A master's in nutrition is a great option for recent graduates interested in entering the field of nutrition or working in health education, public health services, and food science. Current nutrition professionals can also advance their careers by earning a graduate degree, which will deepen their knowledge and understanding of how food impacts health around the world.
Nutrition master's degree programs provide learners with knowledge about the relationships between food, people, and health, while also teaching tools and techniques that can help improve the lives of individuals and communities. Due to nation's continued efforts to combat obesity, develop food distribution programs, and implement child nutrition programs, nutrition careers remain in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nutritionist and dietician positions will grow 15% between 2016 and 2026. Over that same period, health educators and community health workers are projected to experience a comparable growth, seeing an increase of 16%. Nutrition master's programs also provide nurses, food scientists, environmental specialists, and exercise professionals with additional skills and knowledge related to their careers.
Should I Get a Master's in Nutrition?
A master's in nutrition is suitable for individuals who want to begin working in the nutrition field or for current nutrition professionals who want to advance their current positions. On-campus programs often appeal more to students who recently graduated from an undergraduate program, whereas working professionals may prefer to enroll in master's in nutrition programs online to take advantage of more flexible class schedules.
Nutrition programs may allow participants to specialize in policy, community outreach, nutritional science, or clinical practice, giving students a chance to focus on an area of nutrition that best matches their career goals. Learners can explore the relationship between humans, animals, and the environment by looking at nutrients, pollution, and behavior related to food. During an advanced program in nutrition, students also build upon previous coursework and knowledge by studying advanced biology and chemistry of food and nutrition, becoming familiar with policies related to food development and distribution, and developing food technologies.
Students complete specialized coursework, research projects, and internship or residency experiences. Aspiring graduate students must hold a bachelor's degree to enroll in a master's in nutrition program; however, some programs admit applicants who hold a degree in a field other than nutrition.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Nutrition?
Nutrition master's degree programs open up career paths in a variety of fields related to food, health, and the environment. Graduates can apply the information and skills developed in a nutrition master's program to medical settings, public service, laboratory science, and wellness fields. With a master's degree in nutrition, individuals can work with government agencies and private companies, conducting research or developing policy. They can also provide community and individual assistance; educate and promote wellness to various populations; and work to create new foods, consumer goods, and environmentally friendly products.
- Nutritionists and Dieticians
These professionals work with individuals and groups to assess nutritional needs, develop eating plans, and counsel clients on issues and matters related to food. They may help clients with food choices based on budget and preference; educate the public about health and nutrition programs; and conduct research about nutrition practices, trends, and behaviors. Nutritionists and dieticians work in the public sector or in private practice, at times providing clinical guidance to individuals with food-related disorders.
Median Annual Salary: $59,410
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- Health Educators and Community Health Workers
Health educators and community health workers promote individual and group wellness by providing health-related knowledge, resources, and programming. Health educators teach people how to develop and maintain healthy life practices. They also gather data, evaluate public programs, and advocate for health initiatives and policies. Community health workers provide public support and educate communities about services. They may also work closely with community leaders and health educators to develop and conduct outreach programs.
Median Annual Salary: $45,360
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
- Agriculture and Food Scientists
Agriculture and food scientists investigate food production, safety, and sustainability in a public or private laboratory setting. They may specialize in animals, soil, plants, or food science, using scientific techniques to understand, adapt, and develop food products. These scientists may also carry out food inspections, contribute to and implement food policies, and focus on increasing food quality and quantity.
Median Annual Salary: $62,910
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
- Exercise Physiologists
Theses workers combine fitness and nutrition to help their clients implement healthier practices and/or overcome health conditions. Exercise physiologists may perform physical tests on their clients, assess individual dietary needs, and develop physical activity plans to improve health. They often work closely with primary care physicians and other medical professionals.
Median Annual Salary: $49,090
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
How to Choose a Master's in Nutrition Program
Full-time students typically earn their nutrition master's degree in one to two years, although the exact timeline can depend on whether a program is delivered online, on campus, or through a hybrid format. Online master's nutrition programs often boast more flexibility than traditional programs when it comes to scheduling. For example, many distance-based programs offer an accelerated pace or allow part-time students to earn their degree over a period of two to four years. Alternatively, on-campus programs usually require a two-year commitment and may require students to complete sequential classes with a cohort. Master's in nutrition programs that emphasize a clinical aspect often feature an internship or residency requirement, while food science-focused degrees may ask students to complete a thesis or other types of research.
Students who pursue a master's degree in nutrition on campus may need to pay different tuition rates depending on their residency status, whereas many online programs offer coursework at a fixed rate, regardless of where a student lives. Learners should also consider other costs, including fees, housing, and parking, when looking at online and on-campus programs.
When choosing a nutrition master's program, students should also consider the available degree specializations. Programs may be more medically or clinically oriented and emphasize laboratory, patient-focused, and research elements. Alternatively, they may use a wider community-based approach. Nutrition master's programs can also emphasize politics and global aspects of human health, food, and the environment.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Nutrition Programs
Accreditation represents another factor learners should look into when choosing a master's degree in nutrition. Aspiring graduate students should only consider Institutions that hold regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation is generally viewed as more prestigious, while national accreditation is more common among vocational and for-profit schools. Schools that hold accreditation undergo an assessment by one of the accrediting agencies endorsed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.
Accreditation is ongoing and voluntary, and the type of accreditation a school holds can impact its student's ability to receive financial aid and transfer credits to another institution. For example, many regionally accredited schools do not accept transfer credits from unaccredited or nationally accredited schools, and many financial aid programs only grant aid to students attending schools that hold regional accreditation.
In addition to national and regional accreditation, individual programs can hold programmatic accreditation. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredits programs that prepare students to become registered dietician nutritionists as well as nutrition and dietitian technicians.
Master's in Nutrition Program Admissions
The overall application process for master's in nutrition programs varies somewhat by school, but many common elements exist in all applications. Both online and on-campus programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in order to begin graduate school, and some schools also hold minimum GPA requirements. Graduate schools may also ask students to submit their standardized test scores (e.g., their GRE scores).
When deciding which schools to apply to, students should take note of all application deadlines, requirements, and associated fees. Each school's admissions website should mention its application deadlines, and mapping out these dates on a calendar can help students avoid missing out on important dates. Unlike undergraduate institutions, graduate schools do not accept the Common Application. Students who plan on applying to several programs should leave themselves ample time to fill out multiple applications.
- Bachelor's Degree: Master's in nutrition programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, but this diploma does not necessarily need to be in nutrition. However, individuals with an unrelated degree may need to provide evidence of prerequisite coursework in science classes, such as biology, chemistry, and physiology.
- Professional Experience: Most schools do not list previous professional experience in nutrition as a prerequisite, although programs generally prefer applicants who have spent some time working or volunteering in the field.
- Minimum GPA: Nutrition master's programs often require applicants to hold an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Students who do not meet GPA requirements can sometimes join a program on a provisional basis.
- Application: Each school with a nutrition master's degree uses its own application, which can typically be found on its admissions website. Students can complete most applications online, although applicants can also request a hard copy.
- Transcripts: Graduate schools require applicants to submit transcripts from previous undergraduate and graduate institutions. Students can obtain these by contacting the registrar office at their previous or current school(s). Transcript requests usually require students to pay a nominal fee and can take several weeks to process.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most master's in nutrition programs require students to submit letters of recommendation written by individuals who can attest to a student's academic ability, work ethic, and/or overall character. Programs usually request two or three letters. Make sure to give letter writers several weeks to write and submit these recommendations.
- Test Scores: Many nutrition master's programs require applicants to submit GRE scores as part of their application packet. However, students with high GPAs or ample work experience may not need to take the exam.
- Application Fee: Colleges and universities usually charge application fees, which generally range from $40-$60. However, some schools offer fee waiver programs for students who demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Nutrition Program?
The curricula of nutrition master's programs vary by school and department, especially if a program offers specific emphases or concentrations. Master of science in nutrition programs typically focus more on food science and medical aspects of nutrition, while master of arts degrees incorporate more information related to the social, political, and educational principles of nutrition and overall wellness.
|Community Nutrition||A community nutrition concentration covers nutrition and health across all age groups with special attention paid to intervention, outreach, education, leadership, and research. The program also covers agricultural education and group change.||Health educator, community health worker, and public health nurse|
|Clinical Nutrition||Clinical nutrition focuses on nutrition planning and assessment with classes on nutrients, metabolism, and nutrition-related disorders. The program also incorporates information related to education, counseling, and research.||Clinical nutritionist, nutrition researcher, registered dietician, and public health nurse|
|Nutrition and Policy||Nutrition and policy students learn about the biology and chemistry of food, agriculture, and health, while also covering advanced coursework on global and domestic food policies, programs, and research. This concentration also focuses on healthcare, community outreach, and public health.||Nonprofit agency worker, nutrition counselor, nutrition researcher, private or public food processing agent, and hospital worker|
|Nutrition and Wellness||The nutrition and wellness concentration focuses more on applying research rather than conducting original research, using the latest findings in the field to help better the lives of clients and patients. Coursework emphasizes nutrition planning, education, and communication.||Nutritionist, wellness coach, community health worker, community nurse, health promotion specialist, and exercise physiologist|
|Nutrition Education||Nutrition education emphasizes the science of nutrition as well as effective techniques for educating individuals and communities about healthy change. This track focuses on nutrition education related to schools, sports, and the human lifecycle.||Health educator, community health worker, nutritionist, registered dietician, and wellness coach|
Courses in a Master's in Nutrition Program
Although advanced coursework in master's in nutrition programs vary, most schools offer similar core courses that provide learners with foundational knowledge and essential career skills.
- Communication in Nutrition and Health
Courses on communication in nutrition and health teach students how to convey information related to nutrition, health, and wellness to individuals and communities. Students learn about human and organizational behavior and how to enact positive change. Communication coursework may also relate to counseling, education programming, and grant writing.
- Health Promotion and Wellness
Health promotion and wellness coursework emphasizes nutrition and health planning by giving students the opportunity to develop and implement wellness programs for individuals and communities. Students learn how to analyze health and wellness data and evaluate client and community success.
- Nutrition Research Methods
These courses teach students how to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data. Students learn about various research theories and practices as they conduct their own studies, often in preparation for a thesis or capstone project. Participants also study the research literature and ethics and issues related to working with human subjects.
- Nutritional Biochemistry
Courses on nutritional biochemistry teach students about macronutrients and micronutrients as they relate to food, animals, and human health. Participants also learn about how nutrients function on both large and small scales. Coursework covers the human metabolism, how nutrition relates to disease prevention, and methods to apply biochemistry to clinical and community contexts.
- Nutrition and the Human Lifecycle
These classes detail how nutrition affects each phase of human development. From infancy through adolescence to adulthood and old age, students learn how nutritional needs develop and change. Learners also study how nutrition relates to disease, behavior, brain function, energy, and obesity throughout the human lifecycle.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Nutrition?
Students can find online, hybrid, and on-campus master's in nutrition programs, which range from 30-55 credit hours. Most schools design programs to last one to two years for full-time students. Part-time learners typically earn a nutrition master's degree in two to four years, depending on how many courses they take each term.
Programs with thesis options may take longer, especially if students opt to conduct independent research projects. Many programs also employ fieldwork and internship requirements that can extend the time to graduation. Synchronous programs, as well as those that use a cohort model, do not let students take courses out of sequence; if a learner misses a required class, this can extend a program by several months. However, many online master's programs use an asynchronous format, providing students with increased flexibility. Some programs even offer accelerated tracks, allowing especially motivated learners to earn their degree more quickly.
How Much Is a Master's in Nutrition?
Several factors affect tuition for graduate programs in nutrition. Per-course tuition for master's in nutrition programs typically ranges between $1,300 and $5,400, depending on the type of school and program. In-state students attending public institutions usually pay lower tuition for on-campus programs, although many online programs charge all distance learners the same tuition, regardless of their state of residency. Clinicals and laboratory classes may also charge additional fees.
In addition to tuition, students may need to consider costs related to housing, facility fees, and parking. Online students may avoid many of these expenses. Additionally, all students need to buy books and many pay fees related to student health insurance and proctored exams.
When researching potential schools and programs, students should look at financial aid opportunities to help cover expenses. All eligible students should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine what scholarships, grants, and loans they qualify for. Many schools and programs offer degree-specific funding and graduate programs often award research, teaching, and project assistantships that include tuition waivers and stipends.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Nutrition Prepares For
- Certified Nutrition Specialist
Offered by the Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists, clinical nutrition professionals can earn the CNS credential to demonstrate their advanced education, experience, and expertise in the field. Certification requires a degree in nutrition, requisite clinical and continuing-education hours, and a passing score on the certification exam.
- Certified Clinical Nutritionist
To become a CCN, clinical nutrition professionals must meet core education and experience requirements, submit application materials, and pass the CCN exam offered by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board. The CCN exam assesses training, competency, and knowledge in the field, and professionals must renew this credential every five years.
- Registered Dietician Nutritionist
To become an RDN, nutrition professionals must hold a degree from an accredited institution, complete an ACEND practice program, and pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration exam. Applicants must also complete professional education requirements to maintain their credential.
- Registered Dietician
Similar to the RDN designation, the certification requirements for RDs include a college or university degree and successful scores on a formal RD exam. To qualify, students must complete an ACEND internship, didactic, or coordinated program. Dietetic professionals with an international equivalent can provide documentation to receive certification reciprocity.
- Board Certification in Holistic Nutrition
The Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board, through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP), offers a certification in holistic nutrition to nutritional professionals who meet organizational educational requirements, provide evidence of direct and indirect contact hours, hold membership with NANP, and pass a certification exam. Recent graduates can sit for the exam without accruing contact hours if they do so within two years of earning their degree.
Resources for Nutrition Graduate Students
This library provides information on topics related to nutrition, including agricultural law; nutrient data; obesity statistics; and research and technology covering food, animals, the environment, and human health.
This USDA website offers a collection of information about nutrition, healthy food choices, food assistance programs, and disease prevention. This site also provides practical budgetary and safety content with extensive resource links.
The nutrition page at PublicHealth.org includes open-access journals, continuing-education coursework, and research resources for public health and nutrition professionals. Visitors can also find links to professional and public organizations related to the field.
The FDA offers information on the latest food news, nutrition issues, industry updates, and events. Visitors to the FDA's website can also access policy, regulatory, and program information related to food, drugs, and health.
Nutritional resources provided by HHS include information on healthy eating programs, initiatives for increased physical activity, health facts and statistics, and links to additional resources to promote healthy living.
Professional Organizations in Nutrition
Joining a professional organization related to nutrition, dietetics, or wellness can open up chances to connect with other students and professionals in the field. In addition to networking opportunities, professional organizations may also offer continuing-education programs; annual conferences; and access to the latest news, research, and advancements in the field. Recent graduates can also receive early career guidance and find job listings.