College degrees in nutrition require a strong high school background in the sciences, including classes in chemistry, biology, health and math. For a job as a nutritionist, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in nutrition or a related major, such as dietetics. If you plan to become certified as a registered dietitian nutritionist, or RDN, you must choose an accredited degree program and complete an internship.
Choose a Bachelor's Program
Degree programs in nutrition receive accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. Bachelor's programs come in two basic types. A coordinated bachelor's degree includes both coursework and the internship required for RDN certification, while didactic programs include only the coursework. With a didactic program, you'll need to complete an internship after you graduate to get the RDN. Find accredited programs on the Eat Right website from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Complete Bachelor's Degree Classes
A nutrition bachelor's degree requires completing general education classes such as composition and communication, plus classes in chemistry, anatomy and physiology, psychology, statistics, nutrition and food-service management. Upper-division coursework includes nutrition counseling, nutrient analysis and medical nutrition therapy. Didactic programs also typically provide practical experience through project work and lab classes, such as food analysis. Once you complete all coursework and receive your didactic degree, you qualify for an internship if you desire one.
Find and Complete an Internship
If you've chosen a degree that includes the internship, apply for the coordinated program after taking the required prerequisites -- usually at least two years of classes. Acceptance to the program is competitive and requires satisfactory grades. Then find an accredited internship using your professors' recommendations and the resources of the Eat Right website. These resources include a search tool, a centralized application service and computer matching. You must successfully complete at least 1,200 hours of work under supervision of a registered dietitian to receive your coordinated degree in nutrition.
Get a Master's in Nutrition
Some universities offer a Master of Science degree followed by an internship to prepare didactic program graduates for certification. You can complete the coursework in just two semesters; topics include nutritional epidemiology and clinical nutrition research. After completing master's requirements, you'll take the 1,200 hours of clinical training that prepares you for the RDN exam.
Earn a Doctorate
A doctorate in nutrition helps qualify you for promotion if you work in industry or public health. It also prepares you to work as a researcher or college professor. A doctorate in nutrition typically takes at least four years and requires advanced classes such as nutrition and metabolism or nutrition and disease. Doctoral candidates must also pass oral and written comprehensive exams. In addition, they must complete a thesis that's based on their original research or on an original project in nutrition.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Dietitians and Nutritionists
- Science Buddies: Dietitian or Nutritionist -- Education
- Eat Right: High School Students
- Explore Health Careers: Dietitian -- Academic Requirements
- University of Washington: School of Public Health -- Ph.D. in Nutritional Science
- Drexel University Catalog: Nutrition and Food -- Degree Requirements
- The University of Texas at Austin: Bachelor of Science in Nutrition
- Eat Right: Internships
- Boston University: Master of Science in Nutrition
- Tufts University: Master of Science/Dietetic Internship
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