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9 Questions About Online Nutritionist Degrees

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As you think about becoming a nutritionist, there are many directions you can take in your studies. With the right education and certification, you can specialize as a holistic nutritionist, sports nutritionist, pediatric nutritionist, and more.

Likewise, you’ll have plenty to think about regarding the type of educational experience you want to have. For example, if you have a full-time job and need to fit your studies into an already busy schedule, getting your degree online may be a good choice.

But before you settle on a program, make sure you’ve considered answers to the common questions that can help you decide what’s right for you and your goals.

1. What Types of Degrees Can I Get Online?

While many science and healthcare programs require students to learn on campus in a traditional program, you’ll have numerous options if you want to earn a nutritionist degree online. Nutrition programs are offered by many institutions and can be found at all levels.

Depending on the qualification you’re seeking, your program could take as little as a few months or as long as several years. You can read about degree levels in the headings below or check out our full article on nutritionist degrees for more in-depth information. 

Time to complete: 3–12 months

If you’re looking to start your nutrition career quickly, you can earn an entry-level certificate online. In most cases, these only require a high school diploma or GED in order to get started. By earning your certificate, you can gain a general knowledge base and qualify for some roles in the field, though you may need to work under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. Earning a certificate can also be a great first step if you’re still deciding if becoming a nutritionist is for you. Some certificates you can earn include:

  • Nutrition consulting
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Holistic nutrition
  • Health coaching
  • Sports nutrition

Keep in mind, however, that a certificate is not a certification. Certificates indicate that you’ve completed a certain course of study, while certification shows that you’ve not only completed a required level of education, but also have the experience and/or have completed testing requirements that are necessary to earn a particular title. In many cases, a certificate will not be enough to lead to certification, nor will it qualify you to earn any licensing requirements in your state.

Time to complete: 2–3 years

You’ll generally need a high school diploma or GED to get started, and some programs might have a few prerequisites like basic algebra, biology, or chemistry. An associate’s program will be more in-depth than a certificate, and you’ll take science-based classes such as and anatomy and physiology in addition to nutrition-specific classes. In some programs, you might also take culinary arts classes alongside your nutrition coursework. These classes can broaden your knowledge of food preparation, ingredients, and techniques.

Time to complete: Around 4 years

You’ll need to decide the type of nutrition career you want before you can pick a bachelor’s level program. At the bachelor’s level, you’ll expect to focus on science-heavy coursework, sports nutrition, holistic methods, and other specializations. You might see degree programs for aspiring nutritionists as bachelor’s in:

  • Applied nutrition
  • Clinical nutrition
  • Dietetics
  • Food or nutrition science
  • Holistic nutrition

It’ll typically take around four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, although some online programs will allow you to move at an accelerated pace. You’ll need at least a high school diploma or GED, and there will likely be other admission requirements, such as SAT scores, a minimum GPA, and a personal essay.

Time to complete: 2–3 years, after receiving a bachelor’s

A master’s program in nutrition is generally intended for students who already have a bachelor’s in nutrition or another healthcare or science-related field. You’ll study advanced coursework such as management, program creation, and nutrition theory. You might also study nutrition as it relates to large societal issues, such as the obesity epidemic. These programs can also be very competitive, and you’ll likely need to meet GPA, GRE, and other admission requirements.

Time to complete: 4–8 years, after receiving a bachelor’s or master’s

Though less common, some nutritionists opt to earn the highest level of the degree—the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). To enter one of these programs, you’ll likely need a master’s degree in a nutrition-related field, though some programs may accept students with only a bachelor’s. PhD programs are designed for nutritionists who wish to teach or conduct research at the university level or go into government or other public policy positions.

2. How Do Online and On-Campus Programs Differ?

An online and on-campus program will cover the same information and prepare you for the same roles, but they differ mainly in the way the material is delivered. On-campus programs might offer more hands-on options in areas such as food preparation or kitchen management, while also allowing you to have more in-person interaction with your teachers and fellow students.

Online programs, on the other hand, give you the flexibility to fit coursework into your own schedule. You’ll read the same material and take tests online, though you might be able to enjoy the benefit of rewatching lectures or having them transcribed for you.

You should still be able to have access to your teachers via email or video calls, and some may even ask for the occasional in-person check-in. You’ll likely be able to communicate with other students in online discussion boards, and might have the chance to attend off-campus study sessions with other remote students if you choose.

3. What Will I Study?

The exact courses you take will depend on your specific program, but there are some general areas you can expect to cover. You’ll likely study biology, anatomy, and psychology to get a scientific foundation for your degree. Your nutrition coursework will teach you the foundations of nutrition, and you’ll learn about how nutritional needs can vary greatly from person to person or for differing populations.

4. Do I Need to Be Physically Present for Anything?

It depends. Your program might have some in-person requirements such as internships or practicums, but not of them all do. However, if you’re seeking a professional certification or license in nutrition, you’ll most likely need in-person experience under the supervision of a licensed nutritionist or similar practitioner.

The amount of experience required will depend on the credential you’re pursuing and the regulations of your state. Our guide breaks down the various certifications available and the laws regarding nutritionists in each state. 

Some online schools also require that you take tests in a supervised, proctored environment (a service many local tutoring and learning center businesses offer), which can sometimes cost a small fee.

5. What Should I Look for in an Online School?

One of the most important things to look for in any school and program is accreditation. Accreditation verifies that the level of education has met current quality standards, while also affecting your ability to apply for federal financial aid, earn certification, and qualify for certain jobs.

Beyond accreditation, some important questions to ask as you search for a program include:

  • What kinds of jobs do graduates of this program find?
  • What qualifications do the faculty have?
  • What is the format of online class delivery?
  • Do I need to take tests in person?
  • Does this program require an internship or practicum?
  • Does this program meet the requirements of the certification I’m seeking?
  • Can I take classes part-time with this program?
  • Does this program offer job placement or academic counseling services?
  • Is there financial aid available?

6. How Much Do Online Programs Cost?

Your online program costs will depend on factors such as the school, location, and level of degree. For example, it will generally be much cheaper to earn an associate’s degree from a college based in your state than to earn a master’s degree from an out-of-state school.

A benefit of attending college online is that it can allow you to reduce many of the expenses associated with an on-campus program. The College Board breaks down the expenses associated with earning a degree into five categories:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies
  • Personal expenses
  • Transportation

An online program will eliminate the fees for room and board, though obviously there will still be costs associated with your food and housing off-campus. By not having to travel to school, online programs can also eliminate the cost of transportation and, in many cases, reduce the cost of textbooks and supplies. Additionally, as an online student, your personal expenses are unlikely to change significantly once you start school.

7. Is Financial Aid Available?

Yes. As long as you attend an accredited program, you can apply for federal financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Filling out the FAFSA will let you know what federal loans and grants you’re eligible for based on your current financial situation. Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA, you can look into other sources of aid, such as work-study programs through your school.

There are also scholarships and aid available specifically for students of nutrition. Many of these are specific to students who meet certain requirements, such as: 

  • Being part of a specific minority group
  • Living in a certain state or region
  • Having a minimum GPA
  • Having done community service or healthcare work
  • Being in certain types of degree programs

A good place to start looking is the list of awards maintained by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation. You can check this list for requirements and award amounts to see what might fit your needs.

8. What Can I Do with an Online Degree?

Your online degree will prepare you for the same roles as a traditional on-campus degree. There are a wide range of job roles you might be able to find once you earn your degree, though some of these roles will require a certain specialization or certification. Some common job duties for nutritionists include:

  • Seeing patients in private practice for nutritional counseling
  • Seeing patients in a hospital or healthcare setting
  • Consulting for food or wellness companies
  • Working with patients with eating disorders
  • Working in a community-based setting to educate people on nutrition
  • Working with athletes and others seeking sports nutrition

The best way for aspiring and current nutritionists to stay up to date with the happenings of the industry and evolving career paths, is a subscription to the various professional organizations, journals, podcasts, blogs, and more.

9. How Much Can I Make with an Online Degree?

The amount of money you can earn as a nutritionist will depend on your degree, employer, location, and level of experience. You can search by state below for the median salary in your location.

And those who receive online education shouldn’t expect to make less just because they earned their degree remotely. In a recent study by the Online Learning Consortium, enrollment in online courses has continued to grow rapidly, with the learning method increasingly becoming more and more the norm.

In order to ensure that your salary won’t be negatively affected by having an online degree, make sure that your school is accredited, has a long-standing good reputation, and can vouch for the quality of its graduates.