“How to become a dietitian” is one of the more popular searches to my site. If you’re looking to change careers and study nutrition, this post is for you!
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“How do you switch careers and become a dietitian? Is becoming a dietitian hard without a bachelor’s degree in nutrition? Is becoming a dietitian worth it? What do you have to do to become a dietitian?”
These are probably my most asked question in search terms that lead to my page. So, I figured it was time to write a summary post on for you on becoming a dietitian and share how I did it.
In this post, I’ll answer:
- How Do You Become a Dietitian?
- Becoming a Registered Dietitian if you already have a degree
- How hard is it to become a dietitian?
- How long does it take to become a RD?
- Different jobs available for Registered Dietitians
How To Become a Registered Dietitian
I think it’s becoming more and more “normal” to change careers and go back to school for something different than you studied in undergrad. At least for me, that is exactly what I did and what led me to becoming a dietitian.
I have met so many other career change dietitians and I’m thankful for the path I’ve taken in learning about careers in food and nutrition. It also led me to the career and dream job I have right now.
So, let’s talk a little bit about how I took a long-winded path to become a dietitian and study nutrition. So, if you are considering it, you can learn how to do it too.
Becoming a Registered Dietitian If You Already Have a Degree
I originally went to college thinking I wanted to major in physical therapy or athletic training. At that point, becoming a dietitian wasn’t even on my radar.
So, I initially declared that as my major and started taking science courses, like anatomy & physiology, biology, chemistry and physics. While I did really well and found nutrition interesting, it didn’t resonate with me as something to actually study or have a career in.
I eventually switched to Sport Management and earned my undergraduate degree in that.
Years later, I decided I was really into nutrition and researched how to become a dietitian online.
The only thing stopping me was having to go back to school for a registered dietitian education. I was so intimidated by taking necessary prereqs in order to apply to graduate programs and thinking about getting a dietetic internship (but this course is so helpful! Use the code, “BUCKETLISTTUMMY” for 20% off the entire course or any payment plan!
Here’s what you can find in the above course:
- The application process
- How to ensure you get good references
- How to choose the RIGHT dietetic internship
- Best experiences to get before applying to an internship
- Top 5 tips for getting matched
- Sample preceptor email introductions
- How to prepare for the interview and sample interview questions
- How to create an E-portfolio
- DICAS application overview
- and more!
Here’s a free DICAS starter pack you can download before purchasing the course! And remember, for 20% off the course, use the code BUCKETLISTTUMMY.
How Hard Is It To Become a Registered Dietitian? (What Do You Have To Do To Become a Dietitian?)
These steps are specifically for those who want to change careers to become a dietitian. It can be time-consuming.
1. Take Prerequisites for a Nutrition Degree
First, if you have a degree in anything other than nutrition, you have to take prerequisites, which vary by school. This makes things tricky.
I would recommend looking at which schools you want to apply to BEFORE taking prereqs, and try to take as many common ones as possible!
Eat Right Pro does a great job of breaking down which schools you are eligible for and what prereqs may be necessary. It does vary slightly from program to program.
The prereqs don’t really matter whether you’re looking for clinical jobs or public health nutrition jobs (if you even know that, initially).
The common courses to become a dietitian are:
- general chemistry (with a lab)
- organic chemistry (with a lab)
- biology (with a lab)
- anatomy and physiology
- microbiology (with a lab)
- biochemistry (some require multiple biochem courses)
- introduction to nutrition
There are also several online dietetics courses you can take and registered dietitian programs online for those who are working full-time.
2. Choose Your Graduate or Undergraduate Program
Lucky for me, some of my undergrad courses (remember when I studied athletic training?!) transferred. So, I had one less organic chemistry to take, and my anatomy and physiology and biology also transferred.
I took organic chemistry and microbiology at a local school as my prereqs. I also took an introduction to nutrition course while working full time (at nights after work).
This confirmed my interest in health and nutrition.
I’ll never forget taking an online biochemistry course as my final prereq before starting a coordinated MPH program at UNC Chapel Hill. The program I went through was a 2.5 year program, with 3 rounds of rotations (internships) included.
So, when I graduated, I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Public Health Nutrition, as well as a verification statement needed to take the RD Exam.
3. Complete a Verified Internship (1200 Hours)
Here are my Tips For Getting an Internship.
4. Study For the RD Exam
This is a huge topic in and of itself, so I’ve written an extensive blog post on my one month plan for studying for the RD Exam.
I don’t want to repeat everything here, but I will share my favorite resources for studying:
- Visual Veggies (Yes, this program is pricey, but in my opinion, it’s 110% worth it for the way it helps you study!)
- Krause textbook (this is the Bible)
- RD exam practice tests
- already made for you flashcards
I think it’s totally possible to study for the exam in less time (2 weeks) but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
At least for me, taking time to study and let the information sink in (over days and weeks with multiple flashcards and Visual Veggies quizzes) works best.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Dietitian?
Depending on the course you chose (undergraduate, graduate school, career change), it will take 2-3 years to take the necessary courses and complete the internship.
Plus, factor in time for studying for the RD Exam.
I have a whole in depth post about how many years it takes to become a dietitian.
Wrap Up: Requirements for a Registered Dietitian
Let’s recap on how to become a Registered Dietitian.
In order to become a dietitian (career changer dietitian or not), you have to complete necessary coursework (as mentioned above), earn a verification statement, complete a 1200 hour supervised internship program and study for and pass the RD exam.
Additionally, you will need to follow state requirements and maintain licensure if necessary. All registered dietitians need to earn 75 continuing education credits every 5 years.
Again, the steps required are:
- Complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college and course work accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here, you will take the DPD (Didactic Program) Coursework, which are the core classes that everyone takes.
- This website is super helpful in determining what schools offer distance programs and what prereqs are necessary for each program.
- Complete an ACEND®-accredited supervised internship at a health-care facility, community agency, or a foodservice corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length.
- Some programs include this internship as part of their program. They are called “Coordinated Programs.” I went to a coordinated program for grad school, so I received my MPH concurrently while doing my internship.
- If you don’t do a coordinated program, once you complete your DPD requirements, you will need to apply to an internship separately (All Access Internships will help you match (use code BUCKETLISTTUMMY for 20% off!). To do this, you will receive a verification statement indicating completion of the didactic program in dietetics components prior to applying to the dietetic internship match
- Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). For more information regarding the examination, refer to CDR’s website at www.cdrnet.org.
- Complete Continuing Professional Educational Requirements (CEU’s) – You have to complete 75 every 5 years.
Dietitian Jobs You Can Get
There are so many different registered dietitian jobs available now – you can even create your own!
If you can dream it, you can do it.
What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree?
From working in a supermarket or hospital to owning your own private practice and everything in between, there are so many options.
You can even choose to specialize in a population you may love, such as children, older adults, eating disorders, cancer patients, kidney disease, diabetes, pregnancy and so much more.
Where Do Dietitians Work?
We no longer live in a world where dietitians are only allocated to clinical settings! There are registered dietitian jobs and opportunities galore.
I remember initially thinking, “where do dietitians work if they don’t work in a hospital?” The answer is…LOTS OF PLACES!
- Sports Dietitian (working with high school, collegiate, professional sports)
- Food Service or Food Service Management
- Clinical Dietitian (Working in a hospital, inpatient or outpatient)
- Working in public health (there are several public health nutrition jobs, like working at a health department, in WIC, developing programs for schools, organizations
- Research Dietitian
- Corporate Wellness
- Private Practice, Nutrition Counseling
- Social Media Management, Marketing & PR For Food Brands
- Grocery Store Dietitian
- Freelance Writing
- Recipe Development and Photography
- Public Speaking
- Working As a Professor, Teacher or in Education
- Working in Nursing Homes, Substance Abuse Centers
Is Becoming a Dietitian Worth it?
I think it depends on your individual scenario, but for me – absolutely! Had I not changed careers, taken prerequisites and gone back to school, I would still probably be thinking about nutrition and learning about it.
But I wouldn’t have the necessary qualifications and expertise to practice it like I would now that I’m a dietitian.
Or, you can be an entrepreneur like me, you can do several things. With technology growing, you’re even able to do virtual counseling and telemedicine now, too.
If you’re interested in learning more about blogging, monetization, email marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), I HIGHLY recommend Erica Julson’s courses.
I’ve completed three and they are so helpful and worth every penny and more!
I also offer 1:1 mentoring services to dietitians with business questions, RD’s to be, or those looking to get into nutrition but feel overwhelmed about where to start.
Did you change majors in college?
What part of nutrition is most interesting to you?