Nutrition Science Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in nutrition science exist for students who are interested in pursuing careers in the food science and nutrition fields. Most associate's degree programs can be completed in 2 years, but career choices are limited to technician roles.

Individuals who hold bachelor's degrees are qualified for significantly more jobs than those who have completed associate's degree programs. If you earn a bachelor's degree and want to become a registered dietician, you'll also need to meet state licensing, registration or certification requirements.

Here's a side by side comparison of these degrees:

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals wishing to obtain an entry-level position in the nutrition field as a dietetic or food science technician High school graduates who want to become dieticians, nutritionists, health educators or food scientists, and associate's degree holders who want to advance their education
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Dietetic Technicians ($29,000)*
- Agricultural and Food Science Technicians ($36,000)*
-Dietitians and nutritionists ($55,000)*
- Health educators ($52,000)*
- Food scientists and technologists ($64,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Approximately 60 credits of course work Roughly 130 credit hours
Prerequisites High School Diploma or GED High School Diploma or GED
Online Availability None found at this time Yes

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

Associate of Science in Nutrition

Completing an associate's degree program can prepare graduates to enter bachelor's degree programs or begin careers as dietetic technicians. Dietetic technicians work under the supervision of registered dietitians to prepare food and counsel individuals on nutrition and wellness. Many students who enter associate's degree programs later continue their educations by enrolling in bachelor's degree programs. Most associate's degree programs require you to possess a high school diploma or equivalent and complete a college placement test before enrolling in courses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An associate's degree program can better prepare you for entry to a bachelor's degree program and save you money.
  • Graduates who have completed associate's degree programs can begin working as dietetic technicians.
  • Most associate's degree programs only require a high school diploma or GED for entry.

Cons

  • Graduates will likely have limited career options. Most jobs in the field require a minimum of a bachelor's degree.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dietetic technicians typically only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training for career entry.
  • Associate's degree programs online are rare. Parents, returning students and those working full-time may find completing courses on campus difficult.

Common Courses and Requirements

Programs that lead to an associate's degree in nutrition concentrate on teaching the fundamentals of biology, anatomy, physiology and chemistry. Basic writing and math courses are also integrated into most associate's degree programs. Some programs allow students to specialize in specific areas of nutrition, such as dietetics and nutrition, community nutrition or dietetics and exercise. To graduate with an associate's degree, most schools require that you complete approximately 60 credits of coursework.

Nutrition-based courses teach students about carbohydrates, energy balance, minerals and the impact of diet on health. Other courses may be centered on food safety and common risks surrounding our food supply. You'll learn about government and industry regulations created to keep our food supply safe.

Courses you might expect to take in an associate's degree program include:

  • Fundamentals of nutrition
  • Food: safety, risks and technology
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Principles in health and health promotion
  • Microbiology

Online Degree Options

Online programs leading to associate's degrees in nutrition are rare. Certain courses may be available online, but it is important to always check the accreditation of the school before enrolling. If you plan on transferring to a 4-year university after obtaining your associate's degree, you should double check to see if your prospective university will accept any credits taken online.

Stand Out with this Degree

Students working through associate's degree programs should take advantage of volunteer opportunities to gain valuable experience in working with patients and dieticians. You could also consider part-time work in a food service setting; this can give you meal planning and food preparation experience, which are tasks you would perform as a dietetic technician. Getting work experience will also give you something to put on your resume.

Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Sciences

A bachelor's degree program in nutrition science can prepare students for work in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies or health clubs. Job titles such as registered dietician, research scientist or health educator are reserved for graduates who hold bachelor's degrees. Students who complete bachelor's degree programs and wish to become registered dieticians will need to obtain supervised experience and pass the Registration Examination for Dietitians, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Students considering advanced degrees in nutrition or in attending medical school will also benefit from completing bachelor's degree programs in nutrition.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • There are ample job opportunities available to individuals who hold bachelor's degrees.
  • Dietitians and nutritionists earn significantly higher salaries than do dietetic technicians (an average of approximately $55,000 in May 2011 vs. $29,000).*
  • Jobs for dieticians and nutritionists were expected to increase at a faster-than-average rate over the 2010-2020 decade (an increase of 20% was predicted).*

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

Cons

  • If you want to become a registered dietician, you'll need to participate in continuing education throughout your career to maintain your credential.
  • You may need to complete additional coursework and internships beyond your bachelor's degree program if your goal is to become a registered dietician.
  • Part-time positions are an option if you work as a dietician or nutritionist. According to the BLS, a fifth of these professionals worked part-time in 2010.

Courses and Requirements

Most bachelor's degree programs only admit applicants who hold a high school diploma and have a cumulative GPA above 3.0. Students in bachelor's degree programs can choose to specialize in a specific area of nutrition. Common areas of emphasis include sports nutrition, dietetics management, community nutrition and nutrition science. Most programs can be completed in 4 years and require approximately 130 credit hours of coursework. If your career goal is to become a registered dietician, it is important to complete an internship that is accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Courses you might expect to take in a bachelor's degree program include:

  • Research methods in nutrition and dietetics
  • World food patterns
  • Nutrition assessment
  • Food safety and microbiology
  • Nutrition for special populations

Online Degree Options

There are many online courses and programs can be taken for credit or lead to a bachelor's degree. Online bachelor's degree programs are designed for parents, students with busy schedules and those working full-time. Many bachelor's degree programs can be completed entirely online, but some schools may require students to come to campus for certain courses.

Online courses and programs may not satisfy the requirements for becoming a registered dietician. It is important to consult with an academic advisor if this is your career goal.

Stand Out with this Degree

Students enrolled in bachelor's degree programs are strongly encouraged to find part-time or volunteer work in the nutrition field to gain experience. Experiences gained during your time in college can be placed on your resume, which can be beneficial when searching for jobs.

Students aiming to become health educators may find coursework in teaching and psychology helpful. Health educators are responsible for preparing and presenting information to community members. Technology courses are recommended for those who do not feel they have strong technical skills. Knowing how to use the latest versions of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint is especially important as a teacher.

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