What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Dietitian or Nutritionist?

A healthy diet is essential for a healthy life. Sometimes knowing what foods to eat, and in what quantities, can be a struggle. If you’re naturally curious about the health effects of foods and have the drive to help others live a healthier lifestyle, a career as a dietitian or nutritionist could be right for you. The first step to this rewarding vocation is earning an undergraduate college degree.

Differences between Dietitians and Nutritionists

Dietitians and nutritionists are healthcare professionals with expertise in the nutritional value of food. Like others in the healthcare field, they work directly with patients or clients. They evaluate their clients’ current diets and recommend meal plans to help them achieve a healthy lifestyle or reach a goal like weight loss, gains in muscle, or lowering blood pressure. To make sure clients stick with their meal plans, dietitians and nutritionists need to make sure these diets are affordable and reasonably appealing to their clients. After clients begin their new meal plans, dietitians and nutritionists track their progress and change the diet as necessary. Dietitians and nutritionists find work in hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ officers, outpatient centers and government entities. More than one in ten dietitians and nutritionists work for themselves, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Dietitians and nutritionists serve similar roles, but the careers aren’t identical. All professionals in this field are nutritionists, but only if they earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist credential can they be called registered dietitians.

Education and Training Options

To become a dietitian or nutritionist, you will need a bachelor’s degree. Majors like foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, dietetics and food service systems management are among the most popular among aspiring dietitians and nutritionists. No matter what major you decide to study, expect to take courses in biology, chemistry, nutrition and psychology during your academic career.

Real-world experience is particularly important for dietitians and nutritionists. You will need to gain several hundred hours of supervised experience during your studies or after you graduate, according to the BLS. You will also need to earn a license, registration status or other credential, depending on your state. If you want to be a registered dietitian, you will need to meet eligibility requirements and pass a registration test.

Dietitians and nutritionists earn a median salary of $55,240 per year, according to the BLS. Those who earn a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential tend to receive higher salaries than those who do not. The job outlook for this career is positive, with the BLS expecting opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists to increase by 21 percent over just a decade. Dietitians and nutritionists with an advanced degree or a specialized certification will enjoy the widest variety of job prospects. These and other benefits led U.S. News & World Report to rank the career 14th on its list of the Best Health Care Jobs and 29th on its 100 Best Jobs list.

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