Nutritionist and Dietitian Schools & Certification

For those passionate about making a positive difference in public health, there has never been a better time to become a nutritionist. Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic diet-related condition, such as heart disease and diabetes, and four out of ten adults are diagnosed with two or more (CDC 2022). Furthermore, two of the four risk factors for chronic disease are poor nutrition and excessive alcohol consumption. In addition to costing $4.1 trillion a year in healthcare costs, these chronic health conditions harm people’s relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that those living with chronic diseases can prevent or manage their conditions through consistent changes in diet and exercise. Enter nutritionists: professionals who help people improve their health, save money, and live longer, healthier, and happier lives through better eating habits.

So what does it take to become a nutritionist? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. However, professionals with Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credentials have taken extra steps to demonstrate their competence by earning a degree, completing at least 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and passing a rigorous exam.

It is important to note that students pursuing an RD or RDN credential must complete a bachelor of science before December 31, 2023, or a master of science starting January 1, 2024. The majority of RDNs are following this requirement, according to data from Career One Stop (2022), which shows that 24 percent of nutritionists hold a bachelor’s degree while 56 percent have a master’s degree. This guide features a blend of undergraduate, graduate, and combined internship programs to help future nutritionists pursue a career in nutrition and earn an RDN credential. In addition to degree requirements, RDN candidates must complete an ACEND-accredited 1,000 hour dietetic internship program to be eligible for the RDN credential exam.

Nutritionists do more than help people manage chronic health conditions. People seek nutritional help for various health-related reasons, such as addressing digestive problems, athletic performance, and preparing healthy meals for family members. Nutritionists with master’s or doctoral degrees may specialize in nutritional health and are positioned to earn higher salaries in leadership or supervisory roles.

Read on to learn more about degree programs, the career outlook, and the required certifications to become a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

On-Campus Nutritionist Programs

A bachelor’s degree is the place to begin a career in nutrition. To prepare students for the RD or the RDN credential, some bachelor’s programs feature a combination of dietetic coursework and a supervised internship, often referred to as “coordinated programs.”

Some programs offer specialized certification to serve the nutrition needs of a specific population, such as children, adults, patients with particular health needs, or athletes. More detailed information about board certification in these specialization areas is included below.

Some nutrition degree and supervised practice programs and are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). In addition, other nutrition programs are offered by colleges or universities with regional or national accreditation. Detailed information about nutrition program accreditation is included below.

Here are three examples of ACEND-accredited nutrition programs which offer bachelor and master of science degrees in nutrition.

California State University, Northridge

The Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at California State University in Northridge offers a bachelor of nutrition and dietetics and a master’s of science in human nutrition.

The mission of the bachelor’s degree program is to prepare students for the 1,216-hour dietetic internship program and entry-level positions in clinical, community, and research nutrition. Graduates from this program become RDNs, public policy advocates, researchers, and educators.

  • Location: Northridge, CA
  • Duration: Two to four years (depending on degree program)
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  • Tuition: $3,588 per semester

University of Central Arkansas

The Department of Nutrition and Family Sciences offers three bachelor’s degree programs in community nutrition, nutrition science, and dietetics. The bachelor of science in dietetics prepares students to become RDNs, while the other two programs prepare students to become community nutrition practitioners.

In addition, two master’s of science (MS) degree options are available in family and consumer sciences or nutrition, including an ACEND-accredited graduate dietetic internship program.

  • Location: Conway, AR
  • Duration: Two to four years (depending on degree program)
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  • Tuition: $318 per credit (residents); $550 per credit (non-residents)

University of Delaware

The Behavioral Health & Nutrition Division of Health Sciences offers a complete array of educational options for clinical and research-oriented careers in nutrition.

In addition to an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree, the University of Delaware provides a combined master’s of science in nutrition and a dietetic internship. Students who want to study nutrition at the highest level can pursue doctoral work in nutrition science to earn a PhD.

  • Location: Newark, DE
  • Duration: Two to four years (depending on degree program)
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  • Tuition: $979 per credit

List of Nutritionist & Dietitian Schools

Filter by state :
School City State Website GRADS ('21)
Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick New Jersey https://newbrunswick.rutgers.edu 42
University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham Alabama https://www.uab.edu 40
Kent State University at Kent Kent Ohio https://www.kent.edu 32
Florida State University Tallahassee Florida https://www.fsu.edu 28
Meredith College Raleigh North Carolina https://www.meredith.edu 28
Grand Valley State University Allendale Michigan https://www.gvsu.edu 23
University of Akron Main Campus Akron Ohio https://www.uakron.edu 22
George Mason University Fairfax Virginia https://www.gmu.edu 21
SUNY College at Plattsburgh Plattsburgh New York https://www.plattsburgh.edu 21
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Dallas Texas https://www.utsouthwestern.edu 20
Loma Linda University Loma Linda California https://llu.edu 20
Long Island University Brookville New York https://www.liu.edu 19
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Galveston Texas https://www.utmb.edu 19
Mansfield University of Pennsylvania Mansfield Pennsylvania https://www.mansfield.edu 12
East Tennessee State University Johnson City Tennessee https://www.etsu.edu/ehome 10
University of North Dakota Grand Forks North Dakota https://und.edu 9
Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Edwardsville Illinois https://www.siue.edu 8
University of Iowa Iowa City Iowa https://uiowa.edu 8
Concordia College at Moorhead Moorhead Minnesota https://www.concordiacollege.edu 7
Life University Marietta Georgia https://www.life.edu 6
Saint Louis University Saint Louis Missouri https://www.slu.edu 2
University at Buffalo Buffalo New York https://www.buffalo.edu 1
University of Miami Coral Gables Florida https://welcome.miami.edu 1
'20-'21 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in September, 2023)

Hybrid & Online Nutrition Programs

Purdue Global
Arizona State University
Winthrop University
American University
MedCerts

To meet the needs of working people, hybrid and online nutrition degree programs are available as an alternative to on-campus programs. Hybrid courses feature a combination of on-campus and online coursework, while fully online programs deliver lectures, coursework, and interactive activities through a learning management system.

Here are three nutrition programs offered by regionally-accredited universities, two of which hold programmatic accreditation by ACEND.

Arizona State University (ASU)

This fully online 120-credit degree program is designed for students seeking careers in food production, service management, and health and wellness. Students can begin their studies on different dates and take 40 classes, spending 7.5 weeks in each class. This degree program is not a pathway toward earning an RD or RDN. ASU features a bachelor of science (BS) in dietetics for those wishing to pursue an RDN career pathway.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $700 per credit

Texas Women’s University (TWU)

The Nutrition and Food Sciences department offers a 130-credit bachelor of science in nutrition (dietetics). This hybrid program is accredited by ACEND and provides some online course options in addition to courses at TWU’s Denton campus. With small class sizes, courses are taught by knowledgeable and supportive faculty and designed to prepare students for RDN career pathways.

  • Location: Denton, TX
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  • Tuition: $234 per credit (residents); $642 per credit (non-residents)

University of North Carolina (UNC)

The Gillings School of Global Public Health offers a master’s of public health with a concentration in nutrition. This program became one of the first programs in the country to be an ACEND-accredited “Future Education Model” course of study, offered both on-campus and online.

This two-year program is designed for students to complete a master’s degree, 1,000 hours of supervised experiential learning, and become eligible to sit for the CDR exam to become registered dietitians (RD). The mission of this program is to prepare future leaders in nutrition and dietetics through didactic coursework and community clinical experiences.

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  • Tuition: $20,376.64 per year (residents); $37,345.64 per year (non-residents)
School City State Website GRADS ('21)
University of Western States Portland Oregon https://www.uws.edu 148
Logan University Chesterfield Missouri https://www.logan.edu 132
Northeast College of Health Sciences Seneca Falls New York https://www.northeastcollege.edu 66
National University of Natural Medicine Portland Oregon https://nunm.edu 50
Parker University Dallas Texas https://www.parker.edu 50
Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick New Jersey https://newbrunswick.rutgers.edu 42
University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham Alabama https://www.uab.edu 40
Marywood University Scranton Pennsylvania https://www.marywood.edu 35
Stony Brook University Stony Brook New York https://www.stonybrook.edu 27
University of Memphis Memphis Tennessee https://www.memphis.edu 26
University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison Wisconsin https://www.wisc.edu 24
SUNY Oneonta Oneonta New York https://suny.oneonta.edu 17
Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale Florida https://www.keiseruniversity.edu 15
Mansfield University of Pennsylvania Mansfield Pennsylvania https://www.mansfield.edu 12
Adelphi University Garden City New York https://www.adelphi.edu 10
University of North Dakota Grand Forks North Dakota https://und.edu 9
University of North Florida Jacksonville Florida https://www.unf.edu 5
Immaculata University Immaculata Pennsylvania https://www.immaculata.edu 3
Northwestern Health Sciences University Bloomington Minnesota https://www.nwhealth.edu 3
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science North Chicago Illinois https://www.rosalindfranklin.edu 1
'20-'21 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in September, 2023)

Core & Elective Nutrition Courses

So what types of courses can be expected in a nutrition degree program? As with most degrees, there are core or general education courses and elective courses, which include a variety of specialized offerings that support core course knowledge in the final years of a program.

Here are some common core and elective courses in nutrition degree programs:

Core Courses in Nutrition Degree Programs

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

Elective Courses in Nutrition Degree Programs

  • Behavioral theories
  • Communication skills
  • Environmental health
  • Ethics and best practices
  • Food science
  • Introduction to healthcare systems
  • Public healthcare delivery
  • Research and evidence-based methodologies

It’s important to note the internship portion of a degree program is separate from the core and elective courses requires a minimum of 1,000 practice hours.

Nutritionist Program Accreditation

The importance of accreditation cannot be overstated.

First, students applying to degree programs invest substantial time and financial resources into earning degrees, and accreditation ensures the highest standards of educational quality are met. Second, accreditation benefits not only students but also employers and future patients of nutritionists—all who can rest assured that an individual has met high standards of academic rigor.

Moreover, students who apply for federal aid in the United States must attend educational institutions with programmatic or regional accreditation.

Programmatic Accreditation

The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) is part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). These organizations provide programmatic accreditation for approximately 600 nutrition and dietetics programs in the United States as of December 2022.

It’s important to note: the minimum educational requirement for registered dietitians will change from a bachelor’s to a master’s degree, effective January 1, 2024. According to the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the credentialing agency for the ADN, those wanting to take the RDN exam must complete at least a regionally-accredited master’s degree from an institution accredited by the US Department of Education. RDN candidates must complete an ACEND-accredited supervised practice internship program to qualify for the RDN exam.

Regional Accreditation

While some nutrition and dietetics may hold programmatic accreditation from one of the organizations above, alternatively, other programs may be offered through colleges with regional or national accreditation from one of the organizations approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Career Outlook

Along with other healthcare careers, nutritionists are experiencing rapid career growth. According to the BLS, dietitians and nutritionist careers are growing at 7 percent, which is as fast as the rate for all occupations at 5 percent (BLS 2022). Between 2021 and 2031, the BLS predicts that 5,100 new dietitian and nutritionist positions will be created, adding to the 74,700 existing jobs in 2022.

How much do nutritionists earn? The answer depends on several factors, such as the level of experience, the type of employer, and the cost of living in a specific area. The BLS Occupational Employment and Wages Report (May 2021) lists the average annual salary for dietitians and nutritionists at $65,620. Wage percentile estimates are as follows:

  • 10th percentile: $42,530
  • 25th percentile: $49,490
  • 50th percentile: $61,650 (median)
  • 75th percentile: $77,430
  • 90th percentile: $93,640

By comparison, PayScale.com (March 2023), a self-reported aggregator of salary data, lists the average annual salary for dieticians and nutritionists at $55,969, with 807 individuals reporting their salary data.

As for work environments, the BLS shows that most nutritionists work full-time and are mainly employed in hospitals, government health agencies, or healthcare facilities. Below is a complete list of work environment locations where nutritionists work:

  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: 29 percent
  • Government: 12 percent
  • Outpatient care centers: 9 percent
  • Nursing and residential care facilities: 8 percent
  • Self-employed workers: 8 percent

The location where work is performed is another factor that affects salary data. The states with the highest average annual salaries for dieticians and nutritionists are as follows (BLS May 2021):

  • California: $82,380
  • District of Columbia: $80,600
  • Hawaii: $75,020
  • New Jersey: $74,850
  • Rhode Island: $74,080

It is worth noting that the five states listed above also have a high cost of living index score as measured by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023). Therefore, job seekers are encouraged to research the cost of living in a particular area and factor it into their salary negotiations.

Nutritionist Licensing & Certification

Although not every state requires a license for nutritionists, 47 states have statutory provisions for professionals using the title of nutritionist or dietician. Since the qualifications to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) are often similar to state-level required credentials, nutritionists seeking employment are encouraged to pursue this credential.

The RD and RDN credentials are nationally recognized and administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the agency focused on accreditation for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).

To become an RDN, applicants must complete a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and a supervised dietetic internship of 1,000 hours. Starting January 1, 2024, the minimum education requirement to become an RDN will be a master’s degree and a supervised dietetic internship.

Some ACEND-accredited degree programs offer supervised experiences that fulfill the internship requirement. In addition, some programs combine a master’s degree and a dietetic internship program.

To maintain an RDN credential, dietitians must pay an annual maintenance fee of $70 per year or $350 every five years. In addition, RDNs are required to earn 75 continuing education credits every five years.

The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) offers the following credentials for nutritionists and dietitians:

  • RD: Registered Dietitian
  • RDN: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) also offers certification in specialized areas of nutrition. Nutritionists can earn board certifications to work with specific populations in areas such as:

  • Gerontological Nutrition (CSG)
  • Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWM)
  • Oncology Nutrition (CSO)
  • Pediatric Nutrition (CSP)
  • Pediatric Critical Care Nutrition (CSPCC)
  • Renal Nutrition (CSR)
  • Sports Dietetics (CSSD)

Lastly, nutritionists with master’s or doctoral degrees and 1,000 hours of supervised experience can apply to the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) exam offered by the American Nutrition Association to demonstrate their advanced knowledge. The Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists administers this exam and provides three pathways for nutritionists with advanced or medical degrees to seek this advanced certification.

Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd Writer

Rachel Drummond has contributed insightful articles to MedicalTechnologySchools.com since 2019, where she offers valuable advice and guidance for those pursuing careers in the healthcare field, combining her passion for education with her understanding of the critical role that healthcare professionals play in promoting physical and mental well-being.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.