Types of Nutrition Science Degrees

A degree in nutrition science gives you the tools necessary to help people live healthier lives and expand life expectancy. Degree programs in nutrition science are designed to prepare students academically and professionally for many career opportunities in health-related fields.

As an introduction, click the questions below to learn more about your degree options and working in the field of nutrition:

  1. What Are My Degree Options In Nutrition Science?
  2. Do I Need A Master’s Degree To Work As A Registered Dietician?
  3. What Areas Of Nutrition Can I Specialize In?
  4. What Licensing Or Certification Do I Need To Work As A Dietician?

What Are My Degree Options In Nutrition Science?

To work in the nutrition science field, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. Luckily, you can earn a nutrition science degree in a traditional, online, or hybrid platform. Online accredited degree programs offer the most flexibility, which is a great option for those who are already working or have families. Most states require dietitians to be licensed. It’s important to do your research to find out what, beyond a degree, is needed to become a qualified dietitian in your state.

Nutrition science degree programs cover a variety of different topics, some of which include the following:

  • Principles of Nutrition
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Research Methods in Nutrition
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology
  • Food Science
  • Professional Issues in Nutrition
  • Community Nutrition
  • Diet & Disease

These are just a sample of the subjects that are typically offered in a nutrition science degree program. You can take additional classes that focus on a specific field of nutrition science, should you choose to pursue a concentration or a minor.

It’s also important to verify a program’s accreditation. You can verify accreditation by contacting the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). The programs listed below will help you get started on finding a degree that matches your academic and career goals:

Featured Nutrition Science Programs

Purdue University

Accreditation: HLC, NCA

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Ashford University

Accreditation: WSCUC

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Sacred Heart University

Accreditation: NEASC

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Benedictine University

Accreditation: HLC, NCA

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California Baptist University

Accreditation: WASC

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Do I Need A Master’s Degree To Work As A Registered Dietician?

It is not necessary to have a master’s degree to work as a registered dietician. However, depending on where you live, you’ll likely need to obtain a license. If you decide to pursue a master’s degree, you have a few different options. The chart below outlines the two most common graduate-level degree programs in nutrition:

MS in Nutrition Science MS in Nutrition Science & Dietetics
How long does it take to complete? 1-2 years. The length of time it takes to complete depends on the program, and how much time you are able to dedicate to your studies (full- or part-time). 1.5 – 2 years. The length of time it takes to complete depends on the length of your internship, your program, and how much time you are able to dedicate to your studies (full- or part-time).
Is an internship and/or thesis required? Internship: Usually, but not always. If you completed an internship during your undergrad, you may not need another one, but it depends on the graduate program.
Thesis: This depends on the program. A non-thesis program is typically supplemented with additional courses, and may be less focused on research than a thesis program.
Internship: Yes, a Dietetic Internship will take place during the latter half of this degree program.
Thesis: This depends on the program. A non-thesis program is typically supplemented with additional courses, and may be less focused on research than a thesis program.
What does this degree prepare you for? You will be ready to take any registration, licensure, and/or certification exams that may be required by your state.

Once you have completed the proper exams, you can join the workforce in an entry-level position. If you have previous professional experience in the field, with this degree you may be more qualified to move into leadership and executive positions.

You will be ready to take the exam necessary to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), and any other licensure and/or certification exams that may be required by your state.

Once you have completed the proper exams, you can join the workforce in an entry-level position. If you have previous professional experience in the field, with this degree you may be more qualified to move into leadership and executive positions.

 
To become a professional in the nutrition science field, you will need a set amount of hours of supervised training. This is also referred to as an internship. Depending on the degree program, the internship takes place either during the last semester of your undergraduate studies, immediately after you have graduated from a bachelor’s degree program, or during your graduate years. It’s prudent to research any degree programs you’re interested in to ensure that they either provide an internship for you, or that they offer plenty of career-related services that can help you find an internship on your own.

Most colleges and universities, online or otherwise, have staff who can help you with your resume, portfolio, curriculum vitae, cover letter, and/or references. Organizations listed on job boards often have agreements with schools to work with students. Since those organizations hire students, they likely provide a hands-on learning environment and are more flexible with your schedule.

Students can also enroll in a masters-doctorate hybrid program after having received their bachelor’s degree. These programs usually take around five years to complete, but can be shorter or longer depending on the program and what you are able to dedicate to your studies (full- or part-time). They also require a dissertation and internship (at the doctorate level, this can be a practicum, apprenticeship, fellowship, and/or seminar).

Doctorate Degree In Nutrition Science

A doctoral degree in nutrition science focuses on practical experience and research. Having said that, there still are a handful of in-class or online courses that you will need to take. These classes will vary, and depend on both the degree program you are enrolled in and what your nutrition science focus is.

Nutrition science students and professionals enroll in doctoral programs if they want to teach at the university level, or work in a laboratory and conduct research. Nutrition science research typically pertains to nutrition, health, and how different nutrients interact with the body on a cellular level.

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What Areas Of Nutrition Can I Specialize In?

There are few different areas of specialization in nutrition science. For nutrition science degree programs, you’ll want to make sure they have received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). This will ensure that you will be allowed to take registration exams, and that your degree will be recognized by other educational institutions and future employers.

There are a few area of nutrition you can specialize in, such as the ones listed below:

  • Physiology & Metabolism
  • Food Service Administration
  • Food & Business Nutrition
  • Nutrition Education
  • Public Health Nutrition & Policy

Many of these concentrations are available at the masters and doctoral level as well. As you progress through your education, your studies will give you a deeper and more complex understanding of whichever area you choose to focus on.

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What Licensing Or Certification Do I Need To Work As A Dietician?

If you’re interested in working in the dietetic field (typically as a dietitian), you will need to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or a Registered Dietetic Technician (RDT). You can find out if you are eligible for registration and find the registration agency in your state through the Commission on Dietetic Registration, which is the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For other nutrition science students who wish to pursue a career outside of dietetics, you will need to research what your state requires in order for you to become a licensed/registered professional. Certificates, for dietitians or otherwise, are usually not required, but they are highly encouraged. People typically attend certification courses to learn more about a specific sub-field of nutrition science. This extra credential may help you gain prestige and credibility in the field, and possibly give you more opportunities to advance your career.

You have chosen an excellent time to pursue a degree in nutrition science. As shown by The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) graph below, careers in this field are expected to continue to grow 16% – 17% over the next several years (source: BLS.gov: Occupational Employment And Wages: Dietitians and Nutritionists, data for May 2017).


The nutrition science field is full of educational and career possibilities. With people becoming more health conscious everyday, and our effort to combat obesity, this is a great time to get your nutrition science education started. Take a look at our guide, Top 10 Most Popular Alternative Dietary Lifestyles, and explore the rest of our website to learn more about what it takes to become a professional in this field.

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