The world of nutrition offers a great opportunity to help clients of all ages and backgrounds develop healthier habits and live fuller lives. Whether working with pediatric patients fac sing allergens, teenagers struggling with eating disorders, or elderly clients seeking help with diabetic diets, nutritionists work with their patients to provide much-needed support and dietetic information.
Finding a job as a nutritionist requires students to begin their career search while still in school. Many states require nutritionists and dietitians to hold licensure to practice. Individuals who want specialized credentials must pass examinations and keep up with continuing education requirements.
It may sound overwhelming at first, but this guide provides step-by-step instructions and advice on how to land your dream career. With so many professional paths available to graduates with this degree, you should be able to find one that speaks to your specific goals.
Skills Gained in a Nutrition Program
To work as a licensed nutritionists, individuals need a well-rounded set of skills and competencies. Fortunately, nutrition degrees provide the tools and frameworks needed to build these skills. Specialized classes teach learners about pressing concerns in the field, build skills in handling clients, and help them gather confidence working with a diverse array of people. Continuing education and certificate programs also hone these talents. Check out the top five skills gained from a nutrition program below.
- Working With Different Types of People
Your first client of the day may need help with an eating disorder, while your second may seek guidance on elimination diets for allergies. Nutritionists must possess a wide breadth of knowledge to meet patient needs and provide the necessary information to put them on the right path.
- Staying Organized
Especially when working in private practice, nutritionists often manage their own calendars. This requires organizational skills to ensure that they do not overbook, allow time for breaks, and still have time for continuing education or giving presentations at field-specific conferences.
- Ability to Ingest and Translate Research
To stay at the forefront of the field, nutritionists must stay current on best practices and theories. Because their clients do not possess training in this area, nutritionists must make research findings accessible to clients to help them understand the value of certain types of treatment plans.
- Remove Any Judgmental Feelings
Clients come to nutritionists for many different needs, and they often express these needs in vulnerable states. Regardless of whether the nutritionist agrees with their client's life choices, these professionals must provide judgment-free care. This involves listening with an open mind and creating neutral plans that help clients get on the road to health and wellness.
Clients often come to nutritionists with complex issues. Because of this, nutritionists must know how to evaluate their patients' health, understand the cause of their troubles, and create an individualized plan that helps them.
Why Pursue a Career in Nutrition?
Individuals pursue careers in nutrition for multiple reasons. Some see the profession as a rewarding way to make a difference and help people, while others prioritize the monetary value of this degree. Salaries for nutritionists reach above the national average for all occupations, making this profession a popular choice for those seeking stable incomes.
Students interested in growth opportunities across the lifespan of their degree also feel drawn to this path, which offers plenty of room to translate their skills into managerial, leadership, and research positions. For those craving variety, the nutrition field provides opportunities in different settings. Some individuals may start out working with patients across the lifespan before focusing their efforts on a specific audience, such as athletes or women.
Still others may cross over into veterinary nutrition and work with animals. The variety of options help professionals meet their goals and interests.
How Much Do Nutrition Majors Make?
Careers in nutrition offer a wide variety of salaries based on several factors, with industry playing a major role. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that those working in outpatient care centers earned a median annual wage of $66,420, while those in nursing and residential care facilities brought home $58,310 per year. Location also factors in heavily, as nutritionists living in California earned an annual mean wage of $71,060; those in Iowa earned $38,330.
Other factors worth considering include experience level, education level, and current job function and seniority level.
|Entry Level (0-12 Months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
Interview with a Professional
Emily Tills is a registered dietitian nutritionist from Syracuse, New York. She graduated from both Marywood University’s coordinated program in nutrition and dietetics in 2018 and from Concordia University’s master’s program in applied exercise science program with a concentration in sports nutrition in 2019. Tills works full-time at a long-term care facility in Oswego, New York; she also owns her own virtual nutrition coaching business, Nourished With Emily.
- Why did you choose to study nutrition? Was it something you were always interested in?
When I was in ninth grade, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder that progressed to anorexia nervosa. As part of my treatment toward recovery, my doctor sent me to a dietitian. I was so nervous walking into her office the first time, scared she was going to tell me I was doing awful and make me change my disordered ways fast. I was actually met by a warm and welcoming face that accepted me for who I was, genuinely cared about how I was doing, and wanted to help me. After I finished treatment, I was so intrigued with her and what she did. She let me shadow her, and I immediately fell in love with the profession. My eating disorder and experience with a registered dietitian changed my life.
- What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a career in nutrition?
Nutrition is a field that is growing by the minute, with countless opportunities. You can work almost anywhere and add value. Do not feel like you need to be tied down into working in a hospital or in a kitchen. You can work in gyms, schools, companies, the government, and research, too. The options are endless; it is up to you what you will do with it. Food is a common denominator to everyone; nutrition is the art and science of making it practical to everyone and for the betterment of all.
- What were some of the most crucial skills you gained in your studies that apply to your job on a daily basis?
Some of the most important skills that I gained during school were expanding on my people skills and education skills. A lot of what I do is communicating with doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, patients, families, and more. Through my schooling, I feel like I gained the confidence, through expanding my nutrition skill set, to be able to walk up to anyone of any status and express my professional opinion, give recommendations, and educate patients and families on how to better themselves through well-rounded eating. Having a strong nutrition background with great people skills will take you far and earn you lots of respect for you and what you do.
- What was the job search like after earning your undergraduate degree? Did you feel prepared to make the transition from student to professional?
Part of my coursework included a class on board exam preparation, applying for jobs, interviewing, and job opportunities that are available. I applied for a job in February of my senior year as I was finishing an internship, interviewed in March, and was offered the job and accepted it two months before I graduated. Most schools have resources like a career services office, which will help you craft a resume and cover letter and practice interviewing to feel more prepared when applying and interviewing. Use the resources that are available to you. Ask your professors for help and to be references — they know you well and want to help you out, too. Getting an internship or volunteering can also help you gain experience to be more marketable and start to get in the routine of being a professional.
- What are some of the challenges you face in your work on a day-to-day basis?
My biggest challenge in work would be having enough time to complete everything. I am the only dietitian for 155 residents at a long-term care facility, which includes 30 rehab beds and an adult day care program. I am constantly in meetings, meeting with new patients, educating patients and families, and performing assessments. I wish I had extra time in my day, or another registered dietitian with me to stay on top of everything.
- Any final thoughts for us?
Nutrition can take you anywhere you want. Go and create opportunities, network, and get out there. Nutrition is one of the few careers where you can work anywhere. I have been out of school for less than a year now, have a great full-time job at a long-term care facility, partner with a personal training gym for nutrition coaching, and own my own successful virtual nutrition coaching business, Nourished With Emily. You can do anything you want to with your degree. Just go do it.
How to Succeed in Nutrition
To pursue a career in nutrition, individuals must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition, or a related topic. Completing a degree at this level enables graduates to seek licensure, registration, or certification, depending on their state's individual requirements. Bachelor’s degrees in nutrition prepare students for a myriad of roles, but they do not provide the advanced and nuanced skills instilled during a master’s program.
Learners hoping to focus on clinical positions or managerial roles or work with specific populations often decide to pursue advanced degrees to qualify for these jobs. Schools also offer doctoral programs in nutrition that focus on instilling skills related to advanced research, clinical direction, and postsecondary teaching.
In addition to educational requirements, anyone hoping to call themselves a nutritionist must participate in supervised training. The specific number of hours required vary by state, but students usually need to complete at least a few hundred hours after graduating from their program. These internships allow learners to build hands-on skills in meeting with patients, assessing their needs, and creating plans of treatment for actual clients — rather than creating only theoretical plans while in school.
After finishing all supervision requirements, students qualify to seek licensure, certification, and/or registration.
Licensure and Certification
Most states mandate that students who want to work as nutritionists seek some type of licensure or certification. Most require licensure, while others only require the certification or registration with the given state. A few states do not set regulations for nutritionists. Licensure requirements vary by location, so individuals should check with their state board to learn about specifics.
Many students seek registered dietician nutritionist credentials to stand out from their competition and demonstrate their competencies. This credential requires at least a bachelor’s degree and the completion of a supervised internship. If they hope to find roles in subfields of the discipline, learners can pursue specialized certification in the areas of pediatric nutrition or eating disorders.
Concentrations Available to Nutrition Majors
Given that nutrition represents such a wide and varied field, many schools offer concentrations so that degree seekers can narrow their focus. Available concentrations depend entirely on each individual school, so prospective students should review the curricula of many different institutions to find a school that speaks to their interests. The concentrations highlighted in this section offer a glimpse of possible specialty areas, but do your own research, as well.
- Applied Nutrition: This concentration appeals widely to learners who plan to work in non-clinical settings. Students gain the skills to perform nutritional assessments and create treatment plans for individuals and communities. Many graduates go on to work in group-based nutrition settings, educating individuals on how to fuel their bodies properly.
- Global Health and Food: Often offered in partnership with the public health department, this concentration gives students the knowledge to understand global food crises and how they affect our bodies. Learners also cover topics such as economic and public policy questions to learn how to enact change.
- Food Science and Technology: Students who select this concentration often decide to work in the food industry to design, create, and implement new foods. They may concern themselves with culinary sciences, food packaging and manufacturing, the development of healthy mass-produced foods, or sustainable foods.
- Nutrition Science: Students who pursue this option often intend to complete advanced studies. The concentration offers a strong background in nutrition, biochemistry, and molecular biology to help students understand the inner workings of our bodies and how certain foods affect them.
What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree?
When considering potential careers in nutrition science, students should note that access to specific positions depends largely on their education level. Those with bachelor’s degrees compete for a variety of entry-level and non-managerial jobs, while individuals holding master’s and doctoral degrees find it easier to enter leadership, research, and teaching positions.
Different jobs pay different salaries. An individual working as a nutrition research scientist earns more than someone working as a pediatric dietician. Still, some individuals seek fulfillment from working with specific populations, regardless of how much the job pays.
Fortunately, students can choose nutrition programs starting at the associate level all the way up to the doctoral level, with many different certificates available to augment traditional degrees.
Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition
Graduates with a bachelor's-level degree enjoy multiple career options. Whether graduates hope to work in hospitals, in long-term care facilities, for community support organizations, or in private practice, they can choose from a variety of fulfilling positions. Students living in states requiring licensure or registration can meet these requirements with a bachelor’s degree.
For students hoping to someday pursue advanced education, a baccalaureate diploma serves as the foundational degree to move into master's or doctoral studies. Read up on some common careers at this level, making sure to conduct additional research to find a role that fits your unique goals.
Dieticians and nutritionists work with a wide array of clients to assess their nutritional needs, develop plans for nutritious eating, counsel them about good eating habits, and help them build healthier lives in the process. They also document the progress of clients in their care and make referrals to other care providers.
- Health Educator
Health educators work in community and group settings to help their clients make good food decisions and take care of their bodies. They provide assessments, develop group health programs, lead events about health and healthful eating, and connect clients to services that help them fulfill their goals.
- Eating Disorder Therapist
Eating disorder therapists work with clients across the lifespan who experience issues related to anorexia, binge eating, bulimia, obesity, body dysmorphia, and other common illnesses. Therapists work with their patients to create nutrition plans and provide therapeutic services along the way.
- Food Scientist
Working more in laboratory settings, food scientists conduct experiments on food to test for sustainability and quality. They may also develop new food products and test them to ensure that they meet market requirements. These professionals frequently present their findings at discipline-specific conferences or in academic journals.
- Pediatric Dietician
Working specifically with infants, children, and adolescents, pediatric dieticians address common illnesses and issues affecting this population. They may perform allergy testing, suggest elimination diets, educate children and parents on healthy eating, and offer therapies to patients experiencing issues with eating disorders.
Master's Degree in Nutrition
A bachelor’s degree in nutrition qualifies graduates for entry-level careers in nutrition, but they must complete a master’s degree to gain access to advanced positions in leadership, management, and clinical roles. Graduate degrees help students delve into more nuanced materials, developing learners' ability to produce academic research and present during industry conferences.
Graduate degrees provide students with the competencies to skillfully manage a diverse array of staff and oversee more administrative functions that come with senior-level positions.
- School Counselor
School counselors work with children in elementary, middle, and high school to ensure their needs are met so they can adequately focus on schoolwork. School counselors with an interest in nutrition can help students discover healthy food options and work through disordered eating issues. These professionals serve as the adults their clients can check in with on a regular basis concerning their food choices.
Epidemiologists look for patterns and the reasons for disease and/or injury in humans. Professionals who focus on nutritional epidemiology look at allergens and diseases that create food issues (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, etc.) to determine how and where dietary changes could mitigate the effects of the disease.
- Medical and Health Services Manager
Operating from an administrative platform, these individuals oversee medical and health services. They may work in physician’s offices, nursing homes, or as administrators for large hospitals. These professionals manage staff, monitor budgets, introduce training plans, set departmental goals, and stay current on regulatory requirements.
Also working in the research side of the field, microbiologists look at how microorganisms can grow and affect human bodies. From a nutritional perspective, these professionals may perform experiments to see how various microorganisms found in food interact with and either improve or harm humans.
- Social Worker
Social workers spend much of their time identifying individuals who need help, assessing their needs, providing therapeutic services, and referring them to other appropriate care providers. They usually maintain a large portfolio of clients and liaise with other social services, health, and medical providers to manage their clients' overall health.
Doctoral Degree in Nutrition
By completing the highest degree available in academia, students position themselves as experts. The process of exploring advanced topics, coupled with the requirement to write a dissertation about a research question, gives learners the skills and confidence to succeed in any role they choose. Individuals hoping to work in more scientific and clinical roles gain the skills to direct labs, create studies, and produce findings that alter how the discipline views topics.
Meanwhile, those who want to work in academics help student nutritionists develop the poise and skills needed to succeed in their future. Review the list of nutrition-related positions for doctoral graduates below, keeping in mind that you should spend time researching the role that best serves you.
- Medical Scientist
Primarily working in laboratories, medical scientists design, conduct, and evaluate studies to better understand how diseases affect humans. They analyze samples, develop antibodies, and write reports about their findings to secure grant funding.
- Senior Research Associate
Straddling the line between administrative and laboratory-based responsibilities, senior research associates fulfill many of the same responsibilities as medical scientists, but they also oversee the day-to-day running of their labs. They manage other lab associates, apply for funding, create reports on ongoing work, and present their lab’s initiatives at academic symposiums.
- Nutrition Professor
Working in community colleges and four-year universities alike, nutrition professors educate the next generation of dietitians and nutritionists in the foundations and nuances of the discipline. They lecture, create assignments, grade papers, provide mentorship, and help students figure out their academic and professional paths.
Where Can You Work with a Nutrition Degree?
Graduates around the country can find a nutritionist job. You can find work in professional settings such as hospitals, community organizations, rehabilitation centers, and private practice. Some may want to work in rural settings, while others prefer the hustle and bustle of an urban center. Others may feel drawn to working with specific populations.
You can review the state in which you live or plan to work in within the state map below. As discussed earlier, some states mandate licensure and/or registration, while others list no such requirements. Some states house certain populations with greater risks for nutrition-related issues, such as obesity or diabetes. Based on the cost of living, some states pay salaries that sit higher or lower than the national average.
All of these factors and more contribute to the type of work you can do, the population you work with, and the salary you command.
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
This industry includes standard in-patient hospitals. Nutritionists working in this space usually provide short-term care to patients during their stay in the hospital. They can make referrals upon discharge.
Average Annual Salary: $62,640
- Outpatient Care Centers
Outpatient care centers include physician offices, surgery centers, and wellness centers. Care can be offered on a short- or long-term basis depending on client needs.
Average Annual Salary: $66,840
- Nursing Care Facilities
Nursing home nutritionists work with individuals staying in assisted living facilities for long periods of time. They advise on diets and work to improve health by providing the appropriate foods.
Average Annual Salary: $60,230
- Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals
Nutritionists in these settings often work with individuals experiencing issues related to eating disorders. They provide counseling, create individualized eating plans, and help patients recognize the need to change their ways.
Average Annual Salary: $62,590
- Special Food Services
Special food services may cover allergens to food or other special diets needed for health. Examples may include gluten-free, dairy-free, or low-FODMAP diets.
Average Annual Salary: $60,520
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How Do You Find a Job as a Nutrition Graduate?
After graduating from a nutrition degree, newly minted alumni must find their first professional role. When preparing for the job search, learners must first look at their resume. Those who earned additional certificates during their time in school often impress hiring committees, as many recent graduates possess only a degree and supervised internship hours. Students should also work on perfecting their interview skills. Many colleges provide career centers to help with resumes and interviews, as well.
Networking also plays an important role, as graduates meet others in the field and potentially find employers who can speak to hiring trends and job openings. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Nutrition Network, and Dietician Central all provide means of networking online and in-person.
Given that the BLS projects a 15% growth in roles for dietitians and nutritionists between 2016 and 2026, the future looks bright for recent and upcoming graduates. The Centers for Disease Control has repeatedly raised the alarm over obesity in the United States, with more than 33% of all Americans possessing body mass indexes (BMIs) categorizing them as obese. Because of this, nutritionists trained in weight management can expect continued demand in coming years.
Professional Resources for Nutrition Majors
This professional association provides members with helpful resources including e-books, nutrition webinars, an annual conference, and an online store.
In addition to promoting research and policy in this subfield, the ISBNPA provides an annual meeting, an in-house publication, special interest groups, a webinar series, mentoring, and access to news in the field.
SNEB provides a great membership resource to more than 600 individuals focused on nutrition education. The group features an annual conference, a regularly updated blog, webinars, legislative advocacy, news, and an active jobs board.
AND serves its members through advocacy efforts, opportunities for building leadership skills, emerging research, news from the field, research publications, and special practice areas. The group also provides a store.
Individuals looking to receive board certification can do so through NANP, but the group offers so much more. Member benefits include a nutrition professional database, an e-newsletter, annual conferences, webinars, continuing education opportunities.
ANA can help practitioners and students alike by providing a continually updated list of active jobs, a school database, access to member directories, training programs, and continuing education opportunities.
Students can use this website to find a list of nutrition programs accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. They can also review reports, read about individual schools, and find other helpful resources.
The Balance Careers offers this quiz to anyone considering work in nutrition. Users can take the quiz and receive a report on how their interests, skills, and passions line up with this area of work.
Food & Nutrition offers tips and guidance for students before they walk into their first interview to become a nutritionist. Exploring the site offers valuable information for those entering the field.
The American Fitness Professionals Association pulls back the curtain on what it really looks like to work as a nutritionist, providing a day-to-day account of common responsibilities and routine tasks.