How to Become a Nutritionist
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- Nutritionists are healthcare professionals who specialize in how diet affects health.
- To become a nutritionist, you will need a bachelor's — and possibly a postgraduate degree.
- Certifications can specialize in a specific type of nutrition and may help you get a job.
If you're interested in food and health and how eating habits can affect your overall well-being, you may be suited to a career as a nutritionist. A nutritionist is a specialized health professional who counsels clients on their diet and healthy eating habits for their particular needs. People from all walks of life may have reasons to speak to a nutritionist.
Nutritionists generally need at least a bachelor's degree — and often a master's or doctorate — and to be qualified through their state.
What Does a Nutritionist Do?
Most nutritionists begin looking for in-the-field experience as early as their undergraduate degree program, when they may want to get an internship or volunteer experience relating to nutrition.
This is also an opportunity to see if you are interested in a particular area of nutrition, like maternal and infant nutrition, sports nutrition, or any number of fields.
Like many healthcare professionals, nutritionists find it beneficial to become certified, especially if they are working in a clinical setting like a doctor's office.
Nutritionists may wish to earn more specialized certifications, and possibly postgraduate degrees, as they progress in their career since these can be necessary for some higher-level and higher-paying jobs.
- Advise clients on food choices and diet best suited to their individual health needs
- Evaluate client's health and how it relates to their current diet
- Monitor client's progress on a new health-based, scientifically sound eating plan
- Educate individuals and broader populations on healthy eating habits and nutrition more generally
Nutrition Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.
What Are the Steps to Become a Nutritionist?
To become a nutritionist, you will need at least a bachelor's degree, and you may find it beneficial to earn a postgraduate degree as well. You will also need to earn and maintain certification as a nutritionist. The process for earning and maintaining certification will vary depending on your state.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
For those looking at a career as a nutritionist, a bachelor's degree is essential. For a future nutritionist, the ideal major is nutrition or nutrition science, which will focus directly on the skills needed to work in the broader nutrition field. However, not all colleges offer nutrition or nutrition science as a major.
If your college does not offer a nutrition-focused major, consider majoring in a related field. These fields can include food science, biology, chemistry, or other natural sciences. If possible, try to take classes and electives related to diet and nutrition if you are not directly majoring in nutrition science.
Step 2: Gain Practical Experience in the Field
Before you look for full-time jobs as a nutritionist, it can be great for your resume, and a good idea for you personally, to get practical experience in the field through an internship, entry-level nutrition-related job, or shadowing an experienced nutritionist.
You can look for internships and shadowing opportunities during your bachelor's program, or even take a gap year to get hands-on field experience before graduate school. Not only will these experiences look great to grad schools and employers, they will expose you to what your day-to-day life as a nutritionist will look like.
Step 3: Consider a Master's Degree or Doctorate in Nutrition
Many nutritionists find it helpful to have a master's in nutrition, or even a doctorate in nutrition. If you would like advanced, specialized nutrition qualifications, you may be a good fit for a postgraduate program in nutrition. You will need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before applying to most postgraduate programs in nutrition. GRE prep materials can be found online.
Most master's programs in nutrition take one year for a full-time student to complete, while a doctorate in nutrition will take longer, often 2-4 years. Prospective students should also consider program costs before applying to postgraduate nutrition programs.
Step 4: Become Certified in Your State
To work as a nutritionist in your state, you will likely want to become certified.
Certification in nutrition is necessary to apply for some high-level jobs. However, at any level, it will help build trust with your clients and reassure both patients and employers that you have the necessary skills to advise on diet and nutrition.
Certified Nutrition Specialist
A certified nutrition specialist (CNS) is one of the most advanced certifications for a nutritionist. A CNS provides personalized, scientifically accurate diet and nutrition advice to clients on an individual level.
A clinical nutritionist provides individual, personalized nutrition advice. A clinical nutritionist focuses on general nutritional values (vitamins, minerals, etc.), and works in a clinical setting, like a hospital.
Certified Health Coach
A certified health coach is a health professional who develops whole-body plans for their patients to improve their health. This can include plans for diet, exercise, chronic illness management, and more.
Certified Sports Nutritionist
A certified sports nutritionist works with athletes, providing them with personalized diet and nutrition advice to maximize their performance in their sport. Sports nutritionists may also advise on injury recovery.
Certified Holistic Nutritionist
A certified holistic nutritionist provides nutrition advice relating to the patient's "whole self," including physical and mental health. Holistic nutritionists often focus on natural foods, without preservatives or artificial ingredients.
Step 5: Become Certified as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
If you choose to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), this will require further training and certification, but it may also offer more advanced and wider-ranging job opportunities. RDN is a nationally recognized certification.
RDNs are food and nutrition experts, like nutritionists, who have completed, in addition to a bachelor's degree, a program recognized by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics and passed a national exam from the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
Step 6: Begin Work and Maintain Certification
Now that you have completed your nutrition education and certification, you can begin looking for jobs as a fully qualified nutritionist. Nutritionists can work in clinical settings like hospitals and doctor's offices, set up private practices to meet with clients, or work for individual companies, to name a few examples.
As a nutritionist, you will need both scientific skills and people skills to relate to those you advise. Be sure to check your state requirements to maintain any certifications you hold, especially if you become an RDN.
What to Know Before Becoming a Nutritionist
It is important to make sure your bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs are accredited when pursuing a career as a nutritionist. An accredited degree program means that it has passed rigorous standards as judged by a third-party accreditation board. This ensures your future employers and the wider world will recognize your degree as legitimate.
Becoming a nutritionist can come with a high price tag. You will need a bachelor's degree. In the 2020-2021 academic year, the average cost for an on-campus student at a four-year institution was $35,551. This includes on-campus room and board, books, supplies, and other costs.
If you decide to pursue a postgraduate education, the cost may vary significantly depending on in-state or out-of-state tuition, online or in-person programs, scholarships, and more. You may also have to consider application fees, emergency costs, and the cost of any certification exams you take.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a nutritionist is $66,450, as of May 2022. This wage can vary depending on your location. Your salary may also vary depending on your specialty and the type of job, with some nutrition jobs, like nutritional epidemiologist, paying well above the national median wage for nutritionists. However, these jobs often require postgraduate degrees or specialized training.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nutritionist
What degree do I need to be a nutritionist?
To become a nutritionist, you will most likely need at least a bachelor's degree. Many nutritionists also find it beneficial to have a master's or a doctorate in nutrition, particularly since bachelor's programs in nutrition can be rare. Many aspiring nutritionists instead major in related fields, like food science, biology, or chemistry.
However, a degree alone will typically not be the only thing you will need to be a nutritionist. You should also be aware of the importance of internships and other experience in the field. And you should know how to become certified in your state to work as a nutritionist.
How long does it take to become a nutritionist?
Becoming a nutritionist takes a minimum of four years to earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, plus any time required to earn certifications, which will vary depending on the type of certification and any relevant certification requirements specific to your state.
For those looking to pursue a postgraduate degree, such as a master's or a doctorate in nutrition, this will take an additional 1-4 years of full-time study, or longer as a part-time student. Check the time commitments for any postgraduate or certification programs you're considering before you apply.
How much does it cost to become a nutritionist?
The cost of becoming a nutritionist will vary depending on if you choose to pursue postgraduate education after your bachelor's degree and what type of certification you choose to pursue.
You will need to consider all the costs, including living expenses, when choosing which college to attend for your bachelor's program.
You may also decide to pursue a master's or doctorate in nutrition, which will have a price tag that varies greatly depending on if you are studying full or part time, if you can get any scholarships, if you can pay in-state tuition, and more.
Finally, there can be certification fees, although these vary by the type of certification.
How many different types of nutritionists are there?
There are many different kinds of nutritionists working in the field, and their jobs can vary widely depending on their specialty.
For example, sports nutritionists work specifically with athletes to help them develop a food plan that is best suited to enhance performance in their chosen sport.
On the other hand, clinical nutritionists work in doctor's offices and hospitals to give advice focused on nutritional content, rather than specific foods. They often give nutrition advice for managing chronic conditions, like diabetes.
Before you pick a specialty in your nutrition education, consider what interests you and research different jobs in the field.
What does nutritionist training look like?
Nutritionist training takes place in both classroom and hands-on settings. In college, a future nutritionist will take classes in biology, chemistry, and anatomy, as well as subjects like food science, particularly if they are pursuing a bachelor's degree in nutrition.
In a nutrition internship or shadowing experience, you will get hands-on experience in the field and learn how to advise people on healthy eating specific to their needs.
Finally, in a postgraduate program, like a master's or doctorate in nutrition, you will learn more advanced nutrition science and how it relates to health, often with hands-on lab or clinical experience.
How much does a nutritionist make?
How much a nutritionist makes will vary significantly depending on the type of nutritionist job they are working in, how long they have been working in the field, and their location.
According to the BLS, the median wage for a nutritionist is $66,450 per year, as of May 2022. However, this figure will vary based on experience level. It will also be lower in some states and higher in others. For example, the highest-paid nutritionists are in California, where their average salary is $80,160.