2020 Accredited Online Nutrition Degrees
A healthy diet is important for the wellbeing of individuals. What people eat has an impact on their mood, sleep, memory, and so much more. That’s why it’s important to have trained professionals who study nutrition. Nutrition is a particularly interesting field because it can be put into practice in real, hands-on ways.
Our need for dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow by 8% over the next decade, and on average these professionals earn $61,000 per year. If food and health are your passion, now is a great time to pursue a career in the field. Continue reading for a list of the most popular accredited online degrees in nutrition, or for more information on certifications available in the field.
Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Nutrition Degrees
Online Nutrition Degree Overview & Career Information
The bachelor’s degree in nutritional science combines coursework in medical nutrition, communication, public health, and food management. In addition to general education requirements, basic science courses cover topics such as physiology, anatomy, chemistry, and biology. This foundation helps students understand how the body works and how it processes food at the biological and chemical levels. Other courses may include food writing, clinical nutrition, and nutrient metabolism. Health and nutrition degrees at the bachelor's level often require an internship and are usually designed to prepare graduates for the Registered Dietitian exam.
Master’s degree programs in dietetics and nutrition explore advanced concepts, theories, and research in nutrition science. They are often pursued by healthcare practitioners seeking continuing education credits or just broadening their current scope of work. Some programs have a focus in a particular application of nutrition, such as food service management, nutrition for clinical care providers, or human performance nutrition. Some nutrition master’s degrees can also prepare students with bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines for nutrition licensure.
Online undergraduate certificates in nutrition are available for students who want to an introduction to the field without needing to enroll in a full bachelor's or master's degree program. Graduate certificates are also available for nutrition professionals hoping to gain expertise in a certain topic.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Nutrition
A bachelor's degree in nutrition is the entry-level requirement to begin a career as a nutrition consultant, nutrition educator, or dietitian. Online bachelor’s programs may have concentrations in nutrition science or dietetics, or they may be health sciences degrees with a nutrition or health and wellness specialization.
Admission requirements will depend on the school, but in general, applicants need a high school diploma or an equivalent and will need to submit transcripts as well as SAT or ACT scores. Some schools also require particular prerequisite courses and/or minimum GPAs. Bachelor's programs take approximately four years and require the completion of 120 credits.
A student who is earning a bachelor's degree in nutrition will take general education courses for the majority of their first two years in school. Science classes will include biology, psychology, chemistry, and physiology. Every school has its own general education requirements in communications, social sciences, arts and humanities, and foreign language. Core courses for the remaining two years of a bachelor's program cover anatomy and physiology, introduction to nutrition, advanced nutrition, dietary planning, medical nutrition therapy, food science, exercise science, social aspects of nutrition, and child development and nutrition.
Graduates from bachelor's programs may be qualified to work as a nutritionist for a nonprofit organization, a hospital or clinic, a gym, or for a private dietary counseling center. Some nutritionists also work as weight loss coaches for diet programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. Bachelor's degrees in dietetics and nutrition science are also good preparation for students who wish to continue their education at the graduate level in nursing, biology, or nutrition.
Online Master's Degrees in Nutrition
The nutrition master's degree can be appropriate for several types of students. One type is the student who majored in nutrition or dietetics during their undergraduate degree. These students can use a master's to gain advanced knowledge and research skills. Another audience includes students without previous nutrition experience who want to gain the scientific knowledge and internship hours to earn a nutrition license. Another possible student group includes nurses and healthcare professionals who are seeking a more in-depth understanding of nutrition for their current clinical role.
To enroll in a master’s degree in nutrition program, students must have a bachelor's degree. Some graduate programs also require that applicants complete prerequisite courses or have relevant work experience. While a master's degree is not required to work as a nutritionist, a graduate degree can help qualify you for higher-level positions and a higher salary. Some master's degree programs prepare students to earn the Registered Dietitian credential, which is highly desired by employers. The majority of master’s degree programs take two years to complete, assuming students take two to three classes per quarter or semester.
Online master's degrees in nutrition include coursework in metabolic processes, micro and macronutrients, exercise, public health, epidemiology, and food safety, among a variety of other related topics. Classes will be focused heavily on the biological sciences, with some opportunity to explore counseling and the social dimension of nutrition.
Because master's graduates usually have prior professional experience, they are often eligible for more advanced career opportunities than undergraduates. Graduates with a master’s degree may be qualified for leadership nutritionist positions in community centers, healthcare facilities, or private nutrition information centers, or they may choose to work in academia conducting research or educating others.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Nutrition
Ph.D. programs in nutrition can prepare students for leadership positions and roles that produce significant contributions to the field of nutrition science. Earning a Ph.D. in nutrition online can elevate the expertise of working professionals in the field or allow those without a nutrition science background to gain the knowledge and skills needed to transition into the vocation. Doctoral nutrition programs generally include both class instruction and residential components, where students gain real-world experience working in environments related to nutrition and dietetics. Depending on the program's focus, graduates may pursue employment in fields such as research, teaching, public health, culinary medicine, private practice, and the food or dietary supplement industry.
Admission requirements for a Ph.D. in Nutrition online program include a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field, such as biology, nutrition, dietetics, or food science. Prerequisite courses in biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and chemistry may also be required. Some programs have additional criteria requirements, including GRE scores, minimum GPA, relevant work experience, and professional licensure. Most online Ph.D. in Nutrition programs allow for full- or part-time study and can be completed within four to six years.
Students in an online Ph.D. in Nutrition program gain a comprehensive understanding of how and why proper nutrition is a fundamental aspect of good health for both individuals and communities. The curriculum can vary by focus but may include topics such as vitamins, minerals, nutritional biochemistry, food science and safety, human physiology, biostatistics, and the body's system functions and interactions with the environment. Program electives allow students to choose courses that are specifically related to the field in which they wish to work. A residential component and a dissertation may be required. Graduates may choose to enhance their credentials with an industry certification; options include Registered Dietitian (RD), Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN), and Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS).
Online Certificates in Nutrition
Online nutrition certificate programs prepare students to help clients improve or enhance their lifestyle by adhering to proper eating habits and healthy diets. These programs are offered by a number of online colleges and universities and require nine to 12 months of training. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Certificate programs aim to teach students how to assess the dietary needs of clients, devise realistic meal plans, educate patients on increasing their nutrient intake, evaluate the outcome of their clients' goals, and stay aware of new industry trends. Topics that may be discussed in classes include nutrition basics, medical terminology, learning strategies, developing healthy eating habits, stress management techniques, fitness anatomy and physiology, exercise science terminology, and injury prevention.
Those who hold a certificate in nutrition may be hired by outpatient centers, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, community organizations, and physicians' offices. Many people continue their education and obtain bachelor's and master's degrees in the field to prepare them for careers in management and consulting. Graduate certificates can be used by nutritionists to further their skills. Professionals in healthcare areas can use these certificates to add nutrition knowledge to their skill set.
Accreditation is a term used to describe the process by which schools and individual degree programs are evaluated for their quality and their ability to provide students with a valuable education. Independent regional and national agencies evaluate institutions of higher education based on a variety of factors and determine whether or not to grant them accreditation. Legitimate accrediting agencies should always be recognized by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. While attending an accredited school or program isn't mandatory, it will help ensure that you receive a high-quality education and that you meet eligibility requirements for federal financial aid. Also, if you wish to transfer your earned credits to another school at some point in the future, it will be important that your credits are from an accredited school or program.
For nutrition degree programs specifically, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics provides accreditation if schools' nutrition programs meet a set of national standards for the field. Accreditation by this industry-recognized agency helps to ensure that you will receive a quality education and be prepared to pass any necessary nutrition exams so that you are able to pursue a career in the industry.
After completing a nutrition or dietitian degree, many graduates choose to become certified or registered as a nutritionist or dietitian. The licensing requirements for US states vary, but most states require at least a bachelor's degree, a certain number of hours of work experience, and the successful completion of a licensing or certification exam.
Because the requirements vary from state to state, aspiring nutritionists and dietitians should verify their state's requirements before taking any major steps. With that being said, there are some commonly accepted certifications in the nutrition profession.
Registered Dietitian (RD)
One popular designation is the Registered Dietitian (RD) license. Granted by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), which is affiliated with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the RD credential has requirements that are often the same as the requirements needed for other state licenses. According to the CDR, RD candidates must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Complete a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university.
- Complete all academic requirements for an ACEND-accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics. (For some people, this may be part of their bachelor's degree education.)
- Complete a supervised practice program that has been accredited and recognized by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Pass the Registered Examination for Dietitians.
After completing all of the requirements and passing an exam, you'll then be eligible for many job opportunities in the nutrition field, most of which will require an RD license or a similar certification. Job opportunities and other information, including research publications and professional development resources, can be found on the AND website. Most states require RDs to complete continuing education courses in order to maintain a current license.
Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
A CCN is a qualified nutritionist who passes the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB) exam. Individuals can become eligible to take the CCN exam in two primary ways:
- Those who have earned a master's degree in human nutrition or an advanced degree and license in a healthcare field can become CCN's. For example, individuals with a MD, PA, DO, DPT, BSN or ADN degree qualify for the CCN exam.
- Those with an undergraduate degree who can demonstrate that their program included core science courses including anatomy and physiology, chemistry and microbiology may also be eligible. However, they will also have to take the CNCB's online certificate in Post Graduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition Program (PGSCN) to prepare for the exam. Individuals with non-clinical undergraduate degrees also take a 900-hour internship before they qualify to take CNCB's CCN exam.
Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
The CNS is a certification for professional nutritionists administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. Individuals who qualify to take the exam must hold a master's or doctorate in nutrition or a related healthcare field. For example, individuals can qualify to take the CNS exam if they hold a DDS, DO, DNP, MD, PA or PharmD degree. Individuals must also complete a 1,000-hour supervised internship before they qualify to take the exam.
To meet the education requirements for CNS certification, individuals must complete the requisite number of credits in nutrition and non-nutrition specific coursework. For example, nutritionists and healthcare professionals must complete six credits of biochemistry, three credits of anatomy and physiology and 12 credits in clinical or life sciences. MDs and DOs can meet the internship requirement as a part of a fellowship or residency.
Differences Between a CCN, CNS, and RD
Individuals hoping to earn CCN, CNS and RD credentials must meet different educational requirements before they take the certification exams.
The CCN is open to individuals with a range of academic backgrounds from individuals with associate degrees in nursing to medical and naturopathic doctors. However, to take the CCN exam, individuals who don't have a graduate degree must show that they have fulfilled all CNCB academic requirements and take the PGSCN intensive course offered by CNCB. To earn the CNS, individuals must hold a qualifying graduate or medical degree. CNS applicants don't need to take a pre-qualifier intensive course before they register for the CNS exam. A Registered Dietician (RD) is a food and dietary professional with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or a qualifying field. RD’s also complete a 900-1200 hour internship and pass a dietetics registration exam.
Here are some examples of classes that are available in an online nutrition program:
- Biochemistry: This course focuses on the relationship between nutrients and the human body. Students study how food is processed by the body on a chemical level.
- Functional Assessment: Students learn how to assess patients from the point of view of the nutrition consultant. The course focuses on the various measures that can be used to assess patients, such as blood pressure, height and weight, and body composition analysis.
- Sports Nutrition: Students study how nutrition affects physical fitness and how athletes can use their diet to support performance.
- Vegetarian Nutrition: In this class, students study scientific literature to learn about the nutritional needs of vegetarians. Topics include meal planning and supplements.
- Women’s Health Nutrition: This specialized course covers topics such as pregnancy and menopause and how nutrition can be used to support women’s physiology.
Graduates of online nutrition degree programs can enter a variety of professional roles, depending on their experience, interests, and certifications. Here are some examples of the most common career specializations for people who study nutritional science:
- Dietitian: Dietitians cover a broad area of nutrition. Food systems are managed, healthy eating habits are promoted, research is conducted, and education is at the center of every nutrition plan.
- Clinical Dietitian: Institutions like hospitals and nursing care facilities are the focus of clinical dietitians. A patient's needs are analyzed; clinical dietitians then prepare and apply a nutrition program and assess and report the results.
- Community Dietitian: Community dietitians work with groups of people to develop nutritional practices that promote health and prevent disease.
- Consultant Dietitian: Healthcare facilities and private practices contract out consultant dietitians. Consultant dietitians conduct nutrition screenings and then provide advice to clients about topics such as cholesterol levels and weight management.
- Management Dietitian: Management dietitians hire, train and instruct food service workers and other dietitians in settings like prisons, healthcare facilities, schools, and company cafeterias. They also prepare budgets for food, supplies, and equipment, enforce safety and sanitation regulations, and prepare reports and records.
- School Nutritionist: School nutritionists are responsible for ensuring that the foods offered at school are sufficient to fuel children's healthy physical and academic growth and that the menus meet government guidelines.
Frequently Asked Questions About Nutrition Degrees
Is a nutritionist a doctor?
While some nutritionists are doctors, you do not need to become a doctor to use the title. There are varying legal regulations on the use of the title nutritionist, and while some states may require certification or licensure, others may have no regulations on the term. Many nutritionists do have advanced degrees, and may earn the title of certified nutrition specialist, but are not medical doctors. A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is a credential that many employers prefer or require, and earning this qualification requires at least a bachelor’s degree and a dietetic internship. Medical doctors who specialize in nutrition are called physician nutrition specialists, or PNS.
How long does it take to get a nutritionist degree?
Regulations for becoming a nutritionist will vary from state to state, but most require at least a four-year bachelor’s degree. Those who wish to become a registered dietitian should look for an ACEND-accredited program, and will also need to complete an internship or fieldwork program, which usually takes six months to one year.
- 5 Steps to Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Accessed April 19, 2018. https://www.eatrightpro.org/about-us/become-an-rdn-or-dtr/high-school-students/5-steps-to-become-a-registered-dietitian-nutritionist.
- Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB). Accessed April 19, 2018. https://www.cncb.org/.
- Description of Degrees/Credentials. American Nutrition Association. Accessed April 19, 2018. http://americannutritionassociation.org/toolsandresources/descriptiondegreescredentials.
- Dietitians and Nutritionists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed April 19, 2018. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm.
- Requirements Overview. Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. Accessed April 19,2018. https://nutritionspecialists.org/become-cns/requirements-overview.
- State Licensure. CDR. Accessed April 19, 2018. http://www.cdrnet.org/state-licensure.
- Table I: Comparison of CNS, RD, and CCN Board Certification Requirements. FTC.gov. Accessed April 19, 2018. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_comments/2014/03/00012-88800.pdf.