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Nutrition Major Overview

Love eating healthy and encouraging others to do the same? Well, then you may want to consider majoring in nutrition! Studying how different foods and dietary patterns affect human health, nutrition majors use this information to help others achieve healthy lifestyles. They can do so in many different settings, from personal offices, to schools, to hospitals, and more.

If that sounds interesting to you, keep on reading to learn more about the nutrition major, and how you can make the world a healthier place!

Related: Scholarships360 major guides

What is a nutrition major?

Nutrition majors focus on the relationship between food, nutrients, and health. They can also choose to dive deeper into specific subtopics or niches of nutrition by choosing from many possible concentrations. Such concentrations include a wide variety of subjects, such as nutrition science, public health, pre-medicine, or even dietetics – which focuses on the effects of a diet on one’s health.

Considering all this, what types of courses can nutrition majors expect to take? Let’s see.

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Coursework to expect

Besides an introductory nutrition course, some other common topics that nutrition majors study include global food availability, nutrition across the lifespan, food preparation, and food management. Science courses like biology, chemistry, physiology, and anatomy are also a common part of the nutrition curriculum. These courses teach students the basics of how nutrients impact our health. And, although it’s not traditional coursework, many nutrition majors complete some sort of pre-professional experience. This can be in the form of job shadowing, or even working at a local food pantry, homeless shelter, or other volunteering site.

Extracurricular experience

In addition to such experiences, majors have a plethora of other opportunities to participate in while in undergrad. For one, those interested in becoming dieticians may want to participate in a didactic program, which goes over the necessary coursework needed to become a dietician. While students will still need to partake in an accredited internship and take the registered dietician exam afterwards (to become a dietician), such programs give them a great foundation of the knowledge and skills needed to become one. Coordinated programs are somewhat similar to didactic programs, allowing aspiring dieticians to complete the supervised work requirement in their curriculums.

Alternatively, if you wish to become a registered dietician, we encourage enrolling in nutrition programs that have been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). To find such a program or to see if yours is accredited, check this list of accredited programs from ACEND itself!

Also see: Top public health scholarships

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as a nutrition major:

  • Cultural and Social Aspects of Food
  • Experimental Food Science
  • Nutritional Biochemistry and Assessment
  • Exercise Nutrition and Supplements
  • Food Management and Nutrition
  • Medical Nutrition Therapy
  • Public Health Nutrition
  • Nutrition Science
  • Nutrition Across the Lifespan
  • Global Food Distribution
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physiology

Related: Public health major overview

Opportunities after graduation

While nutrition majors graduate with many options, most of these lie in the medical field, health care industry, or academia. So, if you’re looking to major in nutrition, it’s best to first make sure you’re okay with those options!

For those of you who are, though, let’s look at a few of your post-graduation options. First and foremost, a very popular option for nutrition majors is to become a registered dietician. To do so, one typically must graduate from an ACEND-accredited dietetics program, complete supervised training, and pass the registered dietician exam. However, licensing and certification requirements vary by state, so be sure to check exactly what your state requires. And, if you’re interested in specializing further as a registered dietician, you can do that too! Additional certifications can be earned through the Commission on Dietetic Registration, allowing registered dieticians to become certified in areas like obesity and weight management, sports dietetics, and more.

Alternatively, some nutrition majors work in academia. Some universities even allow nutrition students to make progress towards a teaching certification while in undergrad, allowing them to get a head start on receiving the necessary teaching credentials. However, further education will be needed if one wants to teach at a college or university.

If you’re more interested in the medical field (but not dietetics specifically), nutrition majors can also work in many medical or health care settings. Such places include  hospitals, outpatient care centers, schools, day care centers, nursing homes, and more. Public health agencies are also an option – with many nutrition majors working at food companies or private practices.

Graduate school

And, last but certainly not least, nutrition majors can go on to pursue further schooling. Pursuing an advanced degree in dietetics, nutrition science, or another medical science is quite common. Graduates can also go on to partake in other health-related certification programs, like those for athletic training or physical therapy.

Jobs you can get with a nutrition degree

With that said, what are some of the actual jobs that those with a nutrition degree can secure, and what are their salaries? Well, luckily for you, we’ve gone through and created a list of potential jobs that you can pursue with a nutrition degree (with descriptions and salaries included)! Let’s take a look.

1. Dieticians and Nutritionists

Focused on meeting their clients’ nutritional needs, dieticians and nutritionists create food and nutrition plans for their patients. These are influenced by patients’ preferences but are more importantly based on what each client needs (what type of food, nutrients, etc.). As their clients follow their meal plans, dieticians and nutritionists keep track of how well their plans are working and make changes if necessary. To become a dietician or nutritionist, you will likely need a bachelor’s degree and to have completed a supervised training internship or program. Many states will require dieticians and nutritionists to be licensed.

2020 Median Pay: $63,090
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 11%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists do a lot of their work on farms, coordinating research and experiments to increase the productivity of crops as well as farm animals. They report their findings to the scientific community, food producers, and the general public – in addition to using them to create new food products themselves. Last, but certainly not least, they travel to a variety of new facilities to oversee new products. To become an Agricultural or Food Scientist, one must at least hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field. However, many also go on to earn advanced or graduate degrees before becoming Animal or Food Scientists.

2020 Mean Pay: $68,830/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 9%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists are essentially researchers, investigating the causes, patterns, and effects of illness and injury. Specifically, they plan and lead research projects into public health problems, looking for ways to best treat them and reduce their frequency in the population. Their findings are then presented to health policymakers, practitioners, and the general public. While the majority of epidemiologists have a Master’s in Public Health, some may hold a Ph.D in medicine or epidemiology.

2020 Median Pay: $74,560/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 30%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

With a focus on promoting health and wellness, Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers determine the health needs of communities. With this information, they teach people about relevant wellness topics and how to stay on top of their health. Further, they create health-related events and programs, and evaluate the success of each of their programs and educational materials. While Health Education Specialists typically need a bachelor’s degree, Community Health Workers generally only need a high school degree and some on-the-job training.

2020 Median Pay: $48,140/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 17%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently asked questions about nutrition majors

What is the best major for a nutritionist?

While there’s not one particular “best” major to become a nutritionist, you have a few good options. So, if you aspire to become a nutritionist, we recommend that you major in one of the following: food science, nutrition, biology, chemistry, dietetics, or biochemistry. These will all help you acquire foundational knowledge about nutrition, and an understanding of what nutrients or chemicals people need to stay healthy.

Can you work as a nutritionist without a degree?

Technically, yes. The term “nutritionist” is unregulated (meaning that there are no educational or formal guidelines as to what makes someone a “nutritionist”) in the United States. Therefore, anyone can technically call themselves a nutritionist. In addition, there are many programs that offer nutrition science certifications for those who have not received a formal nutrition education. However, if you receive one of those types of certifications, you will not be permitted to give individuals personalized nutrition advice or medical nutrition therapy. If you wish to become a registered nutritionist, on the other hand, you will be required to receive a professional nutrition science education, pass a licensure exam, and complete an internship.

Also see: Top 15 college majors for the future

How do I know if a major is right for me? 

Knowing whether or not you’re majoring in the right subject is tricky. Even after being in college for multiple semesters or years, it is not uncommon for students to wonder whether they truly enjoy their major. However, many students also love their majors, and end up sticking with the same one for their entire college experience. So, if you’re thinking about majoring in nutrition, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Are you curious about the impact of food and nutrition on our health and well-being?
  • Do you value working with and teaching others?
  • Are you passionate about educating people on the best health and nutrition practices?
  • Do you enjoy learning about the biological, physical, and social sciences?

If you answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, then nutrition may be a great fit for you. With that, we wish you good luck. Have fun in college and stay healthy!

Also see: How to pick a major