Nutrition is a field of study focused on the how food and diet can help achieve a healthy lifestyle and other specific health goals. Students enrolled in this type of degree program can expect to take courses in organic chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, human growth and development, health promotion, nutritional therapy, and research methods, among others. Following graduation, most states will require you to earn appropriate licensure before you are able to work as a dietitian or nutritionist. These requirements will vary by state, but typically involve an exam and proof of supervised clinical practice. Once licensed, graduates may go on to work for hospitals, clinics, schools, or in private practice.
Why a Master’s Degree?
Some licensed nutritionists only have a bachelor’s degree, but a growing number of professionals are seeking advanced degrees. At this level, students will conduct research, usually in a chosen area of specialization. This advanced education could help you when looking for a job or in establishing a patient base if you opt to pursue a career in private practice. In addition, those with a graduate level education may be eligible to teach classes at the college level. This, of course, will depend on each individual school’s requirements for instructors.
Getting Into a Master’s Degree Program
At the graduate level, applicants should expect a more selective admission process. While exact requirements will vary by school, here are a few common criteria:
- Completion of an accredited bachelor’s degree program
- Minimum GPA (as outlined by the school)
- GRE or GMAT test scores (if required)
- Professional experience (if required)
- Resume or curriculum vitae
- Application form and fee
- Personal statement(if required)
- Letters of recommendation (if required)
Inside a Nutrition Master’s Degree Program
Students enrolled in online nutrition masters degree programs should expect a combination of advanced survey, seminar, and research courses. Common topics include biochemistry, physiology, health behavior, nutrition and metabolism, nutrition therapy, human development, sports and fitness nutrition, and research methods. At this level, students will usually pick an area of specialization to focus their studies on, this may include nutrition and fitness, eating disorders, education, or another field. In addition to traditional courses and research, students will also need to complete clinical practice courses. These can be arranged locally for distance learners.
Typically, online schools or universities offering distance learning programs run these programs in an asynchronous format. This means, rather than having to adhere to a specific class time, students can log in and out of the virtual classroom as fits with their personal and professional schedule. Streaming video, chat, and web conferencing software make it possible for students collaborate and engage with their peers and professors more easily as well.
What’s Next for Nutrition Master’s Degree Holders?
For students who have completed an online masters degree nutrition programs licensure is usually the next step. This is required in most states, though specifics will vary based on your location. In most cases, this will include demonstrating proof of supervised clinical practice and passage of an exam. Jobs are available with hospitals, clinics, schools, or in private practice. Some teaching opportunities may also be available.
Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predict strong job prospects for dietitians and nutritionists. In fact, the demand for individuals working in this occupation is expected to increase by 20% from 2010 to 2020. This is faster growth than the 14% expected for jobs overall during this period. In terms of pay, the mean annual wage was $56,170 in 2012 according to the BLS. Of course, actual salaries will vary based on location, level of experience, education, general economic climate, and the specific position.