Dietitian Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's & Online Training Info

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What will you learn in a dietetics degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Study Dietetics: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Dieticians develop dietary plans that help patients regain or maintain good health. Dieticians also educate the public about the importance of a proper diet. If you are interested in pursuing a career as a dietetic technician or dietician, earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in dietetics is the first step. Dietetic technicians must pass a licensing exam and dieticians must complete a mandatory internship and pass licensing exams after earning their degrees.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall job outlook for dieticians was predicted to grow by 20% from 2010-2020. In 2011, the BLS reported that dieticians had a mean annual salary of $55,000. The majority of workers were employed in general and surgical hospitals.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Aspiring dietetic technicians People who want to work as dieticians
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Dietetic technician ($29,000)* - Dietician ($55,000)*
-Health educator ($52,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credit hours in general studies and dietetics-related coursework
- Supervised practical work experience
- Roughly 120 credit hours in general studies and dietetics coursework
- Supervised practical work experience
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED -High school diploma
Online Availability Some coursework may be available online Some coursework may be available online

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degrees in Dietetics

Associate's degree programs in dietetics are designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a career as a dietetic technician in both the public and private sector. Dietetic technicians typically work in large kitchen environments preparing menus and meals for people with special dietary requirements. According to the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), class sizes in associate's programs tend to be small in order to maximize students' learning experiences. When researching potential schools, it is essential that you look for ACEND-accredited programs to ensure your degree meets licensing requirements after graduation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • As the elderly population grows, so will job availability for dietetic technicians in nursing homes and assisted living centers
  • Work is available in a wide variety of settings (institutional kitchens, offices, government agencies, etc.)
  • An associate's degree in dietetics may count as the first half of a bachelor's degree if you ever decide to continue your education

Cons

  • Dietetic technicians have a fairly low median annual salary for their education level ($27,000 for techs vs. $40,000 for workers with any associate's degree)*
  • Dietetic technicians who work in kitchens are often on their feet and risk cooking-related injuries
  • You may work long hours depending on your place of employment

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

While pursuing your associate's degree you can expect to take a diverse set of courses designed to provide you with a solid foundation in the basics of dietetics. You will learn how to assess nutrition, create meal plans and choose foods that contribute to optimum health. Some general courses you might take in an associate's degree program include:

  • Nutrition assessment
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Intro to dietetics
  • Food microbiology
  • Clinical nutrition

In addition to the required coursework, you must complete supervised practical work experience in real-world settings. Field experience hours are necessary to obtain both your degree.

Online Availability

At this time there are no accredited associate's programs in dietetics available entirely online. However, you may be able to complete some of your coursework online depending on the school you attend. According to ACEND, several schools offer some of the coursework through correspondence, which may include online courses, but the majority of the program is campus-based.

Stand Out with this Degree

While in school, try to log volunteer hours at local hospitals, nursing homes or clinics to gain first-hand work experience in a setting you plan to work. You can include volunteering on your resume after graduation and it may give you a competitive edge over applicants who did not volunteer during school.

Bachelor's Degrees in Dietetics

Bachelor's programs in dietetics are designed to prepare you for a career working as a dietician in a wide variety of settings. As a dietician, you might work in a hospital, nursing home, eating disorder clinic, sports clinic, cafeteria or even run your own practice. As with associate's programs, it is essential to look for a school that is ACEND accredited to ensure your degree will meet licensing requirements. ACEND also reports that class sizes in bachelor's programs are relatively small.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Job growth predicted to be faster-than-average in the field of dietetics and nutrition (20% from 2010-2020)*
  • A wide variety of work environments are available to people with this degree(hospitals, physician's offices, schools, nursing homes, prisons, etc.)
  • Assisting and educating people on eating healthy can be rewarding
  • You'll be prepared for graduate education if you should want to go into dietetics or nutrition research

Cons

  • A degree in dietetics is specifically geared toward people who want to work as dieticians and few other careers are available to graduates with this degree
  • Earning this degree is only the first of three steps toward licensing, unlike other areas of study where a degree fully prepares you for a career
  • A bachelor's degree in dietetics can be time consuming with coursework and supervised fieldwork requirements
  • To enter a career as a dietician, you'll need to complete an accredited internship and take a licensing exam after you complete your bachelor's degree

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

The courses you take in a bachelor's dietetics degree program are designed to provide you with advanced knowledge in concepts of dietetics and how diet relates to health and overall well-being. Some general courses you might take while pursuing your degree include:

  • Nutrition education
  • Community nutrition
  • Advanced physiology
  • Food microbiology
  • Food analysis

In addition to coursework, you will be required to complete supervised practical work in the field throughout the program. The supervised work will give you the opportunity to take the concepts and practices you learn in class and demonstrate your understanding of them while working alongside a mentor.

Online Availability

There are no entirely online bachelor's degree programs in dietetics at this time. You may be able to complete some of your coursework through correspondence, but very few schools offer this option according to ACEND. This may change in the future as schools update their curriculum and expand online availability of programs.

Stand Out with this Degree

A variety of student organizations are available to students studying dietetics. Joining a student organization will give you the opportunity to meet and interact with other dietetics students, participate in extracurricular activities relevant to the field and will give you experience for your transcripts and resume after graduation.

After graduation you can pursue an internship and complete a licensing exam to become a Registered Dietician (RD). While in school, ask your professors to help you find an appropriate internship so that you'll be ready to work upon graduation.

Degree Alternatives

According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree in foods and nutrition or food systems management can also prepare you for a career as a dietician. There are some basic foundational courses you must take for licensing, such as nutrition and physiology, and you must complete an internship and supervised work hours for licensing just as you would through a dietetics program.

Popular Schools

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Indiana Wesleyan University

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Keiser University

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What is your highest level of education?

Truckee Meadows Community College

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Sinclair Community College

Owens Community College

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