These days, more and more people throughout the world are taking a step back to become more aware of their diets and nutritional habits. For several decades in the United States, nutrition often took a backseat to convenience, leading many to accept a daily diet of fast food or other unhealthy foods without considering the consequences of such a diet.
The good news is, as people around the world continue to educate themselves on the benefits of nutrition and leading a healthy diet, the demand for professionals who are educated in the ways nutrition and healthy living will only continue to rise.
Part I. The Nutrition Profession
Although the services offered by nutrition professionals have helped shape our perception of nutrition and healthy living for the last several decades, not everyone has taken the opportunity to seek advice from a professional directly about their own diet or nutritional needs. Thankfully, the field of nutrition has become more populated with educated, degree-holding professionals. Below is just a snapshot of the various career opportunities available for nutrition professionals on today’s job market.
- Dietitian: As one of the more popular career paths for students of nutrition, dietitians can be found working in a wide range of industries. Clinical dietitians work in hospitals and other health care settings in order to counsel patients on how they can improve or adjust their diet based on their current health situation. Dietitians can also find lucrative careers in the private sector as consultants for establishments such as spas and restaurants.
- Nutritionist: Like a dietitian, a nutritionist counsels individuals or groups on how to optimize the nutrition they receive from their diet. In many cases, the dietitian and nutritionist roles are interchangeable. However, it’s important to point out that, unlike a dietitian, the nutritionist role is not always professionally regulated. This means that someone could ostensibly assume the role of a nutritionist without a degree or certification in the field.
- Health Educator: Some of the main progenitors of the nutrition profession are the health teachers that taught us during our time in high school. We all know that picking up the right habits when it comes to our health and nutrition begins at a young age, and health educators often inspire us to lead healthy lifestyles early in life. They also may inspire us to consider a career in nutrition, or even as a health educator following graduation.
- Food Engineer: Despite the bad rap food engineering gets these days for modifying many of the foods we eat, food engineers can, and often do, serve a valuable purpose in the field of nutrition. As the world’s population continues to grow unchecked in many regions around the globe, access to inexpensive, well-preserved and nutritionally optimized foods is essential for ensuring millions of people are properly nourished. By combining science and nutritional know-how, food engineers help to fight hunger and starvation with the products they create.
Career Outlook and Salary
As mentioned earlier, the demand for qualified nutrition professionals and experts has increased markedly over the last decade. According to the BLS, the job outlook for dietitians and nutritionists is expected to increase by 20% between 2010 and 2020. Perhaps more surprising is the job outlook for health educators, which is expected to grow much faster than average at an astounding 37% by the end of the decade.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for the dietitian and nutritionist professions in 2010 was $53,250 annually, or $25.60 per hour. Health educators earned a median salary of $45,830 during the same year, but often do not require the same level of professional certification and scientific expertise as dietitians or nutritionists. Food engineers (also known as food scientists) earned a median salary of $58,450 in 2010.
Part II. Top U.S. Nutrition Programs
As the career possibilities for nutrition professionals continue to grow over the next several years, colleges and universities across the country are following suit by providing innovative programs in the field that can be taken both on-campus, and in many cases, online. Below is a selection of schools that we feel offer some of the best degree programs in nutrition currently available.
San José State University (San Jose, CA)
- Accreditation: San José State University is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). The university’s Nutrition, Food Science, & Packaging department is currently accredited by the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
- Specialized Degrees: In addition to offering bachelor’s degrees with concentrations in dietetics, food science and technology and packaging, SJSU also offers a Master of Science in Nutritional Science, as well as minors in several areas of nutrition studies.
- Industry Perception: For over 50 years, San José State University has helped lead the way in nutrition education, and has been proud to have some of the country’s most well-respected nutritional scientists as members of its faculty. SJSU is also well-known for its inclusion of Packaging as one of the degree program’s major concentrations.
- Cost and Financial Aid: As a public-funded university in the State of California, the cost to attend SJSU can vary based on your residency at time of application. Currently, the total full-time tuition cost for California residents is set at $7,089 for all undergraduate programs. Non-California residents pay $372 per unit, in addition to basic registration fees. Financial aid is accepted in the form of both public and private loans, grants and/or scholarships.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Baltimore, MD)
- Accreditation: The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). The school’s master’s program in Human Nutrition is also accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
- Specialized Degrees: While JHBSPH does not offer a bachelor’s degree program at this time, the school does offer several innovative graduate degree options in human nutrition. Its Master of Science in Public Health offers students an opportunity to study human nutrition from the a public health perspective. An added bonus is the educational collaboration program the Bloomberg School has with Cornell University, which allows students to take courses at both universities as they complete their degree.
- Industry Perception: To many, the name Johns Hopkins is synonymous with only the highest calibre of health-related education and research—and the Bloomberg School of Public Health is certainly no exception. In addition to being the largest public health school in the world, the Bloomberg School of Public Health is consistently ranked #1 by college ranking outlets — including U.S. News and World Report — in the field of public health.
- Cost and Financial Aid: Because of the enormous reputation of the school and its faculty, as well as the excellent quality of its facilities, the tuition cost per term to attend the Bloomberg School’s master’s program is currently set at $11,076 per term. Over the course of five terms, this will run you a total full-time tuition bill of $55,380 (not including other fees, such as room and board, textbooks, etc.). Luckily, the school accepts financial aid from several standard sources, and provides excellent resources to help students gain funding for their education.
Northeastern University (Boston, MA and Online)
- Accreditation: Northeastern University is fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
- Specialized Degrees: NU College of Professional Studies currently offers a Master of Science degree in applied nutrition, which can be earned both on-campus and online. Within the degree program, students can choose from several concentrations, such as nutrition education, nutrition and fitness, or even obesity and eating disorders.
- Industry Perception: In addition to being a part of one of the United States’ most prestigious and well-regarded academic institutions, the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University stands as one of the strongest schools in the country for obtaining a professional degree in nutrition.
- Cost and Financial Aid: Unlike most other graduate school programs, the NU College of Professional Studies charges a flat rate for its on-campus and online programs in Applied Nutrition. As of 2013, the full tuition cost was set at $21,800, which is rather competitive compared to the cost of attending other private professional schools. In the way of financial aid, the college accepts aid from a variety of standard federal and private sources, as well as a scholarship pool of funds contributed to by faculty and alumni of the institution.
Arizona State University (Online)
- Accreditation: Arizona State University is fully accredited by the North Central Association Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC). State and regional accreditation for the school’s online program can vary by state.
- Specialized Degrees: The ASU School of Nutrition and Health Promotion currently offers two bachelor’s degree programs that can be taken entirely online: a Bachelor of Applied Science in Health Sciences and a Bachelor of Science in Healthy Lifestyle Coaching.
- Industry Perception: While an online degree typically pales in comparison to a degree earned on campus in the eyes of many industry professionals, Arizona State University is quickly changing this perception by offering world-class degree training using their innovative e-learning format. Moreover, your degree will come directly from Arizona State University, not some web-based derivative; this ensures you can take full advantage of the school’s sterling reputation when you begin the job hunt.
- Cost and Financial Aid: As of 2013, the cost per credit hour for ASU online graduate programs was set at $463. To find out what a more personalized cost of attendance might be, the ASU Online website offers a handy calculator you can use to project your expenses for the academic year. Financial aid is accepted from a variety of standard public and private sources, as well as several scholarship opportunities.
Part III. Launching a Career in Nutrition
Once you have your degree in hand, be prepared to enter an exciting new field with an excellent career outlook for hard working candidates. The higher than average projected job growth means that, now more than ever, launching a career in nutrition could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
These days, having a robust career portfolio is not just a requirement for artists and other creative professionals. In fact, most professionals are starting to maintain a file of career-related documentation, such as transcripts, workshop materials, performance evaluations, letters of reference, and other materials. NutritionJobs features an excellent portfolio resource designed to advise nutrition professionals on how to craft a quality portfolio that will aid them in their job hunt.
In addition to having a portfolio, nutrition professionals will also need to create effective cover letters to accompany their résumé. Luckily, there is no shortage of resources available online to help you craft the best résumé and cover letters for the job you’re looking for. NutritionJobs also provides an outstanding resource for nutrition professionals on writing cover letters.
A Paragon of Healthy Living
Despite the tremendous growth the nutrition industry is expected to experience over the next decade, don’t delude yourself into thinking that this is reason enough to launch an educational and professional career in the field. In addition to “putting your money where their mouth is” when it comes to leading a healthy and nutritious lifestyle of your own, offering nutrition advice and counsel is something that should give you great satisfaction and fulfillment. If launching a career in nutrition is something that entices you, be sure to take some additional time to research what an education and career in the field might be like.