Master’s and Graduate Degrees in Nutrition

Graduate student studying in a library

The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the regulating body for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), has recently updated its requirement for the type of degree RDNs must have. Starting on January 1, 2024, all RDNs in the United States must hold a minimum of a master’s-level degree if they want to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians.  

Although it is a popular choice, becoming a registered dietitian is merely one of the career options that those who have a master’s nutrition degree can seek. While many students pursuing a master’s- level nutrition degree or a related field are doing to in order to become an RDN, others may be readying themselves for a career as a licensed nutritionist, clinical nutritionist, nutrition educator, or other job option. 

We will explore the benefits of getting a master’s-level nutrition degree, and the myriad of career doors it opens, here.

What Nutrition Jobs Can I Get with a Master’s Degree?

The number one career option that many with a master’s-level nutrition degree are planning on is becoming a Registered Dietitian (also known as RD, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, or RDN), as noted above. There are other career alternatives for those who have a master’s degree in a nutritional field, such as:

Accreditation for Master’s Degree Programs in Nutrition

Two types of accreditation exist when it comes to colleges: institutional and programmatic.  Ideally, the master’s degree nutrition program you choose should hold both types of accreditation.

Institutional Accreditation

You should make sure that the school you choose has been institutionally accredited. Institutional accreditation is granted by a regional or national accreditation agency, such as the following:

  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WASC)

Programmatic Accreditation

If you are searching for a master’s-level degree program in nutrition and intend to become a RDN, you must choose a program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). These criteria must be fulfilled to qualify to sit for the CDR exam. If you aren’t hoping to work as an RDN, you might consider a master’s-level degree program that is accredited by, or approved by, one of these agencies:

  • Accreditation Council for Nutrition Professional Education (ACNPE)
  • American Nutrition Association (ANA)
  • American Society for Nutrition (ASN)

Titles of Master’s Degrees in Nutrition 

You can find master’s degree programs that are hosted completely online, offer hybrid classes (a mixture of online and in -person), or offer classes totally in-person. A few titles of master’s-level degrees in nutrition include:

  • Master of Science in Nutrition
  • Master of Science in Human Nutrition
  • Master of Science in Applied Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition
  • Master of Science in Nutrition, Nutritional Education and Counseling concentration
  • Master of Science in Nutrition, Nutrition Science concentration
  • Master of Science in Integrative Nutrition
  • Master of Science in Food and Nutrition Sciences

Classes in a Master’s Degree Nutrition Program 

If the master’s-level degree program in nutrition that you choose is with the goal of becoming an RDN, there will be certain courses that you must fulfill, in addition to a Dietetic Internship (DI). Your DI must be ACEND-approved and consist of a minimum of 1000 hours of supervised dietetic practice. Courses in an RDN program generally include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry Fundamentals
  • Food Systems Operations
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Macronutrients
  • Medical Nutrition Therapy
  • Micronutrients
  • Nutrition Across the Lifespan 
  • Nutrition and Health
  • Nutritional Counseling
  • Nutritional Epidemiology
  • Principles of Biology
  • Public Health Nutrition

If your intention is not to become an RDN, you may choose a master’s-level degree program without that focus, such as one in Nutrition for Wellness and Health or Integrative Nutrition. Examples of course titles you might encounter in such a degree program include:

  • Health, Social and Behavioral Wellness in Nutrition Coaching
  • Biostatistics and Research in Integrative Nutrition
  • Foundations of Chronic Disease Prevention and Management
  • Dietary Supplements and Herbs
  • Nutrition Across the Life Cycle
  • Nutritional Analysis and Assessment
  • Whole Foods Production
  • Advanced Nutrition Coaching
  • Bioactive Compounds, Nutrigenomics and Microbiome
  • Contemporary Nutrition- Community and Culture

Further Education for Graduate Degree in Nutrition Holders 

If you complete an ACEND-accredited master’s degree program and pass the CDR exam, you will become a RDN, then must seek licensure or certification in the state(s) in which you wish to practice. Your education does not need to stop there, however. If you’d like to concentrate your practice in specific areas, the CDR offers specialty certification for those with practice experience in these areas:

  • Board Certified Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition
  • Board Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management
  • Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition
  • Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Critical Care Nutrition
  • Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition
  • Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition
  • Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics

If you are not an RDN (or even if you are), there are other specialized certifications you may pursue, such as:

  • Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Clinical Nutrition Certification Board
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist, Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists 
  • Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals 

Salaries for Jobs Requiring a Master’s Degree in Nutrition

The mean annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is $69,350 as of May 2022.  Certain industries pay higher wages to dietitians and nutritionists, such as:

  • Computer Systems Design/Related Services:           $83,510
  • Home Health Care Services:                                     $82,850
  • Scientific Research and Development Services:       $82,470
  • Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods:              $81,180
  • Federal Executive Branch of Government:                $81,120