Most people these days understand the links between nutrition and overall health, but not everyone knows how to build their own diet in a way that promotes general wellness. Learning about nutrition at the college level can give you the tools you need to work at this intersection of fitness and healthcare, helping promote healthy eating and counsel clients in pursuit of their personal health goals.
In basic terms, though, what is nutrition? You can think of it as the science of understanding the action of different vitamins and nutrients on the body, particularly as it relates to the products you consume. The body undergoes millions of unseen processes every day, and what we choose to eat and drink can have a range of effects on those processes and their outcomes.
Going to nutrition school can help you understand which foods typically lead to healthy outcomes and which foods can lead to damage in the body's organs and tissues. If you want to make your living helping people eat right and stay healthy, an online nutrition degree program is a strong first step toward launching your career.
Scroll down for a list of the best schools for traditional and online nutrition courses, information on nutrition certifications and a few tips on enhancing your prospects on the job market.
Several nutrition schools across the country offer their programs entirely online, providing students the schedule flexibility they need to earn a degree without interfering with their work and family schedules. Some partially online programs, also known as hybrid programs, are available as well.
The specific set of courses you'll take in your nutrition program depends on the curriculum set by your chosen college or university, but most programs cover fundamental aspects of nutrition and work to develop the skills you need to provide nutritional services in either a personal or an institutional environment.
At many nutrition schools, you can get a college-level nutrition education even if you've already earned a bachelor's degree in another subject. Graduate certificates in nutrition, sometimes called post-baccalaureate certificates, tend to consist of fewer credits than a full-fledged bachelor's degree and often require students to have completed an appropriate set of prerequisite courses before enrolling.
How long does a bachelor's nutrition degree program online take?
The typical bachelor's degree in nutrition takes about four years to complete from enrollment to graduation. If you're studying part-time, usually considered as taking less than 9 credits per semester, your time to completion will likely be longer. Transferring in some previous college credit can trim your program down to two years or less, in some cases.
What are the requirements to start a bachelor's nutrition degree program online?
Each institution sets its own admissions requirements, but first-time students are likely to be asked for the following documents in the application process:
Why earn a bachelor's nutrition degree online?
Studying online can bring significant scheduling benefits unavailable to campus-based students, particularly if your program is offered in an asynchronous format. Asynchronous programs allow you to view classroom materials — including lectures — at any time over the duration of the course, which can take a lot of stress out of coordinating your school schedule with other responsibilities.
Lower division (years one and two)
The lower-division years of most nutrition programs are spent learning essential introductory information about nutrition and the nutrition sciences and completing courses from your degree's general education core requirement. Your first two years are also a good opportunity to choose a minor that can enhance your degree, such as food science or communications.
Upper division (years three and four)
Once you enter your junior year, intermediate and advanced nutrition courses begin taking up a larger percentage of your semester schedules. If your nutrition program offers concentrations or specializations, you'll typically dive into those courses in the upper division. Some space to take electives and finish your general education requirement is afforded as well.
Some nutrition programs give students the opportunity to specialize their study in a specific branch of the nutrition field. Here are a few specializations that you might be able to choose:
If you're planning to become a Registered Dietitian (RD) after graduation, the dietetics specialization can put you on track to complete the exam requirements.
Companies in the food industry often consult nutritionists about ways to make their products healthier, and this specialization focuses on that area of the field.
Working in community nutrition, public health education and more can become available to graduates of a nutrition and wellness program.
Your nutrition education is the first step on the road to a range of careers that focus on food and the importance of diet to overall health. Each of the following careers is a hot property on the U.S. job market, predicted to see employment growth of at least 11 percent by 2028.
The careers listed below may seem fairly similar, but they each have different requirements and each one approaches the promotion of dietary health in its own way. Check out the details and see if one of them seems like the right fit for you.
What do nutritionists do?
Nutritionists work with clients, often individually but sometimes in groups, to help them improve their diet and work toward overall wellness. Here's a quick list of some common duties in a nutritionist's day-to-day job:
How to become a nutritionist
It may be possible in some states to become a nutritionist by simply completing a few online nutrition courses and staying on top of trends in the field, but earning a bachelor's level degree in nutrition can help you offer more nuanced solutions to your clients and prove your knowledge to potential employers, as well as fulfilling most state requirements to practice.
You can earn a nutrition certification online, in most cases, if your state requires it. Some states may also require that you spend a certain amount of time in supervised practice before you can offer nutritional advice on your own.
What does a dietitian do?
Dietitians are nutrition professionals who have completed a particular set of educational requirements and earned the Registered Dietitian (RD) designation. They have a fairly similar slate of responsibilities to general nutritionists, but they may perform a few more advanced services like these:
How to become a dietitian?
At least a bachelor's degree is required to become a dietitian, preferably in a subject like nutrition, dietetics or food science. If you've already earned a bachelor's degree in another subject, you may be able to qualify for the career by taking the right set of prerequisite courses and completing a dietetic internship.
Many dietitians choose to take their education past the undergraduate level and earn a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in dietetics or nutrition sciences. Candidates with advanced education are likely to have a leg up in the hiring process, and may be the only applicants considered for senior positions.
What does a Community health worker do?
Issues with diet and nutrition can affect entire communities as well as individuals, and community health workers do their part to ensure that communities get the information and guidance they need to eat a healthy diet. Take a look at this quick rundown of common responsibilities in community health work:
How to become a community health worker?
Most states only require that aspiring community health workers hold a high school diploma and complete a brief training period, but some either mandate or encourage that community health professionals become certified before providing any official guidance. Earning a certificate in community health alongside completing your nutrition program can give you all the preparation you need to kickstart your career.
On-the-job training is common among beginning community health workers, to help them understand the needs of the specific community they're working with. Contact your state's board of health for more information on the specific eligibility requirements where you live.
Offered by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), this credential prepares you to act as a certified nutrition specialist when promoting diet- and exercise-related approaches to health.
Requirements: There are no official requirements to enter the program or take the certification exam, but some knowledge of nutrition is encouraged.
Exam Format: 100 multiple-choice questions with a passing score of 70 percent.
How long does the certification last?: Two years.
Precision Nutrition and the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) jointly offer this nutrition certification online, providing study materials that candidates can use without leaving home.
Requirements: No formal requirements are listed for the first level of this credential, and the certification fee can be paid in one lump sum or in monthly installments.
Exam Format: 20 short exams of 10 multiple-choice questions each, taken at intervals throughout the course.
How long does the certification last?: No expiration date is listed.
Dietitians in most states need to be certified in order to practice legally, and the Registered Dietitian credential is the primary path to certification and licensure in the U.S.
Requirements: At least a bachelor's degree is required for exam candidates, as well as the completion of an authorized dietitian training program. A college-level nutrition education may be able to satisfy both requirements.
Exam Format: Between 125 and 145 questions, spread among four knowledge areas, with a variable time limit.
How long does the certification last?: A yearly registration maintenance fee is required, and candidates must complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years.
Paying for college can be a challenge, but you don't have to shoulder the entire burden yourself. Check out the financial aid options below, and take a look at our guide to scholarships for extra hints and tips.
Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents currently enrolled as full-time undergraduate or graduate students at an accredited institution in the U.S. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.5 and seeking a degree in nutrition, dietetics or food science-related majors.
Applicant must be a senior who has a minimum 3.0 GPA and who has demonstrated the finest qualities of leadership through participation in campus organizations and has rendered service of significant benefit to the campus community.
Applicant must rank in the top two-fifths of class and have a minimum combined SAT Reasoning score of 1050.
Applicant must be majoring in nutrition and hospitality management.
Applicants must be Virginia residents and have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students will need to submit three letters of reference, a short essay explaining why they have chosen an undergraduate or graduate degree in Food Science/Nutritional Science. Applicants should have a goal of helping to address food insecurity in our communities.
Applicant must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and a minimum combined SAT I score of 1500 (composite ACT score of 21).
Applicant must be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident who is an incoming freshman entering full-time in the nutrition program.
Applicant must demonstrate community leadership and have met the award criteria established by the Alumni Association's Scholarship Committee. Applicant must have completed 12 credits last semester and 24 credits at Bridgewater State College as of December 31. Applicants who have transferred from Massachusetts Community Colleges, Dean College, or Quincy College are eligible to apply.
Applicant must have a competitive standardized test score and a strong GPA
Professional organizations can help boost your career, provide practice-relevant discounts and training and help grow your professional network. Here are a few of the professional organizations for nutritionists and dietitians in the U.S.:
Continuing education and mentorship opportunities are just a few of the perks available to NANP members, as well as an online career center and a proprietary certification exam.