programs for facilities such as day cares, schools, hospitals, and prisons
Prospective nutritionists and dieticians who wish to work in a specific sub-field of nutrition and/or dietetics should keep this specialty in mind when looking for nutrition degrees. Some programs are more flexible than others in terms of curriculum, allowing students to choose more elective classes or select a formal concentration.
Do Dieticians and Nutritionists Need Separate Certifications?
Yes. The occupations of dietician and nutritionist are closely related but distinct positions in the health and wellness industry. Therefore, there are several different credentials specifically created for both dieticians and nutritionists. Some positions in the field will require one or more of these credentials while others mandate no such licensing. Moreover, some states in the United States have different credentialing requirements for dietician and nutritionist positions.
One of the more common licenses for dieticians is the Registered Dietician (RD) credential offered through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As of this writing, a nutrition degree at the bachelor’s level is required as a prerequisite to the RD licensing process. This requirement is changing, though. By 2024, all Registered Dieticians (RDs) will be required to hold a graduate nutrition degree in order to be eligible for licensure. Other requirements include an examination and internship.
For professionals with a two-year credential such as the online nutrition associates degree, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers another credential called the Dietician Technician, Registered or DTR, for short. These technicians work under the direction of a registered dietician in settings such as hospitals, outpatient care clinics, schools, and other facilities that require food service programs like schools and prisons, for example. To become a Dietician Technician, Registered, a passing score on the DTR exam is required.
While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics grants credentials for dieticians, credentialed nutritionists get their licenses elsewhere. For example, the American Nutrition Association (ANA) awards the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential for nutritionists with a desire or need to become officially licensed. This CNS credential requires a graduate degree in the field such as a master’s in nutrition or master’s in nutrition and dietetics, for example, or a doctoral degree in nutrition. In addition, eligible professionals must take and pass the official CNS certification examination and successfully complete a supervised practice experience comprised of at least 1,000 hours of logged practice in a real-world setting.
What Type of Nutrition Degree Do I Need?
Just as there are various licenses and certifications available in the field of nutrition, there are also different academic degrees and credentials one can pursue in the industry. In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredits hundreds of nutrition degrees from associate’s to doctoral programs. These include coordinated programs, which include coursework and internships as well as didactic programs, which provide classroom instruction alone. In addition, the ACEND directory features nearly 50 programs delivered via distance education, allowing students to complete their nutrition degrees online.
With this large selection of schools and programs to choose from, it can be challenging to pinpoint exactly which nutrition degree is right for you. We recommend starting with the end goal in mind. Envision the precise role you’d like to play in the nutrition and wellness industry, whether it be as a registered dietician, dietician technician, certified nutrition specialist, or another type of professional. Then, research the credentials needed to qualify for the role you have in mind. You can do this by using an informational site about employment in the United States such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It may also be helpful to search job posting sites like Indeed or ZipRecruiter for occupations similar to the position in nutrition that you’re looking to assume. This should give you an idea of the type of nutrition degree you need to qualify for your dream job in the nutrition and wellness space.
Can I Complete My Nutrition Degree Entirely Online?
Discovering distance learning options in the nutrition and dietetics industry can be exciting, especially if you have a busy schedule that doesn’t permit in-person college attendance. The idea of fully online nutrition degrees may also sound too good to be true, though, and it may have you wondering: Can I really earn my nutrition degree online? The answer to this question is both yes and no.
To start with the good news, there are entirely online nutrition degrees available, but these are usually didactic programs, meaning they include coursework only. That means that in order to qualify for an official license or certificate in the field, you’ll also have to complete an internship after graduating from your online college for nutritionists. Most of the distance learning options that include the internship component offer flexible ways for students to fulfill the supervised practice requirement. In many cases, students are allowed to choose the location of their internship rather than having to travel to a site near the school’s campus. If you’re seeking a nutrition degree to advance at your current job, you may even be able to complete your internship at your place of employment. Still, the internship requirement will mandate that you gain experience in a real-world setting and not online.
As you’re looking for a distance learning option for nutrition degrees, look for words like “hybrid” or “blended” in the program description. This terminology indicates that a portion of the nutrition degree plan must be completed on campus. Also, pay attention to references to any specific virtual meeting times required for the classes in your online nutrition degree plan. Some programs, sometimes referred to as synchronous online programs, will mandate that students be present in the online classroom at certain times. Other programs, often called asynchronous online programs, allow students to complete their degree requirements at their own pace.
What Is the Best Online Nutrition Degree: Online or On-Campus?
If you’re considering an online nutrition degree, you might also be wondering whether these programs are better or worse than traditional on-campus programs. The answer is neither. Online and on-campus nutrition degree options are certainly different, but one is not necessarily superior or inferior to the other. That doesn’t mean that one won’t be a better fit for you than the alternative, though. The biggest draw of an online nutrition degree program is its flexibility, which enables students to complete their coursework when and where they can, as opposed to being required to travel to campus at pre-set times. For many students, this accessibility is a game-changer and could very well mean the difference between a nutrition degree and no degree at all. Still, the quality and legitimacy of an online degree have been steadily increasing year after year, and today, most employers see no difference between an applicant who has earned their degree online versus on campus. Another advantage of online nutrition degree programs is their affordability. Schools routinely offer discounts to distance learners and regularly charge them in-state tuition rather than the expensive out-of-state cost.
Even with all of the undeniable benefits of online college for nutritionists, distance learning isn’t for everyone. It requires a ton of self-discipline to stay on top of online coursework, and the days spent alone in quiet study can become tedious. If your schedule allows for traditional learning, it’s certainly an option to consider. On-campus students often report higher levels of engagement and may have greater access to professors and school resources, too.
Is A Nutrition Degree Worth It?
Despite the widespread availability of online nutrition degrees, earning an academic credential in the field of nutrition and dietetics still requires a great deal of commitment and hard work. Both on-campus and online nutrition degree programs are rigorous courses of study that require students to take college classes in a variety of subjects, including high-level mathematics and sciences classes. Students enrolled in these programs may ask themselves more than once prior to graduation: Is a nutrition degree worth it? Of course, this is a very personal question, and it can only be answered by the person asking it.
We can recommend, however, that you perform an informal cost-benefit analysis in order to determine the potential value you’ll get from your degree once it’s completed. First, take into consideration how much time, energy, and stress that earning a nutrition degree will require of you. Then, weigh these costs against your return-on-investment—that is, the benefits you’ll enjoy as a result of your efforts.
What Are the Potential Benefits of a Nutrition Degree?
When trying to decide whether a nutrition degree (online or otherwise) is worth it, you’ll want to have a good understanding of the current state of the nutrition industry and what nutrition degree graduates stand to gain from it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this is an industry that is currently growing at a rapid pace. Between now and 2030, there will be an approximate 11% increase in employment opportunities for qualified nutritionists and dietetics. To take advantage of most of the job openings in the field, you’ll need some sort of nutrition degree, whether it be an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s in nutrition.
Once you secure an official position as a nutritionist or dietician, you are in a position to begin earning a handsome salary. The BLS reports that these professionals make more than $63,000 per year on average with the potential to earn upwards of $90,000 annually. Of course, the higher level your nutrition degree and the more advanced industry certifications you have, the higher your wages are likely to be. Moreover, nutritionists who work in outpatient care centers tend to make significantly more than those who work in other environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, or government agencies.
Which Online College for Nutritionists is Best?
Though our experts specialize in ranking online degree programs such as those in the field of nutrition and dietetics, they invariably acknowledge that choosing a college or university is a highly individualized process. That is to say that the best online nutrition programs (or on-campus offerings) are the ones that fit each student’s specific needs and goals. When searching for the right program for you, we recommend evaluating schools that offer your chosen degree plan in terms of factors like cost, reputation, curriculum, flexibility, and of course, accreditation.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Commission on Dietetic Registration
- Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
- American Nutrition Association (ANA)Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Outlook Handbook- Dieticians and Nutritionists
- Top 50 Master’s in Nutrition Online Programs
- Top 15 Online Colleges for Nutrition
- Best Degrees for Stay at Home Moms: 20 Most Affordable Values in Food/Nutrition
- What Can I Do with a Degree in Nutrition?
- 5 Fascinating Podcasts on Nutrition
- Can I Get a Nutrition Degree Online?
- 5 Careers for Nutrition Degree Graduates