The science of food, nutrition, and dietetics is growing and the need for certified nutritionists has spiked in a variety of industries. Luckily, Master’s Degree in Nutrition programs fill the demand for nutritionists in hospitals, schools, community organizations, and government agencies.
Though students with bachelor’s degrees and relevant on-the-job training can typically jump into basic, entry-level nutrition jobs, the majority of jobs in the field will require an advanced degree. That’s why if you want to pursue a career in nutrition, a master’s degree is worth it.
Most nutrition programs in the US are Master of Science in Nutrition programs. Students must graduate with a bachelor’s in a related field and then apply to a master’s program in the specialized discipline of nutrition. Many programs also offer dietetics alongside nutrition. This means that students can graduate with an MS in Nutrition and be ready to take qualifying exams to become registered dietitians.
Nutrition uses biology and genetics to understand how food and nutrients affect the body. We often first learn about nutrition as kids in elementary school when we learn about the food pyramid.
The recommended daily doses of different food groups help us understand how certain foods and their properties can optimize the body’s health and wellness. Some foods, like fruit and vegetables, are known to be rich with the kinds of vitamins and nutrients that humans need to stay healthy. Meanwhile, an excess of meat, fats, and grains can hurt human health outcomes.
This is nutrition at its most basic. Of course, the discipline is much more complex than this and can involve advanced nutrition including complex biochemistry. This is why nutritionists need to do extensive training to be able to solve problems in the field.
Master’s Degree in Nutrition Programs
As you begin your program and school search, it’s important to know that you have many different types of programs to choose from. Most master’s programs in nutrition only require 30 to 36 credit hours and can typically be completed in one year if done full-time or in two years if done part-time.
You can also choose between programs that offer traditional in-classroom formats and others that offer online instruction. There are all kinds of programs out there that cater to different career interests, whether you want to become a dietitian, a community healthcare worker, or nutrition researcher.
Master’s Degree in Nutrition Requirements and Admission
- Bachelor’s Degree: Students applying to an MS in Nutrition must have completed a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a related field. If you have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, you may have to complete some post-baccalaureate prerequisite classes like biochemistry, organic chemistry, human physiology, and biostatistics.
- Entrance Exam: Most selective programs have minimum undergraduate GPA requirements of at least 3.0. The majority of programs also require GRE test results.
- Professional Experience: Some MS programs in nutrition require that competitive applicants have some professional experience in the field. This could even be volunteer work in a community food and wellness program.
Master’s Degree in Nutrition Curriculum
Most MS in Nutrition curricula will require the same core courses. Here is a sample of the kinds of courses you can expect to take in any master’s program in nutrition:
- Principles of Nutrition Research
- Health Promotion and Wellness
- Nutritional Biochemistry
- Nutrition and Disease
- Community Nutrition
In addition to the required core courses and electives, many MS programs in nutrition will also require a thesis research project. Programs that include dietetics will also require a for-credit internship, a qualifying requirement for taking registered dietitian exams.
Most internship requirements are six-month, full-time immersion requirements that begin after the completion of master’s coursework. It is designed to be a practicum for students to learn through hands-on experience in their chosen area of interest. These practicums meet the program requirements for those who want to take the dietetics exam to officially become a Registered Dietitian.
Master’s Degree in Nutrition Specializations
Because the field of nutrition is so wide, there are many different kinds of specializations offered in different MS programs. That is why you must research specializations as you read about featured programs and schools. Here are just some of the many specializations offered in MS programs in nutrition:
- Public Policy
- Community Nutrition
- Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition
- Clinical Nutrition
- Sports and Wellness Nutrition
- Infant and Maternal Nutrition
Financing your Master’s Degree in Nutrition
As always, cost is a major consideration when making any educational decision. When researching featured programs and school offerings, be sure to research cost and school-specific grant and scholarship option.
Remember that public universities may have different costs for in-state versus out-of-state tuition. Consider this difference if a public university in your state offers a program–it may be significantly less expensive than some of your other program options.
Finally, remember that you have online and in-person options. Online programs typically provide much more flexibility than in-person programs. That flexibility is intended for learners who cannot interrupt their daily lives to go back to school. This means you can usually continue to work full time while completing online coursework.
Though this helps to off-set costs, online programs may still be costly. Do your research and outline your budget and priorities before deciding which programs are good academic and financial options.
Best Master’s Degree in Nutrition Programs
Now that we have gone over program admissions, curriculum requirements, and financial considerations, it’s time to delve into some of the best overall programs.
Because the field is growing, there are also a growing number of schools offering a Master’s Degree in Nutrition. While some are simply MS in Nutrition programs, others may focus more closely on food science, human nutrition and wellness, or nutrition policy. This is great news for anyone considering this degree as more options give you more choice and greater flexibility to choose a program that meets your needs.
Below is a list of the best Master’s Degree in Nutrition programs in the country.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
The University of Wisconsin at Madison offers a 30-credit, in-person program in nutritional science. Students can choose from two areas of concentration, Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition, or Human Nutrition.
Madison also offers a fully online program that focuses on clinical nutrition. Its Master’s of Science in Clinical Nutrition prepares students to work in nutritional research and on professional nutrition teams in clinical settings.
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California offers a Master’s of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity exclusively online through its School of Gerontology. The program prepares students for careers in healthcare, government, and community health.
University of Florida
This Master’s of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition is an online program for students who want to focus on the biology of food and nutrition. The program is offered through the university’s renowned Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This university’s program is ranked among the top in the nation. The Master’s Degree in Nutritional Sciences is an interdisciplinary program with faculty from all over the university system. It offers extensive research opportunities, including a thesis requirement and a six-month internship program after course completion. This program is offered both in-person and online.
Tufts University just north of Boston, Massachusetts offers an interdisciplinary program for those interested in government and policy. Its Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science and Policy is excellent for students who need online flexibility but who want to have an in-person intensive experience as well. Though all coursework is online, students are required to go on campus for a week-long residency every semester. There is no required thesis or internship but there is a required capstone project.
University of Georgia
Georgia’s flagship state university offers a Master’s of Science in Food Nutrition and Community Nutrition. This is an excellent program for students interested in pursuing careers in community nutrition. The 30-credit program qualifies its graduates to work as certified school nutritionists or as nutrition experts in the public or private sectors.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities offers a Master’s of Science in Nutrition through its Department of Food Science and Nutrition. It is an interdisciplinary program intended for students from a variety of backgrounds with varied interests. The 30-credit program prepares students to enter research fields in nutrition and culminates in a six-month internship to qualify students for the registered dietitian exams.
Careers with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition
There are many different career paths for people interested in pursuing a career in nutrition. Nutritionists can work in a variety of areas, whether they want to work in hospitals or clinics with patients, in boutique operations with fitness and wellness experts, or in government or private institutions to affect law and policy change.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dietitian and Nutritionist jobs are trending up. Jobs in the field are predicted to increase by 11 percent through 2028, a faster than average rate of growth. The average annual salary for Dietitians and Nutritionists is $61,270. Of course, this amount varies depending on geographical region, cost of living, and nutrition field. For example, nutritionists in private research institutes or the federal government may earn more than those working in community organizations.
Nutritionists are needed in government to influence laws and policies for public health. Nutrition is an aspect of public health in that access to nutritious foods and nutrients is essential to general health and wellness.
Reducing both hunger and obesity are public health issues that nutritionists work to combat at the policy level. Nutritionists who focus on law and policy work at all levels of government including local, state, and federal offices and agencies.
Community nutrition is another very popular career path for professionals who have earned a master’s in nutrition. Local government agencies and organizations also work with nutritionists to help them manage food supply issues, nutrition education, and other community programs. A community nutritionist may also work in schools, running nutrition education programs and identifying community nutrition issues.
Those who are interested in focusing more on the science behind nutrition may be interested in becoming a nutrition researcher. Nutrition researchers tend to focus on a particular field, such as pediatric nutrition, eating disorders, consequences of malnutrition, and dietetics. Nutrition researchers may work at major institutions like hospitals, universities, and research institutes.
It may not be something you think about every day, but the nutrients we put into our bodies every day have a major effect on our overall health outcomes. This is true for individual health and public health. If you want to contribute to positive change in nutrition, a master’s in nutrition is the best way to launch your career in the field.
You may want to work in government so that you can inform significant policy changes, like banning snacks and drinks with high sugar and high fructose corn syrup from school vending machines. You may want to work one-on-one as a Nutrition Counselor at a specialized clinic, where you design dietary plans for patients with special restrictions or with eating disorders. You may even want to devote your life to research, taking your biochemistry and genetic skills to the next level by diving into a career in nutrition research.
Whatever it is you want to do in the nutrition field, chances are that you will need a Master’s Degree in Nutrition to get there. Consider this guide as a jumping-off point to get your programs and school search started.