A nutrition degree provides knowledge of how food and diet affect the human body. After studying nutrients, eating habits, and human health, graduates can pursue careers in fields like health, education, food and culinary arts, and food science.
Providing a variety of employment opportunities, nutrition degrees enable learners to help others achieve health and wellness. Strong communicators, analytical thinkers, and individuals who enjoy working with others often find nutrition careers rewarding.
Why Pursue a Career in Nutrition?
Nutritionists educate others about ways to improve their health through informed dietary choices. Successful nutrition professionals enjoy working with others, exploring food and dietary choices, and developing eating plans for individuals of all ages and lifestyles. Nutrition careers include positions in fitness, sports, business, and healthcare settings.
Nutrition degree-holders interested in how food and diet relate to physical and mental bodily processes can pursue careers as food researchers and scientists. Studying nutrition can also lead to food services careers, which may appeal to learners who enjoy optimizing the taste, preparation, and distribution of foods.
Nutrition Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nutritionists and dietitians earned a median annual salary of $61,270 in 2019. The BLS projects 11% job growth for nutritionists and dietitians between 2018 and 2028. During this period, nutrition professionals will need to help care for an aging population that is increasingly concerned about health, wellness, and disease prevention.
With high levels of employment in medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers, and nursing care facilities, nutrition professionals offer essential services and support alongside doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Nutrition professionals also work within food service and government settings, earning high salaries as merchant wholesalers and federal employees.
|Job Title||Entry-Level (0-12 months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
Skills Gained With a Nutrition Degree
A nutrition degree builds skills applicable to careers across many industries. Nutrition students learn how to communicate with others, solve complex problems, and work as part of a team.
- Interpersonal Communication
Nutrition professionals learn to relay information about food, diet, and health. Nutritionists also listen to their clients' needs to develop plans and programs that suit their situations.
When helping clients reach their health and wellness goals, nutrition professionals find ways to solve challenges. With a comprehensive understanding of how nutrition can both facilitate and hinder well-being, nutritionist workers find solutions based on a full assessment of a patient's needs.
- Critical Thinking
Nutritionists, dietitians, and other nutrition professionals use evidence-based data, scientific research, and qualitative information to provide guidance about food, health, and wellness. Based on thorough analyses, nutrition workers make informed decisions that best serve their patients and clients. Critical thinking also allows professionals to break down complex nutrition-related problems into workable parts.
Nutrition professionals often team up with colleagues. Collaboration, listening, time management, and communication are all essential skills for successful nutritionists.
- Motivational Tools and Techniques
Nutrition professionals must inspire clients and influence their actions. By designing actions and strategies, nutritionists help motivate clients as they pursue a goal or objective.
Nutrition Career Paths
Since the field of nutrition offers so many different career paths, many schools offer concentrations so that degree-seekers can narrow their focus. Available concentrations vary from school to school, so prospective students should review each program's curriculum before making their decision.
The list below describes a few common concentrations in nutrition programs that lead to specific career paths.
- Applied Nutrition
Learners who plan to work in nonclinical settings often pursue this concentration. Students gain the skills needed 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
This concentration covers global food crises and how they affect community health. Learners also study topics like economic and public policy 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 study culinary sciences, food packaging and manufacturing, the development of healthy mass-produced foods, and sustainable foods.
- Nutrition Science
Students who pursue this concentration often intend to pursue graduate programs. Coursework provides learners with a strong background in nutrition, biochemistry, and molecular biology.
How to Start Your Career in Nutrition
When considering potential careers in nutrition science, students should note that access to specific positions depends largely on their education level. Graduates with bachelor's degrees compete for entry-level and nonmanagerial jobs, while professionals with master's and doctoral degrees qualify for leadership, research, and teaching positions.
Different jobs pay different salaries. For example, nutrition research scientists tend to earn more than pediatric dietitians. Still, many individuals find professional fulfillment working with specific populations, regardless of how much the job pays.
In addition to enrolling in undergraduate and graduate programs in nutrition, learners can also earn many different certificates to supplement their degrees.
Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition
Professionals with a bachelor's degree in nutrition enjoy multiple career options. They can find work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, community support organizations, and private practices. Students living in states requiring licensure or registration can meet these requirements with a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree also prepares students to enroll in master's or doctoral programs.
The table below describes several careers that graduates with a bachelor's degree in nutrition can pursue.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Nutrition?
Dietitians and nutritionists work with clients to assess their nutritional needs and develop plans for nutritious eating. 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 perform assessments, develop group health programs, lead events about health and healthful eating, and connect clients to services that help them fulfill their goals.
- Dietary Manager
These professionals plan meals for patients in various healthcare settings. Dietary managers must consider the health needs of their charges, accounting for variables such as calories, sugars, and fat content.
- Food Scientist
Working 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 may present their findings at conferences or in academic journals.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Master's Degree in Nutrition
Nutrition students must complete a master's degree to gain access to leadership, management, and clinical roles. Graduate programs allow students to delve into more nuanced materials, developing their ability to conduct academic research and present during industry conferences.
Master's degree-holders can learn to manage staff and perform the administrative responsibilities that come with senior positions.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Nutrition?
- School Counselor
School counselors work with elementary, middle, and high school students 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 eating disorders.
Epidemiologists investigate human disease and injury. Nutritional epidemiologists look at allergens and diseases that create food issues to determine how dietary changes can mitigate negative effects.
- Medical and Health Services Manager
These administrators oversee medical and health services. They work in physicians' offices, nursing homes, and large hospitals. These professionals manage staff, monitor budgets, introduce training plans, set departmental goals, and stay current on regulatory requirements. These managers often possess a master's degree.
Microbiologists research how microorganisms can grow and affect human bodies. These professionals perform experiments to see how various microorganisms found in food interact with and either improve or harm humans. Although a master's degree is not strictly required for this position, it can help set aspiring microbiologists apart from their peers.
- Social Worker
Social workers identify 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 workers and medical providers to manage their clients' overall health. To work as a clinic social worker, individuals must have a master's degree.
Doctoral Degree in Nutrition
By completing a terminal degree, nutrition students position themselves as experts in the field. Doctoral students explore advanced topics while preparing a dissertation, building the abilities and confidence necessary to succeed in many high-level roles.
Students who aspire to work in scientific and clinical roles gain the skills needed to direct labs, carry out studies, and disseminate their findings. Graduates can also begin careers as nutrition professors.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Nutrition?
- 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.
- Nutrition Professor
Working in community colleges and four-year universities, nutrition professors educate the next generation of dietitians and nutritionists. They give lectures, create assignments, grade papers, provide mentorship, and help students figure out their academic and professional paths.
How to Advance Your Career in Nutrition
Education and experience lead to career advancement in nutrition. Entry-level nutrition professionals can transition into roles as registered nutritionists, dietitians, and technicians by completing the requirements established by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
Graduates with a bachelor's degree can earn a master's or doctoral degree to move ahead in the field. Alongside formal degrees, certifications and continuing education help professionals advance their understanding of nutrition.
Certifications and/or Licensure
States maintain different licensure requirements for nutritionists, dietitians, and technicians. Be sure to double check the requirements in your home state.
In addition to licensure, nutrition workers can earn certifications to boost their employability and increase their expertise. For example, CDR offers four generalist certifications, as well as seven specialized credentials. Candidates can pursue certifications in pediatric, renal, gerontological, and pediatric critical care. Additional areas include oncology nutrition, sports dietetics, and obesity and weight management. CDR also offers an advanced practitioner certification in clinical nutrition.
The American Association of Nutritional Consultants offers a certified nutritional consultant program, while the National Association of Sports Medicine offers a certified nutrition coach credential. The American Fitness Professionals Association offers several certifications in nutrition, and holistic nutritionists can earn board certification in the field from the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.
To advance in their careers, nutrition professionals can go back to school to earn a more advanced degree. They can also enroll in certificate programs, take free online classes, and gain practical experience through training and fellowship programs. Open courseware providers include Coursera.org and edX.org.
Professional organizations offer certifications, free webinars, mentorship programs, and volunteering and networking opportunities. For example, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers a webinar series through its Center for Lifelong Learning. The American Society for Nutrition provides educational programs that develop and maintain nutrition knowledge and skills. Fellowship programs, like the one offered by the National Board of Physician Nutrition Specialists, blend didactic learning and clinical experience.
Many of the certificates, educational programs, and training opportunities in nutrition double as continuing education. By keeping up with current trends and issues in nutrition, professionals can implement the latest research and innovations in their own practice.
Continuing education classes sharpen existing skills, while networking and professional engagement with colleagues can lead to collaboration opportunities.
Membership in a professional organization often provides access to job listings and career advice. Membership also allows nutrition professionals to work with mentors and take part in face-to-face events.
How to Switch Your Career to Nutrition
Earning a new or advanced degree in nutrition allows professionals working in a different field to switch careers. Career changers can also apply previously learned skills to nutrition. For example, individuals working in information technology or computer-related professions may be interested in focusing on healthcare information systems.
Gaining experience through nutrition-related activities can also lead to a successful career change. Teachers and education professionals have communication and analytical skills applicable to careers in nutrition. Alternatively, business professionals can take part in nutrition-based marketing or management, while human services workers can focus on providing nutrition programs to groups and communities.
Where Can You Work as a Nutrition Professional?
Nutrition professionals work in several different industries in many different locations. California, Texas, and New York top the list of states with the largest number of nutrition workers.
Nutrition majors typically find the most job opportunities within health-related industries. Hospitals, patient care facilities, and wellness centers employ the most nutrition professionals in the United States.
Nutritionists who work outside of healthcare find employment with pharmaceutical, food distribution, and government organizations.
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
This industry includes standard inpatient 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: $63,340
- Outpatient Care Centers
Outpatient care centers include physicians' offices, surgery centers, and wellness centers. These centers offer care on short-term and long-term bases depending on client needs.
Average Annual Salary: $68,460
- Nursing Care Facilities
Nursing home nutritionists work with individuals staying in assisted living facilities for long periods of time. They provide advice on diets and improve health by providing the appropriate foods.
Average Annual Salary: $60,390
- Specialty Hospitals (Except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse)
Within speciality settings, nutritionists work at hospitals and medical care facilities outside the scope of general and surgical options. Specialty hospitals include trauma centers, cardiac care facilities, and geriatric clinics.
Average Annual Salary: $64,910
- Special Food Services
Special food services refers to specific diets that enhance health. Examples include gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan diets.
Average Annual Salary: $62,850
According to the BLS, nutrition professionals earned a median annual salary of $61,270 in 2019. California ($77,040) and Alaska ($72,640) offered the highest average salaries. Nutritionists in Massachusetts, Hawai'i, and New Jersey also earn strong salaries.
Major metropolitan centers like New York City and Los Angeles employ the highest number of nutrition professionals in the United States. However, nonmetropolitan locations also employ dietitians and nutritionists.
Interview With a Professional in Nutrition
Emily Tills is a registered dietitian nutritionist from Syracuse, New York. She graduated from 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 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. 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 and great people skills will take you far and earn you lots of respect.
- 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 that discussed board exam preparation, applying for jobs, interviewing, and job opportunities. 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.
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.
Resources for Nutrition Majors
Nutrition professionals can gain access to resources through professional organizations, government-run websites, and open courseware providers. Many nutrition-related organizations offer access to updates in the field, recent research, and continuing education programs. Additional resources include advocacy opportunities, face-to-face events, and teaching and training materials.
- Professional Organizations
American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition: This professional association provides members with access to e-books, nutrition webinars, an annual conference, and an online store.
International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity: In addition to promoting research and policy, ISBNPA provides an annual meeting, an in-house publication, special interest groups, a webinar series, and mentorship opportunities.
Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior: SNEB provides a helpful membership resource to more than 600 individuals focused on nutrition education. The group features an annual conference, a regularly updated blog, webinars, legislative advocacy, and an active job board.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: This organization serves its members by providing advocacy efforts, opportunities for building leadership skills, emerging research, news from the field, and research publications.
National Association of Nutrition Professionals: Professionals seeking board certification can receive it through NANP. Additional member benefits include a nutrition professional database, an e-newsletter, annual conferences, and continuing education opportunities.
American Nutrition Association: ANA serves practitioners and nutrition students by providing a continually updated list of active jobs, a school database, access to member directories, and continuing education opportunities.
- Open Courseware
Healthy Practices: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Community and Family Participation - University of Colorado Boulder: Provided through Coursera, this course provides a holistic understanding of healthy practices in public schools in the United States. The curriculum focuses on regulatory programs that support nutrition education and nutrition programs designed to support healthy students.
Food in American History - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This course evaluates the role modern American food plays in industrialization and globalization. Covered topics include slave plantations and factory farm labor, industrial processing and technologies of food preservation, the emergence of restaurants and fast food, and models of food production and consumption patterns.
Improving Global Health: Focusing on Quality and Safety - Harvard University: Offered through edX.org, this course evaluates the relationship between the quality of healthcare and population health. Students learn how to measure efficacy/efficiency and communicate about healthcare delivery.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: AJCN, published by the American Society of Nutrition, promotes excellence in nutrition research and practice. Content includes research reports, critical reviews, and commentaries written by members of the scientific community and practitioners in the field.
The Journal of Nutrition: The first scientific journal dedicated to nutrition research, JN was originally published in 1928. The journal focuses on environmental nutrition and includes critical reviews, commentaries, and symposium and workshop proceedings.
Nutrition: The International Journal of Applied and Basic Nutritional Sciences: Advancing nutrition research and science since the early 1980s, this journal explores technologies and data in clinical nutrition practice, encourages research and meta-analysis of patient-related nutrition issues, and focuses on building understanding of policy and practice for nutrition science.
Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: A multidisciplinary, international publication, this journal covers nutritional science, clinical nutrition, dietetic practice, and public health nutrition. Content includes methodologies in public health epidemiology, dietary assessment and intervention, nutritional biochemistry, and nutrigenomics.
Nutrition and Health: This publication focuses on human nutrition and animal nutrition. Additional areas of emphasis include cellular and molecular-based studies. The journal includes short communications, reviews, case studies, and original investigations.
Public Health Nutrition: Established in 1998, this journal includes commentaries, discussion papers, and original and commissioned articles.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is a degree in nutrition worth it?
A degree in nutrition opens the door to career opportunities across industries and economic sectors. The field also offers high salaries.
- What can you do with a nutrition degree?
Nutrition degree-holders can pursue careers in healthcare, education, business, and wellness. Job titles include dietitian, corporate trainer, and food service manager.
- What are the best jobs in nutrition?
The best jobs in nutrition vary based on an individual's personal interests and career goals. Professionals interested in helping patients and clients optimize their health and wellness may find careers as nutritionists and dietitians rewarding, while educators can thrive as health teachers and community nutrition instructors.
- How much do you make as a nutritionist?
According to the BLS, nutritionists earned a median annual salary of $61,270 in 2019. However, wages vary based on a worker's job title, experience, and location.
- What qualifications do you need to become a nutritionist?
Requirements to become a nutritionist vary by state. Prospective nutritionists generally need a bachelor's degree in the field — preferably one accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. To qualify for state licensure, candidates must often gain additional practical experience and pass an exam.