Guide to Online Nutrition Degrees

Usmaan Farooqui

Written By: Usmaan Farooqui

Published: 4/5/2022

Online nutrition degrees offer an interdisciplinary education in the vast field of food science. In addition to learning about how diet affects health and wellness, students also have the opportunity to study the social, political, and cultural aspects that influence access to food. Depending on their interests and the level of education they're pursuing, individuals enrolled in a nutrition degree may explore how diet and nutrition affect disease management, influence public health considerations, or shape community health standards.

Graduates with a nutrition education can find careers in healthcare, research, government, and education, to name a few areas. With certification, as well as the required level of education and experience, they may also be prepared to open their own practice or work as health consultants for individual clients.

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Types of Nutrition Degrees

Nutrition science degrees are available at multiple educational levels. While undergraduate programs introduce students to fundamental concepts in food science, graduate degrees offer the opportunity to specialize in particular areas and generally lead to increased earning potential and employability. Nutrition degrees at different levels vary in terms of coursework, completion length, and future career opportunities. Below are the nutrition degree levels available to students.

Associate Degree in Nutrition

Associate degrees in nutrition are designed to be completed in two years of full-time study, with students primarily taking introductory courses in biology, chemistry, public health, and other food science-related disciplines. Individuals hoping to continue their education can transfer into a bachelor's program after completing an associate degree, while those who want to join the workforce immediately can apply for entry-level nutrition positions. Though an associate degree provides students with options once they graduate, those who want to advance their nutrition career will need further education or certification.

Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition

Students enrolled in a bachelor's level dietetics program gain a foundational grounding in wellness and nutrition, while also taking classes in STEM, social science, and humanities fields. Individuals typically complete these programs in four years of full-time study, during which they take core courses, electives, and general education credits. Many bachelor's programs also require that students complete a capstone project to graduate — typically in the form of a review paper on a topic of their choosing. A bachelor of science in nutrition equips students with the necessary skills to apply for nutrition jobs or advance their education.

Interested in learning more? Check out our rankings of the best online bachelor's degrees in nutrition.

Master's Degree in Nutrition

Master's degrees in nutrition include both general and specialized options. Students enrolled in the former complete advanced coursework in health science topics and also strive to develop their research skills. By contrast, those pursuing a specialized graduate program focus on a particular area such as public health, sports dietetics, or pediatric nutrition. Both specialized and general programs can be completed in two years of full-time study. Prospective students should note that a master's in nutrition will soon be required to work as a registered dietitian nutritionist.

To learn more, check out our rankings of the best online master's degrees in nutrition.

Doctoral Degree in Nutrition

Like other programs at this level, a nutrition doctorate trains students to contribute original knowledge in their field. Individuals must take classes in advanced food science topics, pass exams, and complete a dissertation to earn their nutrition doctorate. This degree may be a good option for those who want to conduct original research in food science, engage with the scientific community, or teach at the post-secondary level. However, prospective students should note that graduate study at this level is challenging and may take several years to complete.

What Will You Learn in a Nutrition Degree Program

Nutrition degrees are interdisciplinary in nature, with students taking classes in food science, STEM, and social science disciplines. Alongside completing coursework, they also strive to gain interpersonal, management, and problem-solving skills. While courses vary from school to school, below is a list of classes students can expect to take as part of a nutrition degree.

Introduction to Nutrition Science

This is a core class that introduces students to foundational concepts in nutrition and dietetics. Topics include dietary patterns, food culture, human anatomy, and methods to evaluate nutritional outcomes.

Community Nutrition

Students enrolled in this course learn how different social and cultural groups interact with food. This class is designed to give individuals an understanding of how religious beliefs, economic opportunities, and societal values shape individual diets and also determine what different communities see as acceptable forms of nutrition.

Food Safety

In food safety, faculty introduce basic principles in microbiology with the goal of teaching students about common food-borne illnesses. In addition to explaining how these illnesses can be identified, faculty also cover how to safely handle and prepare food in the service industry.

Management of Food Service Systems

Often listed as an elective, students who take this class explore food delivery in various institutional settings. Most versions of this course incorporate labs in which students observe how meals are prepared in a full-scale kitchen.

Nutritional Counseling

This course covers how to provide clients with dietary advice. Students explore how to work with individuals who have different nutritional needs, including those with eating disorders or chronic diseases such as diabetes. Students in this class learn to develop meal plans and track clients' progress toward achieving specific health goals.

Concentrations

Concentrations allow students to focus their education in particular areas of nutrition and food science. They are often opportunities for individuals to explore subdisciplines and gain the necessary knowledge to pursue a career path that interests them. Below is a list of some common concentration options for students enrolled in a nutrition program.

Dietetics

The dietetics concentration may be a suitable option for individuals who eventually want to work as licensed dieticians. It features a heavy emphasis on nutrition and biochemistry courses and is designed to give students a robust, scientific understanding of how food affects health, disease prevention, energy, and various other aspects of human health.

Food and Nutrition Entrepreneurship

This concentration blends nutritional science with business concepts. Students learn how to manage food delivery systems in different settings and can graduate prepared for careers in the hospitality industry. The food and nutrition entrepreneurship concentration may also be ideal for those who want to start their own practice or nutrition consultancy.

Nutrition and Wellness

Students who choose to focus on nutrition and wellness are prepared for entry-level positions in industries such as education, healthcare, and government. They study multiple subjects, including public health, genetics, and sports nutrition. Given that this concentration provides broad training in food science, it may be a useful option for students who plan to pursue a master's or doctoral degree.

Sports Nutrition

Individuals who aspire to work with athletes or as personal trainers may pursue a sports nutrition concentration. This track focuses on how diet can influence energy, physical activity, and human physiology. In addition to studying evidence-based strategies in clinical nutrition, students may also learn about the sports economy, as well as how to counsel clients and work with medical professionals in the field. This concentration typically prepares students to become a Certified Sports Nutritionist Coach.

Unsure if a nutrition degree is right for you? Check out our full list of online bachelor's degrees and master's degrees.

Is an Online Nutrition Degree Worth It?

Nutrition degrees can pay off in the long term for individuals who want to work in the food science industry. However, prospective students should also evaluate their personal circumstances, financial position, and other commitments — as these factors can also influence whether a nutrition education is worth it. The value of this degree will ultimately vary from student to student, but individuals may consider the following potential pros and cons before deciding to enroll in a nutrition program.

Potential Advantages

Nutritionists are typically well-compensated. Compared to the U.S. median annual salary of $41,950, these professionals earn a median of $63,090, with the top 10% earning over $90,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Nutrition degrees train students to identify and care for people's needs. For individuals who enjoy working with and helping others, a nutrition degree can lead to a rewarding career in client service.

A nutrition education may be a suitable option for self-employment. While dieticians work for hospitals or schools, they can also open private practices that serve individual clients. This degree may therefore be useful to those who want the business aptitude and food science training to work for themselves.

Potential Disadvantages

A nutrition degree alone is not enough to advance a career in this field. For instance, many employers may expect these professionals to be licensed for higher-level positions and nutritionists must take continuing education credits to maintain their credentials to remain competitive.

Becoming a successful dietician takes time and effort. Students with a nutrition education often need to gain several years of experience before they can command a high salary, start their own practice, or work with a pool of dedicated clients. This is unlike other positions — particularly in tech and business sectors — where graduates can find high paying entry-level jobs soon after graduation.


Prospective students should also devote some time to researching whether an online nutrition degree is right for them. Given the flexibility they offer, online programs may be an excellent option for students who work, care for family members, or have other commitments. However, this learning format may pose a challenge to students who expect a structured learning environment with plenty of support from peers and faculty members.

Is a Nutrition Degree a Good Fit For Me?

Nutrition degrees can be an ideal choice for students who enjoy helping others meet their health and fitness goals. For instance, individuals who enjoy cooperation are likely to do well as nutritionists and dietitians. Furthermore, employers hiring nutritionists commonly seek empathetic problem solvers with the ability to discern people's needs and challenges and help them overcome them through evidence-based strategies. Overall, students who see themselves as creative, collaborative individuals who care about the health of others may find that a nutrition education suits their personality and interests.



Employers hiring nutritionists seek empathetic problem solvers with the ability to discern people's needs and challenges and help them overcome them through evidence-based strategies.

Nutrition Degree Scholarships

Like on-campus learners, individuals pursuing an online degree in nutrition are typically eligible for federal, state, and private forms of financial aid. They can also apply for student loans — though it's important to explore free forms of funding first as these don't have to be repaid. In cases where borrowing is unavoidable, students should look into federal loans because these offer the most favorable repayment plans.

To apply for aid, online students should begin by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This helps determine how much assistance an individual is eligible for based on their personal and financial circumstances. Online students can contact their prospective schools' financial aid departments to determine which funding opportunities are open to them, and whether they need to meet additional eligibility criteria. They may also consider applying for the following grants and scholarships.

These awards are open to both undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in food science. Application requirements vary by scholarship, but students typically need to be enrolled for at least four months in a nutrition degree program.
  • Award amount: $500-$25,000
The Foundation of the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT) provides aid to students pursuing a bachelor's in a food science or related field. This award is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a minimum 3.0 GPA who are enrolled in an IFT-approved school.
  • Award amount: $1,500
These awards are open to undergraduate students in their third year of college. Applicants must demonstrate interest in a food or drug-related career and have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA in their first two years of study.
  • Award amount: $2,500

Accreditation

Students interested in a nutrition degree should ensure they pursue their education at an accredited college or university. Accreditation is a process in which a third party evaluates a school's faculty, program offerings, campus, and student facilities to determine whether they meet nationally agreed standards of academic excellence. Aside from receiving a quality education, enrolling in an accredited institution is important because it qualifies students for federal financial aid as well as various private grants and scholarships.

There are different types of accreditation. For instance, regional and national accreditation is carried out by various organizations and applies to the school as a whole. Some disciplines, however, offer programmatic accreditation, where a professional organization evaluates whether a specific degree meets educational benchmarks for that field. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) is the agency that assesses nutrition degrees.

Students should verify their nutrition program is both ACEND-accredited and offered at a regionally accredited school by checking the U.S. Department of Education or Council of Higher Education databases.

For more information about attending an online college, including scholarship opportunities and advice from experts, visit our resource hub.

What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree?

Given the essential role diet plays in health and development, nutrition professionals can be found working in gyms, schools, wellness centers, offices, hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities. Depending on their career goals, these professionals may work as private or public employees or serve as independent consultants to their own list of clients. Continue reading for a list of potential career options for nutrition degree holders.

Dietitians and Nutritionists
Median Annual Salary: $63,090
Job Outlook: 11%
Required Education: Bachelor's degree

Dietitians and nutritionists help individuals meet a range of health and fitness goals by advising them on healthy eating habits. They design food plans for clients with specific diseases, develop educational materials, and, in some cases, contribute to research and communication around food-related issues.

Exercise Physiologists
Median Annual Salary: $50,280
Job Outlook: 13%
Required Education: Bachelor's or master's degree

Exercise physiologists work with patients who want to improve their physical fitness levels or manage chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes. In addition to devising exercise regimes, exercise physiologists with a background in food science also advise patients on their dietary needs.

Fitness Trainers and Instructors
Median Annual Salary: $40,510
Job Outlook: 39%
Required Education: High school diploma or associate degree

Fitness trainers and instructors provide information to individual clients or groups on how to improve their physical health and mental wellbeing. They advocate for the importance of a healthy lifestyle, design workouts for varying skill levels, and help clients monitor progress toward their goals.

Postsecondary Teachers
Median Annual Salary: $80,560
Job Outlook: 12%
Required Education: Doctorate or professional degree

Postsecondary teachers with a nutrition degree teach students about food science at the university level. In addition to designing lesson plans and advising students, they conduct original research on various diet and nutrition topics. In some cases, these professionals also serve on academic committees and fulfill administrative duties.

Certification and Licensure

Certification and licensure can show that an individual is a well-trained and capable nutritionist, and can help improve their job prospects. While requirements vary by state — with some making board licensure or third-party certification mandatory and others having no prerequisites — nutritionists typically need to have a postsecondary degree, log a number of supervised hours, and pass an exam to earn these qualifications. Students and professionals have a range of nutrition certification options depending on their educational level and area of interest. Below is a list of the most common types.

This certification is open to individuals who have an undergraduate or advanced degree in nutrition. Applicants must complete an online course and pass the CCN exam to be certified. In some states, they must also complete a number of clinical hours. Recertification requires completing continuing education credits.
Students need a postgraduate nutrition or medical degree to meet the academic requirements for this advanced certification. Depending on their educational background, they must also complete 1,000 supervised hours, a dietetic internship, or case studies in nutrition. All applicants must pass an exam to become a certified CNS.
Students with an associate or bachelor's degree can apply for this certification to enhance their clinical and nutrition credentials. Applicants need to complete either 450 supervised hours or a Didactic Program in Dietetics to qualify for examination. Maintaining the DTR qualification requires paying annual fees.
Aspiring RDs need a minimum bachelor's degree to qualify for examination. There are several pathways to earn this qualification, including completing a Dietetics Internship, Didactic Program in Dietetics, or 1,000 supervised hours. RDs pay a yearly fee to maintain their credential.

FAQs

How Much Does a Nutrition Degree Cost?

The median cost for nutrition science degrees at different levels is $8,058 for in-state students attending a public institution. By comparison, out-of-state students at private schools pay a median tuition of $38,482. Distance learners can typically save on additional costs such as relocation, transport, and on-campus housing.

Can You Get a Nutrition Degree Online?

Yes, many colleges and universities offer online nutrition degrees. While some programs are fully remote, those that prepare students for certification may have in-person practicum requirements or expect students to visit campus to complete lab work.

Are Nutritionists in High Demand?

The BLS projects faster than average job growth for nutritionists and dieticians. Compared to the national average of 8%, these positions are expected to increase by 11% through 2030.

Additional Resources

Students can explore the following resources for supplementary information on nutrition degrees, certification, and career options.

AND is the premier organization for licensed practitioners and students. Founded in 1917, it publishes research, provides health education resources, and encourages professional advancement in the field of nutrition.

ANA offers certification and continuing education programs for registered dieticians and dietetics technicians. In addition to setting professional standards for nutritionists, the organization provides students with information on degree programs, jobs, and internship opportunities.

ASN seeks to build trust in food science by providing scientific, evidence-based knowledge on wellness-related topics. It also provides online courses, webinars, and networking opportunities to students interested in nutrition.

NANP is an organization that focuses on the practice of holistic nutrition. This body offers certification, publishes research, and hosts an annual conference for members. Students who join can also benefit from mentorship opportunities.

SNEB is an international organization of nutritionists that advocates for healthy lifestyles through research, policy engagement, and education. Student members have the chance to join committees, attend conferences, and develop their professional network.

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