You want to stay competitive in your field. With a master’s degree in food, nutrition, and dietetics, you can set yourself apart. And we'll be here to guide you from enrollment through graduation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on numerous important health-related topics, including the role of nutrition and dietetics in preventive care. Among other chronic ailments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and some heart conditions as elevating a person’s risk profile for experiencing severe illness. Diet has a significant role to play in the development, progression, management, and treatment of these underlying conditions. Proper nutrition can serve as a building block for overall long-term health.
By earning a master’s degree in food, nutrition, and dietetics, you’ll develop a scientific understanding of how diet impacts health. You’ll prepare for careers that help people, whether individually or in a systemwide capacity, to live healthier lives by eating nutritious foods. In addition, this may be a good fit if you enjoy having the ability to arrange your work schedule in a way that encourages better work-life balance. A U.S. News & World Report overview of job satisfaction for dietitians and nutritionists claimed that these professionals enjoyed above-average work flexibility.
What is a food, nutrition, and dietetics degree?
Departments that offer degrees related to the field of dietetics sometimes use different terms, including “food nutrition” and “nutrition and dietetics.” You should review program descriptions carefully, because one department may house multiple nutritional science programs.
Some programs are intended to provide a more general scientific background, helping students prepare for research roles or more advanced study in the health sciences, including in the medical field. Other departments focus on business management and the hospitality industry as seen through the lens of food service. If a degree path is referred to as a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD), then it is intended to closely align with the training required for registered dietitians (RDs).
You’ll complete core courses related to food science, public health, and chronic diseases while earning your master’s degree. Some examples of topics you may cover include:
Public policy and health outcomes
Patient support and administrative skills
In addition to the strong foundation built with core courses, you should look for programs that will help you gain patient support and administrative skills, such as:
Patient and family education and instruction
Quality assurance and control
Technical and medical skills
While dietitians and nutritionists may not need a wide variety of high-tech skills or to be able to administer time-sensitive medical care, you may find the following skills useful in your career:
Microsoft products, including Access, Windows, Outlook, and the Office suite
The Ada programming language
Social media promotion and interaction
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
Typical concentrations and electives
There are several potential tracks and specializations you can focus on when you earn a master’s degree in food, nutrition, and dietetics. Those interested in becoming an RD will want to pursue a DPD track, while other options may be more beneficial for people who have different career or educational goals. Some concentrations that you might consider include:
Didactic Programs in Dietetics (DPDs): You should ensure that you’re applying to a DPD program if you want to become an RD. This will usually be clearly stated on the university or department website, but if it’s not, make sure to speak directly with an administrator. DPDs are academic programs from accredited institutions that align with the pathways necessary to become a registered dietitian. Upon completion of the program, you’ll be able to apply to a supervised practice program. Then you can take the registration exam and become an RD.
Programs for current RDs: Current RDs can enroll in programs geared toward individuals who are already working in the field. These programs can help you refine your skills and develop a specialty. This will allow you to extend your studies further through a doctoral program or to grow your understanding and pursue more advanced roles.
Master of Public Health programs: While most degree-granting institutions in the field feature Master of Science programs, some offer a Master of Public Health. This degree may incorporate topics like nutritional epidemiology or information related to systemic food issues and their impact on the general health of whole populations.
Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) tracks: These programs are typically listed as providing a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition. To be a CNS, you must hold a master’s degree or higher, according to the American Nutrition Association. RDs can pursue this as a second credential. A CNS will often work in medical institutions as opposed to community-based organizations, public agencies, or other environments. CNS-aligned master’s programs are available to help individuals who are interested in earning this designation.
Why should you consider a master’s degree in food, nutrition, and dietetics?
The field of food science and dietetics is shifting in favor of advanced education. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, starting on Jan. 1, 2024, you’ll need a graduate degree to take the exam required to become a registered dietitian. While current RDs who do not have a master’s degree or higher will still retain their status, this updated guideline sends a clear message about standards for practicing in the field. A master’s degree will be the preferred level of educational attainment if you’re interested in becoming an RD or continuing to work as one.
Outside of DPDs, master’s degrees in specialized subfields related to food, nutrition, and dietetics can serve as important entry points to further study, research, or careers in medical, scientific, or business management disciplines.
An expanding world of career opportunities
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that jobs for nutritionists and dietitians will grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029, adding 5,900 positions during that time, which is higher than the 4% national average for all roles.
While entry-level positions are available for those with a bachelor’s degree, the rule change beginning in 2024 that requires new RDs to have a master’s degree will mean that many of the jobs added during this time will go to people who have advanced degrees.
Additional dietitians and nutritionists will be needed in the coming years to help people with chronic conditions manage their health and to support individuals who want to enhance their diet and improve their overall well-being.
According to an analysis of hiring data from 2019, median earnings are typically higher for those in the nutritional field who have a master’s degree than those who have only a bachelor’s:
When you consider how a master’s degree in food, nutrition, and dietetics will factor into your professional and personal life, one of the most important decisions you can make is to decide whether to apply to online or on-campus programs. Here are some questions that can help you determine the right option for you:
Online nutrition programs must adhere to the same academic standards as traditional, in-person programs to receive accreditation and to support students who are pursuing RD or CNS certifications. While the content of the course is delivered differently and assessment models may vary, an online master’s in food, nutrition, and dietetics will provide the same level of education as an in-person program.
Educational materials may be accessed through online licenses or hard copy textbooks. The lessons will be delivered by instructors two methods — either in live videoconference environments with the potential for student interaction or as asynchronous learning modules that you can work through as you’re able. Lab work may be conducted using kits delivered to your home or through short, scheduled visits to the campus.
Some programs do allow students to complete their courses 100% online, completely in person, or through a hybrid model where they choose which courses they want to take in either format. If you prefer in-person classes, you may be able to take some campus-based classes and complete the rest of your requirements online. Additionally, some programs that are mostly online may have a short on-campus component for conducting lab work.
As long as you’re enrolled in an accredited program, your online master’s degree in food, nutrition, and dietetics will provide the same value as one that was earned in person. Your diploma would not carry a designation saying it was completed online.
How long will earning my food, nutrition, and dietetics degree take?
The time to completion will vary based on the nature of your master’s nutrition degree. However, some programs will allow you to graduate in as little as one year. Other tracks take two or three years to finish. If you’re studying online or in person part time, you may need up to five years to earn your degree.
What certifications should I consider?
Most people who earn their master’s degree in dietetics or a related discipline are interested in specific career paths that require certain credentials to practice in the field. In addition to these baseline qualifications, further certifications may be helpful as you apply for more specialized roles in the nutritional health field. Carefully consider how your master’s program can help you earn some of these certifications:
An analysis of job postings targeted toward dietetic and nutrition graduates found that 52.5% of the advertised positions required applicants to have an RD certification. This is one of the most commonly required credentials for dietitians. It’s granted by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and to be eligible, you must participate in supervised practice and complete an exam. RDs may also refer to themselves as RDNs (registered dietitian nutritionists), though the two designations have identical meanings.
Certified Nutrition Specialist
You may want to earn your CNS certification if you’re interested in working in clinical settings. This designation is offered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. Applicants must have graduated from a program that is in good standing with the Accreditation Council for Nutrition Professional Education, or they must hold a master’s or doctoral degree while meeting additional requirements. Applicants must also submit case study reports and pass an exam after they complete supervised practice experience.
First aid, CPR, and automated external defibrillator (AED)
For some positions that work directly with patients, you must be CPR and AED certified. The American Red Cross provides the opportunity to earn these certifications and to renew your credentials online or in person.
You have goals. We have a path.
This is a master’s degree made for people ready to make a real impact on people’s health. With this field of study, you could work as an RD or a CNS to provide dietary support for individuals and communities to help prevent disease and manage chronic illness. Or you could pursue research and public policy careers that can help you bring nutrition to the forefront of conversations and highlight the importance of preventive health care.
If you’re ready to find your next step in a career in nutrition or dietetics, we’re here to help.