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What to Major in to Become a Nutritionist

Take a look at possible undergraduate majors for aspiring nutritionists, and learn about graduate program options, certification, career prospects and salary potential.

Major Options for Aspiring Nutritionists

Typically, nutritionists only need a bachelor's degree related to food science or nutrition in order to practice, though most states require licensure or state registration as well. Common undergraduate majors for prospective nutritionists include food and nutrition, clinical nutrition, dietetics and food service systems management.

Both on-campus and distance learning bachelor's degree programs in many areas of health and nutrition science are available. These undergraduate programs usually involve an internship that provides the clinical training needed to work in the field. Some programs prepare students for registration as dietitians, whereas others do not.

While coursework depends on the health and nutrition science major you choose, some topics you may learn about include:

  • Dietary systems management
  • Food science
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Nutrition education
  • Lifecycle nutrition
  • Epidemiology
  • Community nutrition
  • Food service administration
  • Biochemistry
  • Medical nutrition therapy

Advanced Degrees

Although graduate school is not needed to become a nutritionist, some nutritionists hold advanced degrees. There are several areas of concentration and research available to master's and doctoral students in nutrition. Students in graduate programs may focus on:

  • Biotechnology
  • Sports nutrition
  • International and community nutrition
  • Agricultural and environmental sciences
  • Biochemical and molecular nutrition
  • Public health and education
  • Medical nutrition
  • Holistic nutrition
  • Molecular toxicology

Accreditation and Resources

Students may pursue certification as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), which requires supervised training, a bachelor's degree and the completion of a state exam. Professional accreditation through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is also recommended, if not always required, for nutritionists since it can lead to more desirable jobs, salaries and professional opportunities. The RDN requires a Dietetic Internship (DI) equivalent to 1,200 hours of supervised training. Advanced nutritionists with master's or doctoral degrees may also apply for the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential, administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.

Additionally, membership in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers continuing education opportunities for registered nutritionists to maintain active certification. Other benefits include access to research studies, education discounts, professional networking and career information. The organization also invests in the future of the profession by offering student members scholarships between $500 and $10,000 annually.

Job Outlook and Salary

Nutritionists fill vital roles in private industry and public service. Nutritionists may find careers in research, education, public health and consultation services. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for nutritionists and dietitians, as of May 2014, was $57,440. The BLS anticipates the employment rate for dietitians and nutritionists to grow 16% from 2014 to 2024, and those with advanced education and certification may find themselves with the most desirable qualifications.

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