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Nutritionist: Overview for Starting a Career in Nutrition

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a nutritionist. Get an overview of the degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Nutritionists may be employed by hospitals, nursing homes or the government. A bachelor's degree is required to enter this career field, and some states also require licensing and certification.

Essential Information

Nutritionist is a good career for individuals interested in food and healthcare. These professionals promote health by planning meals for individuals, hospitals and institutions, as well as providing nutritional consulting services. Nutritionists typically have bachelor's degrees and complete supervised training. In most states, nutritionists must obtain a state license, and some states require professional certification.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in nutrition or a related field
Other Requirements Some states require licensure and professional certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 11%
Average Salary (2018)* $60,370

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Nutritionists are generally required to have at least a 4-year college degree. Relevant majors for prospective nutritionists are nutrition science, dietetics and food management. At some schools, these titles are combined into one major. Courses for these majors may include classes in the basic sciences, food principles, nutrition therapy and food safety.

Step 2: Consider a Graduate Degree

While a graduate degree is usually not necessary, aspiring nutritionists may want to consider earning a graduate degree because some employers prefer them. Master's and doctoral degrees are available in nutrition and related sciences. Candidates may also benefit from earning a graduate degree in a business field, which can help individuals who aspire to work for private companies or start their own businesses.

Step 3: Fulfill Licensing or Other State Requirements to Practice

The majority of states require that nutritionists be licensed, with requirements varying by state. Twelve states require statutory certification of nutritionists, which means that only nutritionists who have received certification may use certain titles; nutritionists who are not licensed may still practice. Only one state requires registration for use of specific titles, but unregistered nutritionists are still allowed to practice.

Step 4: Become Certified

The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the American Dietetic Association provides certification of nutritionists. It offers the Registered Dietician (RD) designation to nutritionists who either possess a bachelor's degree or have completed an accredited dietetics program and passed a written exam. In addition, an internship program or academic program that includes supervised practice of at least 1,200 hours is required.

The CDR also offers specialty certifications for nutritionists, such as the Board Certified Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition (CSG) and the Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition (CSP). Although all certifications are voluntary, some employers prefer nutritionists with the RD designation.

Step 5: Obtain Employment

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that nutritionist and dietitian positions were expected to grow as much faster than the average for that of the job market as a whole through 2028. Employment opportunities should increase due to a large aging demographic, as well as growing interest in health and nutrition. In May 2018, the BLS reported that electricians in the 90th percentile or higher earned $84,610 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $38,460 or less per year.

With a high job growth expected for nutritionists, applicants who have their bachelor's degree and state licensing (if required) will have many opportunities to work in their field after graduation. A master's degree and a specialty certification, such as Registered Dietician, may be a plus, as well.

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