How to Become a Registered Dietitian If You Already Have a Degree

Dietetics and Nutrition is one of the medical careers that focuses on a person’s health and has a special impact on food and diet. The USA has a proper route for a student to follow to become a Registered Dietitian. These steps may change a bit in some states but most of the states have similar criteria.

Who is a Registered Dietitian?

Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts who have met the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s (CDR) criteria to earn the RD credential. RDs have a wide range of employment settings that includes:

  • Health care systems
  • Business and industry
  • Community/Public health
  • Education
  • Research
  • Government agencies
  • Private practice

How to become a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition in the USA:

To become a registered dietitian nutritionist in the USA, you have to follow a path provided by Higher education as well as join a dietetic internship from an ACEND-accredited program, and pass the national registration examination. The pathway commonly followed is given below:

Five Steps to becoming a Registered Dietitian in the USA:

Following are the five steps you can follow to become a Registered Dietitian in the USA:

  1. Complete a Bachelor’s degree and receive a verification statement from an ACEND-accredited program (Didactic Program in Dietetics, Coordinated Program, Future Graduate Program, Foreign or International Dietitian Education Program.
  2. Complete an ACEND-accredited supervised practice dietetic internship program or Individual Supervised Practice Pathway can be another option. Supervised practice/experiential learning is combined with the Coordinated Program, Future Graduate Program, and International Dietitian Education Program.
  3. Pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s Dietetic registration exam.
  4. Gain the licensure in your state of practice, if applicable.
  5. Maintain continuing your education. 

Educational Requirements for a Dietitian and Nutritionist

A person seeking a successful career as a dietitian and nutritionist doesn’t have to follow any specific course of study to prepare for his future career. Educational requirements for dietitian certification and licensing vary among the 46 states that legislate the credentials requirements for professional dietitians and nutritionists.

Some states strictly regulate the requirements while many states require that a prospective candidate complete an accredited undergraduate program. Biology is one of the many types of undergraduate degrees eligible to fulfill this education requirement. Other states, however, impose little or no legislation on professional dietitians and have no specific educational requirements for professionals operating under the title.

Additional Certification Requirements:

Aside from acquiring an undergraduate degree, a student should also fulfill other requirements for professional licensing and certification as a dietitian. Each state has its own process and requirements for licensing a certified Dietitian. Some states don’t have any professional licensing especially for nutritionists; in those cases, a dietitian can complete the same type of training required of a registered dietitian if he wishes to acquire professional credentials in his state.

Generally, a person seeking professional licensing in the field of dietetics must pass a state-approved exam, which is usually designed and administered by the state board of health. To become an ADA-certified dietitian or dietetic technician, the candidate must also pass a separate certification exam. These two exams differ from state to state, both in their content and their delivery methods. Some states also allow students to mail in the tests or complete them online. Others require students to sit for them in schools or government facilities.

Continuing Education Requirements:

To maintain a professional ADA certification, dietitians and nutritionists must participate in approved continuing education programs to advance their knowledge and expertise in their chosen fields. There is a wide variety from where students can opt according to their choice to fulfill postgraduate programs.

A dietitian and nutritionist who majored in biology as an undergraduate has an advantage since it is a general study of life sciences. A biology major has already acquired many of the skills and foundational knowledge necessary for advanced study in the field of nutrition, diet, and human physiology.

Typical costs for a registered dietitian:

Total Costs for a registered dietitian varies from state to state and it also depends upon the type of course and school. The details for the typical costs are given here:

Cost for a Bachelor’s degree:

For a registered dietitian, a bachelor’s degree ranges from $5,000 per year at a state college to $20,000 or more per year at a private college. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the dietitian can earn a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods, and nutrition, food service systems management, or any related area.   

Cost for a master’s degree:

A master’s degree in dietetics usually costs $15,000-$61,000 and it helps dietitians seeking careers such as research, public health, or advanced clinical work.  

Costs for licensure, certification, or registration:

Licensure, certification, or registration costs vary from state to state and it depends upon the requirements of the state. It usually ranges from $100-$300. In some states, unlicensed individuals can practice as a dietitian, but they may not use certain titles. Applicants for the licensure or registration, must obtain a passing score on the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) test and hold a four-year degree in a related field. 

Additional costs:

Cost of living and other expenditures can add $10,000-$35,000 per year to a student’s tuition cost. These expenditures may include housing, meals, transportation, textbooks, and health insurance.

Top Universities for Dietetics as major:

Following is the list of some top colleges in the USA offering Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in Dietetics and Nutrition:

1. California Polytechnic State University

Location: San Luis Obispo, CA

Average Cost: $22k

Graduation Rate: 82%

Acceptance Rate: 68%

2. The Ohio State University

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Average Cost: $18k

Graduation Rate: 82%

Acceptance Rate: 68%

3. New York University

Location: New York

Average Cost: $40k

Graduation Rate: 83%

Acceptance Rate: 21%

4. Texas A&M University

Location: College Station, TX

Average Cost: $19k

Graduation Rate: 82%

Acceptance Rate: 63%

5. Florida International University

Location: Miami, Florida

Average Cost: $7,296

Graduation Rate: 73%

Acceptance Rate: 58%

6. Michigan State University

Location: East Lansing, MI

Average Cost: $19k

Graduation Rate: 79%

Acceptance Rate: 76%

7. Purdue University

Location: West Lafayette, IN

Average Cost: $14k

Graduation Rate: 78%

Acceptance Rate: 67%

8. San Diego State University

Location: San Diego, CA

Average Cost: $15k

Graduation Rate: 74%

Acceptance Rate: 37%

9. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Location: Champaign, IL

Average Cost: $16k

Graduation Rate: 85%

Acceptance Rate: 63%

10. University of Wisconsin-Madison

Location: Madison, WI

Average Cost: $18k

Graduation Rate: 87%

Acceptance Rate: 67%

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I become a dietitian with a biology degree?

Yes, you can become a dietitian with a biology degree. Since biology is a relevant field of study for nutrition professionals, the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education has approved and accredited many undergraduate biology programs. These programs are available in all 50 states for candidates seeking professional dietitian and nutrition certification. However, the process varies widely from state to state and the students enrolled in these programs are candidates for seeking certification from the American Dietetic Association as a professional Nutritionist.

Nutritionist degree

Typically, students who complete a degree in nutrition can refer to themselves as a nutritionist. This could be varying levels of education including a bachelor’s nutrition, a master’s in nutrition, or a Master’s of Public Health with a concentration in Nutrition.

Accelerated registered dietitian program

The accelerated degree program allows students the opportunity to complete the requirements for both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees at an accelerated pace, to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in five years, versus a traditional path that would take between 6 to 7 years of full-time academic work.

Dietitian vs nutritionist

Dietetics and Nutrition is usually considered to be the same fields but there are some minor differences between these two which are given as

DietitianNutrition
Work with both healthy and sick people.Work only with healthy individuals.
Term “dietitian” js regulatedThe term “nutrition” is not regulated.
Dietetics students take on more medical-related subjects in later stages.Nutrition students will delve deeper into nutrition modules in later stages.
Dietitians usually work in medical settings.Nutritionists are often found in commercial settings.

Online registered dietitian programs

There are several universities offering online registered dietitian programs. However, students cannot typically finish online dietetics entirely through an online program. They usually have to complete a supervised practicum experience. This is necessary to become a licensed dietitian in addition to completing other offline components.

How do I become a dietitian with an unrelated degree?

If you’re holding an unrelated degree and still seeking a chance to become a registered dietitian, there are two routes and you can follow either of them:

  1. Didactic program + DICAS (Some graduate programs only cover the required coursework). You’ll then need to apply to DICAS which is a matching system for dietetic internships.
  2. Coordinate program. While other graduate programs combine the coursework and the internship.

Which type of degree is the minimum requirement for becoming a registered dietitian?

All accredited dietetics programs are considered to be “entry-level” for the profession. A regular membership as a professional dietitian is only for those who have completed a minimum of bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics which includes:

4-years-BS (Human Nutrition) Or MSc (4-year) Home Economics with specialization in Foods and Nutrition.

Is becoming a dietitian worth it?

Yes, becoming a dietitian is worth it and pays off in a good way. It is a job with a low-stress level, good work-life balance, and solid prospects to improve, get promoted, and earn a higher salary that would make many employees happy. Dietitians’ and Nutritionists’ job satisfaction are rated in terms of upward mobility, low-stress level, and flexibility in working hours.

Is it hard to become a registered dietitian?

Students seeking a fine career can opt to be registered dietitians. However, becoming a registered dietitian is not as easy as it seems. It demands a high level of knowledge and capability knowing about a healthy diet. It is a highly regulated profession that demands proper training and higher education. Since most states require a license/certification to practice as a dietitian, and in order to become licensed, a secondary degree is also required.

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