Online degree programs in dietetics are mostly available from traditional four-year universities and colleges. Programs are offered in fully-online and blended formats. Bachelor's-level programs provide the foundational education in this field and are the minimum requirement for working as a dietitian. These programs require some in-person supervision and hands-on experience. Master's degree programs are designed for experienced dietitians who are seeking advanced skills to apply in their jobs as well as preparation for doctoral studies. Master's students must appear in person to defend their thesis and for oral and written comprehensive exams.
To be eligible for admission into a distance learning dietetics bachelor's program, some schools require applicants to already have a certain number of undergraduate credits in general education. This may include science courses like anatomy, chemistry and biology. Those desiring to enter an online master's program in this field must have a bachelor's degree and usually the Registered Dietitian credential.
Degree Requirements & Courses
Because a degree in dietetics leads to a career dealing with patients, some courses require direct personal supervision and hands-on experience to accurately judge the skill of a student. These supervised courses are available even to students that reside out of state but require that scholars work with the school to determine a site and supervisor that meets qualifications for the course requirements. This non-online portion is not common in distance learning programs and schools usually will help students make suitable arrangements to complete supervised practice once they finish necessary coursework.
Bachelor of Science in Dietetics
Bachelor's degree programs typically take around four years to complete, but those who've already completed transferable general education coursework may be able to earn their degree in less time. Typical courses in a distance-learning program include the following:
- Human metabolism
- Nutrition therapy
- Complementary medicine
- Food systems
- Treatment of disease through diet
Master of Science in Dietetics
Taking two to three years to complete, the online Master of Science in Dietetics is designed for professional dietitians who want to expand their knowledge and perhaps get advanced skills in working with various populations. Many distance learning graduate programs are offered totally online, but some may require a thesis defense or written and oral comprehensive exams that take place on campus.
The master's-level classes pick up where the online bachelor's degree program left off and include coursework in statistical analysis, management in dietetics, advanced nutrition, current professional issues, and research methods. Schools may also give distance learners the chance to choose from a variety of online electives to gain knowledge in particular areas of interest. These may include the following:
- Health care administration and management
- Food service management
- Pediatric nutrition
- Material nutrition
- Community nutrition education
- Medical dietetics
- World hunger
Online classes are administered through schools' course management systems, which contain a variety of files and tools for instruction, assessment, and group interaction. Professors of these courses provide lectures through readings, audio files, video recordings, or live chat. Readings may include scholarly journal articles written by top dietitians, pieces written by the professor, current advances in nutritional research and excerpts from science textbooks. Many classes provide a forum for student interaction that acts as a replacement for class discussion and study groups.
Students are eligible to work as a dietitian once they earn at least a bachelor's degree in the field, complete a supervised internship or practicum and meet any state licensure requirements. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require prospective dietitians who've met academic and practice standards to pass a licensure or certification exam (www.bls.gov). It's also common for these professionals to become Registered Dietitians, a designation awarded by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
Employers may favor the BLS projection that employment of dietitians and nutritionists will increase 16% in the 2014-2024 decade and those who have master's degrees and/or specialty certification. The average annual wage for those in this field was $58,410, according to 2015 BLS data. Hospitals, nursing facilities, outpatient clinics and local government agencies were major employers.
Students seeking a career as a dietitian may be interested in a degree program they can complete entirely online, save for field experiences, exams, their and thesis defense. Bachelor's students are exposed to the foundational knowledge needed for the field, while master's students are generally experienced dietitians hoping to expand their knowledge in the field.