What to Major in to Become a Nutritionist

Nutritionists usually need a bachelor's degree in a major like dietetics, nutrition or food science, although graduate programs are available. Read about undergraduate majors for aspiring nutritionists, and learn about graduate program options, certification, career prospects and salary potential.

Educational Requirements

Typically, nutritionists only need a bachelor's degree related to food science or nutrition to practice, though most states require licensure or state registration as well. Both on-campus and distance learning bachelor's degree programs in many areas of health and nutrition science are available. These programs usually involve an internship that provides the clinical training needed to work in the field. After graduation, students may pursue certification as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, which requires having supervised training, possessing a bachelor's degree and completing a state exam.

Major Options

Common undergraduate majors for prospective nutritionists include food and nutrition, clinical nutrition, dietetics and food service systems management. While some programs prepare students for registration as dietitians, others do not. Practical experience through an internship is common, while field experiences are often incorporated throughout these programs. Although 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 it's not required, 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

The American Dietetic Association: Registration and Resources

Professional registration through the American Dietetic Association (ADA) is recommended, if not always required, for nutritionists since it can lead to more desirable jobs, salaries and professional opportunities. Registration requires the completion of a practicum at a local laboratory, healthcare facility or food production company. This requirement is usually completed as part of an undergraduate or graduate degree program.

The ADA also provides a listing of schools by state with at least one degree program in health and nutrition, including degree type, average class sizes, tuition rates and contact information. Students may also look up accredited internship sites available in their state on the ADA's website, www.eatright.org.

Membership in the ADA offers continuing education opportunities for registered nutritionists to maintain an active certification. Other benefits include access to research studies, travel discounts, networking with other professionals and career information. The organization also invests in the future of the profession by offering student members scholarships between $500 and $3,000 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 2013 was $56,300. The BLS anticipates the employment rate for dietitians and nutritionists to grow 21% between 2012 and 2022, and those with advanced education and certification may find themselves with the most desirable qualifications.

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