Majors for Aspiring Nutritionists
Prospective students who want to become nutritionists can benefit from information about major options, as well as what to expect within these programs and what graduates can do in terms of certification and employment. The minimum educational requirement for aspiring nutritionists is a bachelor's degree. Common undergraduate majors for prospective nutritionists include food and nutrition, clinical nutrition, dietetics, food service systems management, food science, and public health nutrition.
Nutrition bachelor's degree programs, which are offered online at some schools, usually require an internship that provides the necessary clinical training to work in the field. Although most states require nutritionists to be licensed, some programs prepare students for the credentialing exam while 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
- Community nutrition
- Food service administration
- Medical nutrition therapy
Although graduate school is not needed to become a nutritionist, some nutritionists hold advanced degrees. Nutrition master's and doctoral programs can offer research opportunities and specialization options. Students in graduate programs may focus on:
- Sports nutrition
- International and community nutrition
- Agricultural and environmental sciences
- Biochemical and molecular nutrition
- Public health and education
- Medical nutrition
- Holistic nutrition
- Molecular toxicology
Students may pursue certification as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) if they have completed supervised training, a bachelor's degree, and an exam. Candidates must have completed a Dietetic Internship equivalent to 1,200 hours of supervised training. In many cases, becoming an RDN meets state licensure requirements. 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. Advanced nutritionists with master's or doctoral degrees may also apply for the Certified Nutrition Specialist 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.
Nutritionists advise individuals and groups on ways that food and nutrition can support general health and manage disease. They may find jobs in research, education, public health, and consultation services. Specific job duties vary, but they can include counseling patients on eating habits, designing meal plans for individuals and groups, giving seminars on diet and disease management, and conducting nutrition-related research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for nutritionists and dietitians, as of May 2016, was $59,670. 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.
There are a variety of relevant majors for aspiring nutritionists to choose from that educate students on both the scientific underpinnings of the field and the general practices in the profession. Graduates may also pursue advanced degrees and/or licensure and certification.