A master's degree in nutrition equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to become a dietitian or nutritionist. These programs also prepare you for specialized and supervisory roles in healthcare, such as health educator or nonprofit executive.
Most master's programs in nutrition consist of about 30 credits and require roughly one year of full-time study. They typically offer advanced instruction in subjects like human metabolism, nutrition informatics, and genetics. Students also usually have the opportunity to complete a clinical internship, a requirement for licensure in most states.
This page provides a broad overview of graduate programs in nutrition, with additional information on admission requirements, common courses and concentrations, and potential careers in the field.
Our detailed ranking of the nation's best online master's degrees in nutrition can help you decide which program is the right fit for you.
What You Can 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.
- Nutritionist and Dietician
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: $60,370
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 11%
- Health Educator and Community Health Worker
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: $46,080
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 11%
- Agriculture and Food Scientist
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: $64,020
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 7%
- Exercise Physiologist
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.
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 10%
Earning a master's in nutrition opens up a wealth of professional opportunities. Review our career guide for nutrition majors to learn more about job prospects, earning potential, and licensure requirements for various roles in the field.
What to Expect in a Master's in Nutrition Program
Your educational experience will depend on the type of program you choose to attend. For example, more practice-oriented master's in nutrition programs typically incorporate multiple field-based experiences, while research-oriented programs often focus on preparing students for doctoral study. Below, you can read more about the foundational coursework common to most programs.
Concentrations Offered for a Master’s Degree in Nutrition
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Interview With Ellen M. Levine
Ellen Levine, MS, RD, founder of The Wholesome Path, LLC, has been serving in the wellness community for over 15 years. Ellen earned a bachelor of science in exercise physiology from Montclair State University with a second bachelor's and a master of science in nutrition from The College of St. Elizabeth, where she also completed the dietetic internship and sports nutrition certification.
- Why did you choose to pursue a career in nutrition? Did this field always interest you?
Nutrition is a field that I have been interested in since my early teens. At the time, I had very unhealthy eating habits and lived a sedentary lifestyle. As a result, I was overweight and unhappy. I needed help and reached out to my physical education teacher, who gave me direction with physical activity.
As far as learning how to eat differently -- this was more challenging. I bought magazines and books and felt confused about all the often conflicting information about weight loss. Regardless, this began my journey toward a new, healthier lifestyle and a passion for both nutrition and fitness!
When I was looking at colleges and considering majors, I did truly know what I wanted to do, and I had mentioned nutrition to my guidance counselor. In high school, I did not work to my full potential and my grades reflected this, so she kindly discouraged me from this career path, feeling that it would be too difficult for me.
The first two years of college I went back and forth between majors, and I also got serious about my studies. I settled on majoring in exercise physiology and graduated cum laude, which gave me the confidence and belief that I would be able to get a master's of nutrition. It would also be the perfect marriage of degrees.
Within one year of completing my undergraduate degree, I began my master's, and from the first class I took I was 100% confident that this was the right path for me. With the guidance of some incredible professors, I quickly decided [that] after I completed the master's program I would do a dietetic internship to become a registered dietitian.
- What would you say are some of the most crucial skills you gained in your master's program? How do those skills apply directly to your day-to-day work?
The skills I learned in my master's program were many and it is hard to narrow them down to a few. There was a strong focus on the practical application. We had various projects that required working and organizing public health events. This helped me get out of my comfort zone and have firsthand experience reaching out to different towns and organizations. It also taught me the importance of professional networking.
Other assignments included creating individual nutrition programs for people with specific health goals and challenges, teaching me how to work with different personalities and different conditions. Finally, I was required to do many presentations. Public speaking and specifically improving my public speaking was an invaluable skill that my master's program required. These three tools I utilize daily.
I am constantly making new professional connections and acting as a bridge to connect fellow professionals who can benefit from each other. Working daily with different clients certainly does not allow for a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition counseling! Therefore, having learned that every person uniquely hears, learns, and is motivated individually allowed for me to easily adapt when I started working with patients and clients. Public speaking is an area that I continue to refine and improve upon, because as I gain more experience my audiences are of a higher caliber with greater expectations.
- Did you complete a clinical experience or practicum as part of your master's program? If so, how did that inform your subsequent career choices?
This was not a part of my master's program. We had to complete a graduate thesis or evidence-based analysis project as the culmination of our master's program. However, completing the dietetic internship lead me to believe that, although the importance of understanding the clinical aspects of nutrition is imperative and is still a part of my day-to-day work, I knew I did not want this to be my focus. I learned that I prefer education and empowering others to change their lives through healthy living, like I did.
- Why did you choose to go into private practice?
Private practice gives me the ability to work with people who truly want to change. They generally come to me willing to follow my direction and are looking for what I can offer. This also gives me the flexibility to take on other projects, like teaching classes both at the collegiate level and for other organizations, schools, etc.
- Which issues do you prefer to work on with clients, and why?
The two main issues I prefer to work on with clients are weight loss and optimizing performance for athletes. These two areas are most rewarding. I believe weight loss is [about] so much more than looking better. It is about naturally decreasing and, at times, eliminating risk factors for numerous chronic degenerative conditions. Clients who experience weight loss success feel better physically, which improves all aspects of their lives.
Working with athletes is a passion, since I am a lifelong athlete and I understand what drives them. Athletes are often very knowledgeable on how they need to train, but are confused about what and when they should be eating regarding their training and how to optimize their performance.
- Overall, what are some of the greatest challenges you face in your day-to-day work?
It is of utmost importance that clients do not become dependent upon me. An example of this is not knowing what to eat unless they ask me. I am happy to give people recipes and ideas, but when they want me to write a plan to follow every day with exact foods and amounts, I discourage this because it is not realistic that those foods in those exact amounts will always be available to them. My goal is to help clients find new favorite foods that are versatile, healthy, and enjoyable!
This means we need to break many preconceived notions about what is good and bad. These are words I never use when describing any foods because all foods have their places in a healthy eating plan. Another challenge that I encounter are clients who are unwilling to cook. When they are completely unwilling to cook anything at home it becomes difficult -- not impossible -- to reach the goals we have set. In this situation, the conversation then focuses more on why they won't cook. Then we work on changing their perceptions and beliefs about food shopping, cooking, and preparing meals.
- What advice would you give to students considering earning a master's in nutrition?
For those considering a master's of nutrition, I would tell them to look at 2-5 programs and compare what is required for each program, with the pros and cons of each. GMAT is not required in many programs. This may be a determining factor for students. It is important to determine (or at least have an idea of) what the long-term goal is, because different programs have different foci or concentrations, such as clinical, business, or education.
If the student knows they want to become a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist, then it's best to choose a program that is a combined master's and dietetic internship. This is an incredible field to be a part of and I am happy every day that as a dietitian I am able to help many people. That being said, the programs are competitive and require hard work and dedication, like anything worthwhile in life!
How to Choose a Master's in Nutrition Program
Because so many colleges and universities offer master's degrees in nutrition, it can be difficult to decide which program best suits your unique needs. Start your research by considering the five factors listed below.
- First, make sure to choose an accredited program. Through their participation in the accreditation process, schools demonstrate that they have met certain academic standards and appropriately prepare their students for jobs in their chosen fields. If you attend an unaccredited program, potential employers may not recognize your degree. You may also fail to qualify for certain state and federal financial aid opportunities.
- Coursework and Concentrations
- Next, pick a program that offers coursework and concentrations in alignment with your academic interests and professional goals. For example, if you hope to oversee the food service activities of a hospital or school, try to identify a program that offers classes specifically in nutrition management. If you instead want to work for a community organization, you may benefit from a specialization in public health.
- Clinical Experiences
- Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to hold a license. To qualify for licensure, you typically must complete several hundred hours of supervised training. A graduate program that features clinical internships or other field experience opportunities can help you meet this requirement alongside your classroom learning, meaning you can qualify for more advanced roles soon after graduation.
- Delivery Method
- Online graduate programs generally make their coursework available in a synchronous or asynchronous formats. In synchronous courses, you must log in at set times each week to directly interact with your instructor and classmates. Asynchronous courses, by contrast, allow students to watch lectures, contribute to discussions, and complete assignments on their own schedule.
- Cost and Financial Aid
- The overall cost of a program should be one of your top considerations. Public colleges and universities tend to cost less than private schools, particularly if you qualify for in-state tuition. Some institutions also offer additional tuition discounts to military personnel, veterans, and their families. Finally, you can contact a school's financial aid office to learn more about specific grant, fellowship, and scholarship opportunities.
Master's in Nutrition Program Admissions
Different programs have different admission requirements. For example, some schools may require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), while others may require prospective students to have several years of professional experience before applying. Some of the most common admission prerequisites and materials are listed below.
- Bachelor's Degree: To apply to a master's program in nutrition, you typically must hold a bachelor's degree. While graduate programs generally do not require that you major in a specific field, you may benefit from completing undergraduate coursework in areas like chemistry, biology, and statistics. You may also need to maintain a minimum GPA during college, usually 3.0 or higher.
- Entrance Exam: Many graduate schools also require applicants to submit results from an entrance exam, like the GRE, taken within the last five years. Although you typically do not need to receive a specific score to qualify for admission, you may consider retaking the GRE if you score lower than 150 on either the verbal or quantitative section of the exam.
- Professional Experience: Finally, some nutrition programs may require candidates to have several years of relevant professional experience, such as work at a hospital or community health organization, prior to applying. If you already hold a master's degree in another field, you may be able to waive this requirement.
How to Apply
- Nearly all schools require applicants to submit official copies of transcripts from any undergraduate or graduate program that they have attended. To request your transcripts, contact your college or graduate school's registrar. As your registrar may need several weeks to process your request, remember to reach out them well in advance of your program's application deadline.
- Personal Statement
- Your personal statement should explain why you want to pursue a master's degree in nutrition at a particular school. You can also use it as a way to highlight strengths in your application materials and provide context for any weaknesses, such as a lack of relevant professional experience. Personal statements generally do not exceed 1,000 words in length.
- Letters of Recommendation
- As part of your application package, plan to submit at least two letters of recommendation from former professors, employers, and community service leaders. Ideally, these individuals can speak to both your academic and professional potential. Give your recommenders at least two months to write and submit their letters.
You should start the application process at least one year before you hope to enroll in your first class. Students planning to begin a program in the fall semester, for example, typically need to submit all of their materials by a December or January application deadline.
First, check if your school requires applicants to take the GRE or another entrance exam. Try to schedule your exam at least two months in advance of your program's deadline to give yourself the option to retake it if needed.
As you study for the exam, update your resume, request official copies of your transcripts, reach out to potential recommenders, and begin thinking about what you want to include in your personal statement. Aim to submit all of your application materials two weeks prior to the deadline. This gives you ample opportunity to locate any missing items or troubleshoot any technical issues.
Finally, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible. The FAFSA opens on October 1 each year.
Resources for Master's in Nutrition Students
The U.S. Department of Education provides grants, fellowships, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans to graduate students. It also offers advice on budgeting for your education and identifying private sources of aid. If you plan to work at a government agency or nonprofit organization after graduation, you may also qualify for the department's Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
ACEND accredits academic programs that train students for careers as nutritionists and dietetic technicians. In addition to maintaining a searchable database of programs for prospective students, the council also advertises internship opportunities, awards grants and scholarships, and hosts an online library of resources on subjects like seeking licensure or professional certification.
Founded in 1917, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics now represents more than 100,000 certified nutrition professionals. Alongside its advocacy work, the organization shares job opportunities across the country and pairs students and young professionals with experienced mentors. It also conducts and disseminates research in areas such as biotechnology, the management of food systems, and medical nutrition therapy.
BCNS oversees the certified nutrition specialist credentialing process. Several states accept this credential for licensure purposes. To apply, you must hold either a master's or doctoral degree in nutrition, complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and pass an exam that costs $300. Certified professionals must then complete continuing education to maintain their credential.
To publicize research or develop healthy eating plans for the clients, nutritionists must know how to write clearly and concisely. The Purdue OWL offers writing advice for students and professionals alike, including guidance on how to develop a thesis statement, how to properly cite academic sources, and how to draft effective cover letters.