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Nutrition Graduate Programs: Prerequisites and Requirements

Students interested in nutrition who have completed a bachelor's program can pursue a Master of Science in Nutrition or a Ph.D. in Nutrition. Master's programs may prepare students for licensure as dietitians or nutritionists, while doctoral programs can lead to careers in university-level instruction or policy development.

Essential Information

Applicants to these programs who don't have an undergraduate background related to nutrition may need to complete prerequisite courses in nutrition principles, anatomy and chemistry. Graduate certificate programs in nutritional science are considerably shorter in length than master's or doctoral degree programs. They may focus on nutrients, supplements, food industry regulations and diet instruction, and some classes may be offered online. Admission requirements for graduate certificate programs are similar to those of graduate degree programs.

  • Program Levels in Nutrition: Certificates, Master's degrees, Ph.D. degrees
  • Prerequisites: 4-year degree, preferably in health, nutrition, science or a related field. Some programs may also require GRE scores, recommendation letters, a personal statement, and a resume.
  • Online Availability: Many graduate certificate programs offer online classes.
  • Some Program Specializations: Some graduate certificate programs may offer specialization areas such as nutritional science or nutrition education.
  • Program Length: Program length varies; for example, some graduate certificate programs only require the completion of 4-6 classes, while many master's and doctoral programs may take two or more years to complete.
  • Other Requirements: Master's degree programs usually require a thesis project; doctoral programs may require research projects, teaching assistantships, dissertations, and a comprehensive assessment.

Graduate Certificate in Nutritional Science

Graduate certificate programs in nutritional science typically require completion of 4-6 classes covering advanced practical and theoretical approaches to nutrition. Many graduate certificate programs in nutrition are available online. Students gain research skills and learn to develop effective health programs.

Applicants to a graduate certificate program in nutritional science must have a 4-year degree from an accredited college, preferably in health, nutrition, science or a related field. Prerequisite coursework covers nutritional foundations. Graduate students must typically maintain a 3.0 GPA for successful completion of a nutrition science certificate program. Topics of study include:

  • Nutrients
  • Fats
  • Supplements
  • Food regulations
  • Trends in nutritional science

Graduate Certificate in Nutrition Education

Nutrition education graduate certificate students generally complete six classes. Programs are often geared toward current health educators seeking advanced training, as well as nutrition program developers.

Nutrition education certificate candidates must have a relevant undergraduate degree, preferably with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Applicants are generally required to submit recommendation letters, a personal statement and a resume. To earn the nutrition education graduate certificate, students must usually maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0 in classes that include:

  • Nutrition for athletes
  • Nutritional issues affecting public schools
  • Diet and nutrition instruction
  • Nutritional programs for communities
  • Regulations in health care

Master's Degree in Nutrition

Nutrition master's degree programs usually take two years to complete. In addition to readying students for work as nutritionists, master's degree programs also prepare individuals for work in public health administration or education. Graduate students may specialize in nutrition for particular life stages, such as pregnancy or infancy.

Master's degree-seeking students need a bachelor's degree, preferably with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Reference letters are usually required. Master's degree students complete a thesis project. Many students to the Master's program must have taken courses in anatomy, chemistry, biology and nutrition. These courses prepare them for studying topics such as:

  • Human nutrition and disease
  • Nutrition and metabolism
  • Nutrition and exercise
  • Vegetarianism
  • Preventative nutrition
  • Eating disorders

Ph.D. in Nutrition

Doctoral nutrition programs are largely research-based. Students learn how nutrients, drugs, toxins and other environmental factors affect human health. Doctoral nutrition programs typically consist of traditional coursework, research problems, group discussions, seminars, and teaching assistantships.

A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required for acceptance into a doctoral-level nutrition program. Students who do not have a related master's degree must complete prerequisite coursework before beginning the doctoral program, and submission of Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are normally required as well.

Nutrition doctoral students conduct original research and complete a dissertation. However, before they can prepare for their graduate dissertation, they must prove competency in the discipline of nutrition through a verbal and written assessment. Graduate students also take required courses in:

  • Food safety
  • Metabolism
  • Food toxicology
  • Nutritional evaluations
  • Biostatistics

Popular Career Options

Professionals already working in nutrition or weight management may earn a graduate certificate in nutrition science as part of a professional continuing education program. The graduate certificate program typically assists:

  • Personal trainers
  • Sports medicine athletic trainers
  • Nutrition therapists
  • Dietitians
  • Nurse practitioners

Graduates of a doctoral degree program in nutrition may work for government agencies, private institutions and non-profit organizations. Specific job titles include:

  • Food science researcher
  • Nutrition professor
  • Nutrition consultant
  • Food and dietary policy developer
  • Scholarly writer

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Employment of health educators was predicted to rise 21% beginning in 2012 and continuing through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). In 2014, the median salary of health educators was $50,430 annually, the BLS reported.

Graduates of a nutrition master's degree program may find work in food or pharmaceutical laboratories, schools or medical facilities. In 2014, the median annual wage of dieticians and nutritionists was $56,950, noted the BLS. The BLS also projected a 21% increase in the number of nutritionists and dietitians between 2012-2022, faster growth than average for all occupations.

Professional Certification and Continuing Education Information

Nutrition master's degree program graduates interested in becoming dietitians or nutritionists may need to obtain state licensure. Voluntary certifications, such as the Registered Dietitian credential, are available through nutritional organizations, including the American Dietetic Organization and the Commission on Dietetic Regulations. To qualify, applicants must have completed an approved educational program, participated in a professional work experience and pass an exam.

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