Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Nutrition

Oct 19, 2021

Online Nutrition Degree Overview

You'll find online nutrition programs in New York, California and everywhere in between. These programs aim to help students understand how food interacts with the human body and how to apply this knowledge to benefit the health and wellness of others. Online programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and are diverse in program titles, formats, and unique learning opportunities. Compare some of the different degree levels in the field below.

Online Associate Degrees in Nutrition

Online associate's degrees in nutrition are available as Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees. Some of these programs may be in areas like applied nutrition, nutritional science, or food, nutrition, and wellness. Typically, these programs are designed as transfer degrees to help students continue their studies at a 4-year school, while still providing students with an overview of nutrition. Usually, students complete around 61 to 62 credits of coursework that includes general education, core nutrition, and elective courses. These programs do not typically lead to eligibility for licensure in the field.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Nutrition

Online bachelor's degree programs in nutrition are most commonly offered as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees and may be available in areas like food and nutrition, nutritional science, dietetics, and holistic nutrition. Some of these programs, like a bachelor's in dietetics, may be specifically designed to help students become a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Typically, these degree programs require around 120 credits and may offer different emphasis areas for students to further focus their studies. Students may need to complete these programs with specific grades to earn a Verification Statement needed to qualify for an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredited Supervised Practice program, which is needed for licensure.

Online Master's Degrees in Nutrition

Online master's programs in nutrition are most commonly offered as Master of Science (MS) degrees in areas like nutrition, dietetics, or even nutrition education. These programs usually require at least 30 credits and may take at least 2 years to complete. Some online programs may require at least one on-campus residency. Depending on the program, students may be able to choose from a few specialization options and may have to complete a dietetics practicum experience. Some of these programs are available in full- or part-time formats and may include various seminar courses.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Nutrition

Online doctoral programs in the field are usually offered as Doctor of Clinical Nutrition (DCN) degrees, but some online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees are available, like a PhD in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Typically, these programs are designed for those wishing to take on leadership roles and/or work in research or academia. While some of these programs are available fully online, others may require some residencies. These programs may range between 50 and 62 credits and usually conclude with a final applied research project of some sort and a clinical nutrition practice residency.

Online Certificates in Nutrition

There are online certificate programs in nutrition available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students may study in areas like nutrition, nutrition sciences, nutrition and wellness, applied nutrition or culinary medicine. Some of these programs may range from 9 to 15 credits, with several allowing students to finish in as little as 6 months. Students typically take a few core courses and/or some elective courses. Some certificates may be designed specifically for students wishing to enter a professional program in the medical field.

Nutrition Specializations/Concentrations

Since nutrition is such a broad field, some programs may give students the opportunity to focus their studies in a particular subfield area through concentrations, specializations, or emphasis areas. Students who choose a concentration typically take at least three or four courses in that given area. These courses may help prepare them for a specific career and/or equip them with specific skills and knowledge in a subfield. Although it depends on the degree, some concentrations available for undergraduate and/or graduate degree programs in nutrition include:

  • Nutrition
  • Dietetics
  • Aromatherapy
  • Herbal studies
  • Nutrition science
  • Nutrition education and counseling

Curriculum/Coursework for a Nutrition Degree

Coursework for a nutrition degree may vary by school, degree level, specialization, and other factors. In general, undergraduate programs consist of general education courses, core nutrition courses, and electives, while graduate-level programs focus more on core nutrition courses. Some programs may offer additional experiential learning opportunities and/or research-based courses in the field. Students who study nutrition are likely to take classes that discuss topics in:

  • Human nutrition
  • Lifecycle nutrition
  • Sports nutrition
  • Nutrition counseling/coaching
  • Community nutrition
  • Nutrition in disease prevention
  • Nutritional health advocacy
  • Research in food and nutrition

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Nutrition?

Traditionally, a bachelor's degree in nutrition takes around 4 years to complete, but there are some factors for online programs in the field that may allow students to complete the program faster or slower. For instance, online students may be limited by the availability of courses and/or the enrollment capacity in each course. Course load also plays a big factor, as full-time students can finish faster than part-time students. Transfer credit from another institution may also help students finish their degrees faster. Depending on the program, students may be encouraged to complete their degree within 5 years, but many schools do not have a set time limit. There are also some programs that offer accelerated bachelor's to master's degree programs, which may allow students to earn both degrees in as little as 3 years.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Nutrition Degrees

Accreditation is important because it indicates that a school and/or program offers a quality education that's designed to help prepare students for a future career. Typically, regional accreditation offered at the institution-level is available from organizations like the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), or the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); there are seven in all. Regional accreditation shows that schools have met academic guidelines for all of their degree programs. Program-level accreditation is usually offered from subject-specific accreditation bodies to show that the program has met industry-specific guidelines. For online bachelor's degree programs in nutrition, a handful of programs are accredited by the ACEND. Choosing a program accredited by ACEND may increase your chances of receiving a quality education and it may play a role in certification or licensure.

Nutrition Licensure & Certification

Students wishing to become a dietitian or nutritionist typically have to obtain a state license, but requirements vary, both by state and by career. State licensure requirements for dietitians often also qualifies students for the RDN credential from the Commission on Dietetic Registration. To earn this credential, students must complete an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Internship (DI) that totals 1,200 hours. To maintain their credential, professionals have to have 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years. Nutritionists on the other hand, can earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential from the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. While the RDN credential can be earned with only a bachelor's degree, the CNS requires a master's or doctoral degree, 1,000 hours of experience, and the passing of an exam. The credential also requires 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years to maintain.

Outside of these two main credentials, there is a wide range of certifications and licensures that vary by education and position. For example, graduates with an associate's degree in nutrition may qualify to take the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board's (HNCB) Board Examination. Other related positions, such as a health educator, may need to earn a specific certification, like the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential. Offered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc, the credential requires students to pass an exam and have 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years to keep it.

Other optional certifications in nutrition include:

  • Weight Management Specialist
  • Holistic Nutritionist
  • Senior Nutrition Specialist
  • Sports Nutrition
  • Certified Nutrition Coach

Nutrition Career Information

Graduates with a nutrition degree have a wide range of career choices in several different fields. Within the field of nutrition alone, there are several different career options, such as becoming a certified holistic nutritionist or becoming a sports nutritionist. Typically, the education requirements vary based on position. For example, the requirements for a registered holistic nutritionist are different than the requirements for a nutrition educator. Some available career options for graduates with a nutrition degree include:

  • Dietitian
  • Nutritionist
  • Pharmaceutical sales representative
  • Dietetic consultant
  • Nutrition educator
  • Project manager
  • Postsecondary health teacher
  • Research nutritionist
  • Food regulation/policy maker

How to Become a Dietitian and Nutritionist

Dietitians and nutritionists have to have at least a bachelor's degree. Students wondering what to major in to become a nutritionist have several options, including foods and nutrition, dietetics, public health nutrition, and more. Although a bachelor's degree is the minimum required, many of these professionals go on to earn an advanced degree in the field. Dietitians and nutritionists are also required to have hours and hours of supervised training, which may take place in an internship during an academic program or after graduation. State licensure is usually required for these professionals.

Dietitians and nutritionists aim to promote wellness and disease prevention through the use of nutrition. They help educate their clients on health eating habits and may provide educational resources and programs concerning nutrition. As of 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that the median annual salary for dietitians and nutritionists was $61,270. The job outlook for these professionals from 2019 to 2029 was 8%.

How to Become a Health Educator

Health educators also usually need to have at least a bachelor's degree. However, some positions may require these educators to have a master's or doctoral degree. Students may earn a degree in health education or another related field. Some programs may include an internship experience. Health educators may decide to earn the CHES credential and usually have to undergo some on-the-job training.

Health educators are primarily responsible for creating ways to educate and try to improve the health and wellness of a community. This may require them to establish educational programs and materials, train community health workers, advocate for health policies, and more. The BLS reported that, as of 2019, health education specialists made a median annual salary of $55,220. The job outlook for these professionals was 11% from 2019 to 2029.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Nutrition Degrees

There are several different forms of financial aid available to students to help pay for school. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is typically the first step for students to see if they qualify for any federal loans and/or grants. While loans have to be repaid, grants and scholarships do not; scholarships are available for a wide range of subject areas, demographics, and other distinguishing characteristics.

In the case of nutrition, students can find scholarships specific to the field from several different sources. Some professional organizations in the field, like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, offer a an array of scholarships. There may be some scholarships specifically for students in underrepresented groups and those offered by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics may range between $500 and $3,000. Some states may also have organizations that provide scholarships for nutrition students, such as the Pennsylvania Dietetic Association, which has a foundation general scholarship, diversity scholarship, and student stipend.

How to Choose a Nutrition School and Program

Students trying to figure out how to choose online schools for nutrition degrees need to consider a range of personal preferences and stand out features of specific nutrition programs. They might look for a program that is offered in a specific format (asynchronous vs. synchronous classes), can be completed in a given amount of time (accelerated programs, part-time), and/or has tuition rates that meet the student's budget. Some students may also prefer to have certain resources available, such as online tutoring, and/or be able to enjoy smaller class sizes.

Specifically for nutrition programs, students should consider accredited programs that will help prepare students for their desired career. For example, those wishing to become a dietician should complete an online bachelor's program that is accredited by the ACEND and can help prepare them for a DI. Students may also want to look for programs that have a concentration available in the field that sounds interesting.

Professional Organizations in Nutrition

There are several professional organizations in the field of nutrition. While each program is unique, these organizations generally try to help advance the field by offering professional development and networking opportunities for professionals, as well as a range of other resources. A few examples of professional organizations in nutrition include:

  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is involved in advocacy, leadership, and research in the field of nutrition. The organization offers various membership types, including a student membership, and resources like networking events, mentoring opportunities, awards, and career information.
  • American Society for Nutrition- The ASN also offers membership and is involved in advocacy and policy-making for the field. The organization's website provides professionals with information concerning nutrition jobs, professional development events, awards, publications, and news.
  • American Nutrition Association- The ANA is actually a group of nutrition organizations that came together in 2019 to help streamline resources for professionals in the field. The group consists of the American College of Nutrition (ACN), Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS), Center for Nutrition Advocacy (CNA), and the American Nutrition Association Foundation (ANAF).
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