Nutrition Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in nutrition? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and nutrition programs.
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Studying Nutrition: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

An associate's degree in nutrition could qualify you to take the Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals' Certified Dietary Manager (CDM) and Certified Food Protection Professional (CFPP) exams. Both of these certifications can be useful if you want to work as a dietary manager, since certification is required or preferred by some employers. Dietary managers work for food service departments and oversee menu planning, as well as ensure that safety standards, budgeting goals and food-quality standards are met. Earning an associate's degree also gives you the option to transfer into a bachelor's degree program.

With a bachelor's degree in nutrition and a state license, you could become a nutritionist or dietician and advise people on what to eat to meet their health goals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of dieticians and nutritionists would increase 20% between 2010 and 2020. This faster-than-average increase may partially be attributed to the recognition of food's importance in preventative healthcare.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who would like to become dietary managers or transfer into bachelor's programs Individuals who want to become dieticians or nutritionists or go on to graduate school
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) Dietary manager ($45,000)** Nutritionist or dietician ($55,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Roughly 60 credits About 120 credits
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals (2010 figures).

Associate's Degree in Nutrition

Associate's degree programs in nutrition teach you how to prevent disease and treat illnesses using food. These programs typically take two years to complete and include science, nutrition and general education courses. Some programs are specifically designed to help you transfer into a 4-year program and do not prepare you to work immediately after graduation. From individual to community nutrition, you'll learn how nutrition planning can be used to keep people healthy.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Completing an approved associate's degree program could qualify you to sit for the Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals' Certified Dietary Manager (CDM) and Certified Food Protection Professional (CFPP) exams.
  • If you plan to earn a bachelor's degree, first earning an associate's degree from a community college can help you save money.
  • Dietary managers earn salaries above the national average for all occupations.*

Cons

  • An associate's degree alone is not enough to become a dietician or nutritionist.
  • As a CDM, you may be competing for jobs with other CDMs who have graduated from 4-year programs.
  • If your goal is to become a dietary manager, formal education and certification are not required by all employers.

Source: *Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals

Courses and Requirements

Associate's degree programs in nutrition typically require science courses in human anatomy and physiology, biology and chemistry. These courses provide the foundational knowledge needed to help you understand your nutrition courses. Some programs require or give you the opportunity to gain on-the-job clinical experience. The nutrition-related courses that you take could include:

  • Human nutrition
  • Nutrition and fitness
  • Nutrition and disease
  • Community nutrition
  • Weight management

Online Info

Whether you want to take a few online classes or earn your associate's degree entirely online, options are available for you. Online nutrition courses are very common and are comparable to those found in on-campus programs. They can be taken for credit and be applied toward your associate's degree. For some programs, you may be able to take all of your nutrition courses online but you'll need to take your general education courses on campus.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Though certification is not always required to become a dietary manager, it can increase the number of job opportunities available to you. After graduating from an approved 2-year nutrition program, you may sit for either the CDM or CFPP exam. In addition to passing the exam, you'll need to apply for certified status with the Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals and pay a fee in order to obtain certification.

Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition

A bachelor's degree program in nutrition can prepare you to take the Commission on Dietetic Registration's examination to become a registered dietician (RD). Programs may include a combination of didactic and practical education; however, in most cases you'll need to complete an internship after graduation in order to obtain the practical experience necessary to become an RD. Programs that incorporate practical training into the curriculum take five years to complete rather than the normal four. Bachelor's degree programs in nutrition can also prepare you to continue your education and study nutrition or another health-related subject in a graduate program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A bachelor's degree is necessary to become a dietician or nutritionist.
  • Earning a bachelor's degree gives you the option to later continue your studies in a graduate program.
  • The employment growth for nutritionists and dieticians was expected to be faster than average in the coming years.*

Cons

  • In order to become a dietician or nutritionist, you'll need to complete supervised training. This is usually separate from your bachelor's degree program requirements.
  • Licensure, registration or certification is required to work as a dietician or nutritionist in most states, thus requiring continuing education throughout your career to maintain your credential.
  • You may be competing for jobs with dieticians and nutritionists who have earned graduate degrees.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Much like associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree programs in nutrition include science courses, such as human anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biology. Some programs also require business courses, such as human resource management and computer applications. Courses for your major could include:

  • Community nutrition
  • Advanced nutrition
  • Sports nutrition
  • Nutrition during the life cycle
  • Nutritional assessment
  • Nutritional pathophysiology

Online Info

Bachelor's degree programs in nutrition are available online. Like their campus-based counterparts, these programs teach you the scientific concepts of nutrition and help you explore ways food can be used to keep individuals healthy. Completing your program online will allow you to simultaneously complete courses for your degree requirements and obtain your supervised clinical experience. If you're only looking to take a few courses online, you may want to check with your program to see if online courses are available.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

The BLS stated that many employers prefer or require the RD credential. Therefore, becoming registered, even if not required by your state, is one way to increase your employment opportunities. In order to qualify for the registration exam, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, you'll need to have completed a bachelor's degree program and acquired 1,200 hours of supervised practice. An ongoing professional development portfolio is needed to renew your registration every five years.

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