Understand your options—the pros and the cons—before choosing a nutrition school.
Like you, I love knowing that food can improve health. Personally experiencing this reality sealed the deal — I pursued a career in nutrition.
Fast forward to today: I’ve spent the past 11 years attending and working for multiple nutrition programs and universities. I’m here to give you an unbiased, insider’s view on your options, from nutrition certificate programs to Master’s level education.
Get Clear On Your Nutrition Career
What do you actually want to achieve from your nutrition studies? First, you need to know what your final goal is. Remember: any goal is legitimate. For years I taught students whose primary goal was to improve the health of their families. Others wanted to see private clients, teach classes, or start recipe blogs.
While both companies I worked for (as an instructor, content creator, and curriculum manager) offer nutrition certificates, your goal may be beyond what a certificate allows, such as working with patients in a hospital or becoming a state-licensed nutrition provider who accepts insurance.
For these goals, you must enroll in a dietetic degree program that leads to the designation of Registered Dietician (RD/RDN) via completion of a Bachelor’s degree, approved internship, national registration exam, and, by 2024, the completion of a graduate degree.
Or, as I did, you can pursue a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) designation via Master or Doctoral level degree completion, supervised internship, and certification examination through the American Nutrition Association. But, please be aware that CNS’ are not able to legally practice in all states. This map shows the legal specifics of each state.
Pros And Cons
Becoming an RDN or CNS takes more time and money than pursuing a nutrition certificate. However, the benefits include more significant professional opportunities. On the other hand, completing a nutrition certificate program takes approximately one year or less, and anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 the expense of a higher-level degree, depending on the university or certificate you choose.
While some states allow individualized nutrition counseling by those with a certificate or CNS designation, others do not. Only an RDN is legally allowed to practice in all 50 states.
Ask About The Nutrition School’s Curriculum
And the instructors. Do your research on what you’ll be learning and who will be teaching it before committing to a program. You are about to invest a great deal of time and money into learning something new. Make sure you understand the quality of the curriculum and the teachers.
This gets tricky, as many customer service reps and admission advisors aren’t as knowledgeable about the course material as curriculum managers or instructors. However, most programs make book lists and written and video content samples available for prospective students. And, most schools list faculty on their website.
There is no governing body that oversees the quality of the information presented by companies that offer nutrition certificates.
I believe this point is particularly essential due to my experience working for nutrition certificate programs.
While the company’s shareholders/owners, the board of directors, or managers may be firmly committed to creating accurate and practical content, the opposite may also be true. Ultimately, certificate programs’ curriculum reflects upper management and the care they take to budget quality-control into their business model. Ask if this is the case, and notice if there is not a knowledgeable and experienced team of people in charge of the curriculum. This is a sign that the information you’ll be learning may be biased, outdated, incorrect, ineffective, or, at worse, dangerous.
University-level curriculum must meet standards set by either national or regional accreditation set by a commission or council ultimately overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. However, even with this layer of assurance, it’s still smart to learn about the curriculum of that particular university (is it more biochemistry or clinically based, for instance) and who will be teaching it. Is your professor the top-read author on PubMed, and you really want to be a published research writer, for instance? That’s a good sign that you’ve found the right place.
Pros And Cons
Even with less time and financial commitment, the curriculum accompanying a nutrition certificate is not subject to any oversight, ensuring accuracy or practicality. And, even the best university may not be the right fit for your future professional niche. So, do your homework before enrolling in any program to know who is writing, monitoring, and teaching the content.
Understand The Nutrition School’s Culture
Every place has an internal culture, and a nutrition company or university is no different. This is another aspect of education to investigate pre-enrollment — are the actions of the owners, management, faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the school in alignment with your beliefs and values? This is arguably the most crucial point of the three, as the culture of any institution underlies decision-making. In this case, these decisions directly affect your education and student experience.
If you’re researching a nutrition certificate company, who is the owner? Who makes up the Board of Directors? If a university, who is the Director? The Associate Director? Do these people share your values?
Have they created a safe and healthy work environment for their employees? Are employees making a living wage? What is the average employee turnover?
Do they have a Human Resources department?
Has the organization participated in diversity, equity, and inclusion education and training in an active and humble way?
Do alumni display qualities and content that appeal to you?
As previously mentioned, has the company or university done their due diligence to ensure accuracy in their curriculum? Do they have full-time staff members or contractors qualified to create content?
The answers to these questions will help determine if the practices, the environment, and the “feel” of the school are a match for you. It’s important to note that cultural match is important even in an online setting!
Pros And Cons
Nutrition certificate programs and universities both create an internal culture. Ensure you investigate this as thoroughly as you examine your own goals and the institution’s curriculum — it will dictate much of your experience as you fulfill programmatic requirements and color your life as an alum. Choose a school that you feel good about supporting and one that will support you both educationally and culturally.
Final Thoughts On Choosing A Nutrition School
There are so many options for nutrition education. It isn’t easy to make a decision. Use these tips as your personal checklist to find the program that fits you and your goals. And, congratulations on deciding to study nutrition! It’s a beautiful and fascinating career. Let me know what program you’ve chosen in the comments below!