Use this step-by-step guide to apply to a nutrition program if you have a degree in another field.
Changing careers to become a Registered Dietitian can be a daunting process. That’s why I’m breaking it all down here with 3 easy steps to follow to become a Registered Dietitian, even if you have a degree in another field.
I’m digging into the nitty gritty of what you need to do to become a Registered Dietitian if you already have a degree. This 3 step process is a great jumping off point for anyone who is in the beginning phases of going back to school.
For even greater detail on all of this, check out my ebook that lays out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about changing careers to become a Registered Dietitian.
1. Evaluate the schooling options
I know there is so much information on the internet, and it can be extremely overwhelming to know where to begin. The first step is to figure out what type of program is right for you. There are 3 types of schooling options:
A DPD program is a compilation of nutrition courses that satisfy the requirement for you to apply for a Dietetic Internship. Essentially, these classes are offered at a school that is accredited by The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, but you do not get a second degree at the end of the program.
To be honest, I know very few career changers who chose this route. You end up taking practically the same classes as you would in a graduate program and do not receive a Master’s degree. The pro is that you take a few less courses, meaning that it’s more affordable and shorter than a Master’s degree.
You do NOT need a Master’s degree to become an RD as of right now. Beginning in 2024, the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics will require all new RD’s to get a Master’s level degree.
I personally have a Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. I think it’s a great option for second career RDs because you are taking at least 2 years worth of coursework, so why not get a graduate degree in the end?
One thing to note– you do need to take some prerequisites and possibly the GRE, depending on the school.
Plus, you will have access to advanced level teachers and peers, which makes for great networking opportunities. If you want to learn more about my Master’s degree route and overall career change journey, check out this video.
A Coordinated Program combines the necessary nutrition schooling with guaranteed entry into a Dietetic Internship. The benefit of a Coordinated Program is that you are already accepted into a Dietetic Internship before you begin schooling. As you will learn later, applying to the Dietetic Internship is a competitive process, and only about 50% of applicants are accepted.
Not all schools have a Coordinated Program. If it’s something you’re interested, look on the school’s website to see if it’s offered.
2. Take the prerequisite coursework
If you have a degree in a different non-science field, you’ll have to go back to undergrad and take some science classes. For example, I have a Bachelor’s of Arts in history, so I basically had to start from scratch with the prerequisites.
The prerequisites are largely the same for every school, but it’s still a good idea to check the schools website before signing up for a class you may not need. The requirements will vary slightly based on the school, so it’s best to have some idea of your schooling path before getting started.
Generally, you will have to complete these courses before starting a Nutrition program:
- General chemistry with lab (completed through a comprehensive one-semester course or through general chemistry I)
- Organic chemistry with lab (completed through a comprehensive one-semester course or through organic chemistry I)
- Biochemistry without lab (completed through a comprehensive one-semester course)
- Anatomy & Physiology I and II with lab (completed through a comprehensive two-semester course)
- Introductory nutrition
- Food Science
Each school has different requirements for the amount of prereqs you need to complete before applying. Some schools only require that you complete half before applying and then you can complete the second half while in a nutrition program. Other schools want you to complete all of them. Check the school’s website to get specific info.
For more info on how to take these classes affordably and whether or not you can take them while still working full-time, check out this ebook: The No-Brainer Guide To Becoming A Registered Dietitian.
It’s time to apply! All schools have different application requirements, but you will definitely need a few letters of recommendations, a personal statement and transcripts from undergrad and prerequisite courses. Some Master’s programs might also require the GRE.
In your personal essay, emphasize the professional skills you possess from your first career. Why will those skills make you a successful RD? For instance, corporate world skills may demonstrate that you will be professional in a classroom setting. Maybe you’re always on time or take initiative on team projects– share specific examples in your personal essay!
In addition, schools like to see that you have a passion for nutrition. If you have the time and resources, volunteer for a nutrition-related position. This can be as simple as volunteering with a local farmer’s market, the city health department, a food bank or any other nutrition program you can find in your area.
Applications may be on a rolling basis, or there may be a set deadline. Check that out on the school’s website.
Once you’re accepted…
Congrats! You’re on your way to becoming a Registered Dietitian. If you want to learn more about what the schooling process entails, like whether or not it’s part-time or full-time and how much it will cost, as well as the Dietetic Internship and RD exam, click here!