Earning a Master’s in Nutrition Online

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Students with interests in health, cooking, food science, and helping others find nourishment in their food might discover fulfillment in a career in nutrition and dietetics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that positions for dieticians and nutritionists will increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026, indicating an increase in demand in the nutrition industry. Pursuing a master's in nutrition online can help candidates enter the industry while continuing to balance other responsibilities, such as a full-time job or raising a family.

The guide below outlines important information about this degree and career field, including job growth for master's degree holders, funding options, and professional organizations and resources for students and graduates.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master’s Degree in Nutrition?

Many different types of people opt to pursue a master's in nutrition online. Undergraduate students may want to strengthen their career prospects by continuing their education with an online nutrition master's program. Additionally, students can pursue certain specializations through graduate school, focusing on subject areas like sports nutrition or nutrition education. Working professionals may also take interest in returning to school, as a graduate degree can increase their salary and career prospects.

Why Get a Master’s Degree in Nutrition?

Pursuing Specialization

Choosing a concentration could lead to earning special qualifications. Specializations in areas such as personal training, healthcare, public health, dietetics, and nutrition education and communication can also widen job prospects for graduates into different industries.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Although a bachelor’s degree can lead to positions as a nutritionist or dietician, people in these professions often possess master's degrees. Master's degrees can also lead to senior roles in management or positions with greater responsibility and leadership opportunities in the field. People with graduate degrees also earn significantly more than those with bachelor's degrees.

Online Learning Technology

Distance learning offers several advantages, including the ability to fit studying and homework around a full-time job. Online students can also learn about specific types of technology used within the nutrition industry.

Prerequisites for Online Nutrition Programs

Online nutrition master's degree programs outline different prerequisites for prospective students. Read the list below to find out what schools typically expect from their incoming nutrition graduate students.

    • Work Experience: Usually, graduate admissions departments do not require students to possess prior work experience before applying for graduate programs. However, some work experience may bolster students' applications. Former bosses may also feel inclined to write recommendation letters, a potential boost for an application.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Online nutrition master's degree programs often require students to submit scores from the GRE entrance exam in order to apply. Several admissions departments offer GRE waivers for students who earned a certain GPA in their previous coursework.
    • Coursework: Not all universities require prospective students to complete prerequisite courses in their undergraduate work, but some do. These courses usually fall into the sciences, such as chemistry, physiology, biology, statistics, or introduction to nutrition. Additionally, colleges sometimes require applicants to hold a minimum GPA in previous coursework, typically at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
    • Recommendations: Graduate nutrition programs usually require two or three letters of recommendation from either previous professors or employers who can speak to a student’s work ethic and passion for nutrition.
    • Essays: Online nutrition programs generally require prospective students to complete a brief personal statement. Usually, this statement outlines a candidate's future career goals and reasons for studying nutrition at the graduate level.
    • Interviews: Most online nutrition master's programs do not require prospective students to take part in an admissions interview. However, some schools do request a phone or Skype interview. Applicants can expect to answer questions about their career and educational backgrounds, in addition to explaining their purpose for pursuing a master's in nutrition online.
    • International Students Foreign applicants who come from non-English-speaking countries must take the TOEFL language test to prove their English proficiency. Minimum TOEFL score requirements vary depending on the school.

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition?

The typical salary for nutritionists and dietitians ranges from $37,000 to $83,000, according to the BLS. Although certainly a person's work experience can affect their earnings, an online nutrition master's degree may impact a person's earning potential in other ways. For instance, graduate students learn a broader set of skills and possess a wider base of nutrition knowledge suitable for senior positions in nutrition.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Nutrition Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Dietitians and Nutritionists

Median Pay: $59,410

Job Growth: 15%

Many nutrition graduate students go on to become nutritionists and dieticians, putting their knowledge directly to work. These professionals work with patients to help them maintain healthy diets. Several of these clients may require specialized dietary plans, including professional athletes or diabetics, so dieticians and nutritionists need to develop eating plans for individual patient needs.

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Median Pay: $45,360

Job Growth: 16%

Health educators and community health workers teach the public about healthy habits and nutrition. They might work for colleges, schools, public health departments, or nonprofit organizations to connect community members to healthcare. Community health workers also advocate for better healthcare programs in their communities.

Epidemiologists

Median Pay: $69,660

Job Growth: 9%

Epidemiologists work in laboratories in government health departments, hospitals, and universities. They look for patterns of diseases or unhealthy habits in humans, focusing on public and community health. Nutrition remains one major issue for epidemiologists. This career heavily involves research, and most epidemiologists need at least a master's degree.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Non-Traditional Careers for Nutrition Graduates

Students can apply their knowledge of nutrition to work in many careers beyond the more typical choices. The table below lists a few jobs that may not seem like the most likely career paths for graduates with online nutrition master's degrees, but they incorporate many of the skills that nutrition students gain over the course of a graduate program.

Career Stats Description

Postsecondary Teachers

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities. Although many positions require Ph.D.s, master's graduates can find jobs as lecturers or adjunct professors.

Skills Overlapped: Teaching students about nutrition, researching nutrition and dietetics

Registered Nurses

Median Pay: $70,000

Job Growth: 15%

Many different types of registered nurses exist, including public health nurses and nurses who help patients with eating disorders. In order to become a registered nurse, nutrition master's students must also take additional coursework, complete licensing exams, and obtain a nursing license for their state.

Skills Overlapped: Assess nutritional health, help patients develop specialized diets

Rehabilitation Counselors

Median Pay: $34,860

Job Growth: 13%

Rehabilitation counselors work with people with disabilities and disorders. Often, rehabilitation work focuses on helping special needs patients find healthy lifestyles that work for their particular needs.

Skills Overlapped: Develop diet plans for patients, help patients find better health through nutrition

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for an Online Master’s in Nutrition

When earning a master's degree in nutrition online, several opportunities can help students cut the sometimes daunting tuition costs. Schools offer tuition rates that vary widely, so students should research the cost of each institution they are interested in attending. Some programs offer accelerated options that allow students to finish faster, thereby saving them money. Several grants and scholarships related specifically to nutrition are available. Remember to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as this determines qualification for grants and low-interest student loans.

Scholarships for Online Nutrition Master's Students

Scholarships give nutrition students money to fund their education. Unlike some other types of financial aid, scholarships do not require recipients to return the money after their studies. Graduate learners can find scholarship funding from several sources, including their universities, local health organizations, national professional associations, and nonprofit organizations. Read about five examples below.

What to Expect from a Master’s Level Online Nutrition Program

Online nutrition master's degree programs come with many variables; program length, credits required, and the curriculum plan all depend on the school. Nutrition master's programs often require 36–40 credits of coursework, including an internship or practicum experience. Schools also typically include a thesis requirement. Programs run the gamut from one to five years in length, depending on whether students enroll full time, part time, or on an accelerated track.

Major Milestones

  1. Choose a Concentration

    Start of program

    If your program allows you to choose an emphasis area, decide which specialization you want to pursue, or whether you want to pursue a specialization at all, when the program begins. This affects the entire curriculum plan.

  2. Complete an Internship

    One to two semesters before graduation

    Master's programs often require students to complete an internship or supervised professional experience. This allows students to get a sense of how to apply their knowledge in the real world.

  3. Capstone Course

    Last semester

    The capstone course serves as a sort of culminating experience for students. Offered at the end of the master's program, this course sums up and draws connections between everything students learned in other courses.

  4. Thesis Preparation and Defense

    Last year

    Several master's programs require students to submit a thesis before graduation. Although the thesis schedule depends on the school, students often research and write throughout the course of their last year before presenting the thesis to their peers and faculty.

  5. Licensure/Certificate Exam and Exam Prep

    After graduation

    Once students earn their degrees, they can focus on studying for licensure or certificate exams. These credentials typically require students to already possess a degree for certification, so students often wait until after they graduate to take the exams.

Coursework

Course offerings depend on each online nutrition master's program; however, many curriculum plans require students to take similar foundational courses. Read below to find common master's level nutrition courses.

Community Nutrition

This course focuses on public health in communities, especially how underprivileged groups in communities relate to nutrition and food. Students examine how government and nonprofit programs can help community members meet their nutritional needs.

Clinical Nutrition

Learners in this course study how nutrition can affect critical conditions and illnesses. The course covers how healthy nutrition patterns lead to preventative measures against illnesses and how modified diets can help treat or lessen certain conditions.

Life Cycle Nutrition

Courses in life cycle nutrition cover how nutritional habits influence human development, including physiological changes and psychological development, from infancy to adulthood.

Eating Disorders

Some master's programs offer nutrition courses on eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Students study the psychological rationale behind disordered eating and how to create nutritional treatment plans for people trying to recover from disordered eating habits.

Sports Nutrition

Diet and nutrition play a large role in athletic training. This course considers the nutrients that active people need to improve their physical performance. Coursework goes over concepts like macronutrients, metabolism, and pre- and post-workout meals.

Degree Timelines

Because of the flexible nature of earning a master's in nutrition online, schools provide students with a few different potential degree timelines. The table below explains more.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

3–5 years

Pursuing a degree part time means that students typically take longer to finish their degrees. Students may take as few as three credits, or one course, each semester. Some schools stipulate that students take no more than five years to graduate. Students juggling other responsibilities, such as a full-time job, may find part-time study appealing.

Full-Time

18–24 months

Full-time master's programs often require students to take four semesters, or two years, of coursework. Students take three or four courses each semester, so they must possess good time management skills to stay on top of schoolwork.

Accelerated

12–16 months

Accelerated programs allow students to bring in undergraduate credit or transfer credit. Other accelerated programs simply progress at a much faster pace. Sometimes the workload for accelerated programs can be intense, so this option may not appeal to students with many other responsibilities.

Licenses and Certifications

Licensure requirements depend on the state. While some states require dieticians and nutritionists to hold licenses, others do not. Regardless, nutritionists often opt to earn certification. Even a state does not require it, certification shows employers and clients that the professional holds a certain area of expertise. Nutritionists can also find several different types of certification in different subject areas, including clinical, holistic, or sports nutrition. You can find three common certifications below.

    • Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN): A popular choice for nutritionists, the RDN certification tests several areas, including food science, nutritional care, and food program management. Candidates may qualify for the exam in several ways, including earning a master's in nutrition online.
    • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS): To qualify for this certification, nutrition professionals need a graduate degree and at least 1,000 hours of supervised professional experience. The CNS exam covers nutrients and human health, nutrition assessment, and professional issues.
    • Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN): Professionals who want to specialize in clinical nutrition can take the CCN exam to earn this certification. The test covers topics such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, health issues, and drug-induced nutritional deficiencies. Candidates should hold a master's or bachelor's degree and complete at least 900 postgraduate internship hours.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations provide invaluable opportunities for people in the nutrition field, even if they have not yet graduated. Students may attend conferences and other events where they can meet professionals who already hold experience in the field. Professionals can provide essential connections and networking opportunities for students and recent graduates. These groups also provide other resources, including job boards and mentoring programs.

Below are five professional organizations and five resources beneficial to students in an online master’s degree program.

  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Founded in 1917 by a group of women who wanted to promote public health during World War I, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics now operates with over 100,000 practitioners. Members may take advantage of mentoring programs, career counseling, and nutrition resources.
  • American Nutrition Association ANA runs continuing education opportunities such as webinars, online training programs, and a newsletter. Members can also network at the annual ANA conference.
  • American Society for Nutrition: ASN focuses on producing and sharing scientific research within the nutrition industry through several publications. Members can discuss their interests with like-minded professionals through the academy's online research interest sections.
  • National Association of Nutrition Professionals This association connects professionals working within the holistic nutrition industry, which prioritizes health from a whole person perspective. Members can attend the annual conference, access the organization's career center, and pursue holistic nutrition certification.
  • Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior: Specifically for professionals working in the nutrition education field, SNEB operates internationally and allows students to join with a discount. The organization offers several resources, including job postings and webinars.
  • International Food Policy Research Institute: This institute focuses on conducting research to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. IFPRI publishes findings online for students and professionals to browse.
  • American Clinical Board of Nutrition: Students and professionals who focus on clinical nutrition can pursue membership with the ACBN. This organization acts as a certification agency and provides several resources for those preparing for their certification exams.
  • PublicHealth.org: This website provides a wealth of information for people working in the public health field. The site outlines public health initiatives in all 50 states and provides resources for people pursuing an education or career in public health.
  • Food and Nutrition Information Center: This website, operated by the U.S. federal government, allows students and professionals to access nutrition databases from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Visitors can also learn about food labeling and food safety requirements.
  • Nutrition.gov: Sponsored by the USDA, this site publishes reading materials on a wide range of subjects, including dietary supplements, food assistance programs, weight management, shopping, cooking, and meal planning.