My number 1 most frequently emailed/asked question on this blog is:
How do I apply to school to become an RD, especially if I’m starting from scratch with the prerequisites?
Many of you seem to be in the same boat that I was in 2009 — after getting an unrelated undergraduate degree and years of office work in an unrelated field, you’ve decided you want to make a career out of nutrition. I’m honored to know that I’ve inspired some of you to follow your own dreams, and happy to be able to help you out along the way. The process sounds scary and complicated, but it’s really not when you understand it… and it will definitely be worth it. Right? Here’s everything you need to know about going back to school to become an RD, right on one easy page. I wish I’d had this on hand when I started my own journey!
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First things first. To become a registered dietitian, you need to do 3 things:
- Take the specific set of courses outlined by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND). This can be completed at the undergraduate or graduate level.
- Complete the required internships, also outlined by AND. This can be done separately or at the same time as the coursework, depending on your program. (See the researching programs section for more details).
- Take the RD exam (and pass it!).
Steps for Applying to School to Become an RD:
- Research programs.
- Take the GRE (if applying at the graduate level).
- Take the required prerequisites.
- Apply to your chosen programs (this can be done while finishing prerequisites — I was only half way through when I applied).
- Get accepted to the school of your choice and rejoice!
1. Research Programs
The first thing you should do if you want to go back to school to become an RD is to research the offered programs. Click here to view AND’s accredited programs. You can narrow it down based on location, whether it’s graduate or undergraduate, etc.
Coordinated programs mean you do the coursework AND internship all at once, in one program. If it’s a coordinated masters program, it will typically be 2 to 2.5 years. The MPH-Nutrition program at UNC (where I went) is like this, so our internships are set up for us and dispersed throughout the 2.5 years of school (in the two summers in between classes, and in the final fall semester). Didactic coursework and internships, on the other hand, means you complete the coursework and the internships separately, and will have to apply to both programs separately as well. I would recommend applying to coordinated programs if possible as internship programs in particular can be hard to get into.
2. Take the GRE (if you are applying at the graduate level)
Enough said. You’ll be fine — just buy a study guide book and use it. Especially for the math and vocabulary sections!
3. Take the Required Prerequisites
Most of the prerequisites (at least for the MS and MPH programs I looked at) are similar, although there are a few higher level differences, which is annoying. I took the courses I knew I absolutely needed first, and saved the last one or two for the summer before I started, when I would know which program I was attending.
Prerequisites You’ll Need to Take:
- Chemistry 1 + lab
- Chemistry 2 + lab
- Biology 101 + lab
- Organic Chemistry + lab
- Anatomy & Physiology + lab
- Human Nutrition (or something similar — an intro to nutrition)
You may also need:
- Intro to Psychology
- Intro to Sociology
I took all of the courses in the first list, plus Microbiology. Psychology and Sociology were covered from my undergraduate coursework — I was a Sociology major! When taking prereqs, I’d recommend starting with Chemistry 1 and 2 and going from there. The other courses all include some general Chemistry so it will help you to have taken that first! Also — don’t be overwhelmed by this list. I was totally overwhelmed and scared about all the hard science (that I avoided in undergrad) but it was over before I knew it and actually fun to be learning again, especially since it was working towards a goal that really mattered.
The prerequisites took me a full year to complete on a part time basis, while also working part time. I took most of them at community college to save money – I recommend you do the same! Starting in the Summer of 2009, I took Chem 1 and 2, in the fall I took Organic Chem and Bio 101, in the spring I took Human Nutrition and Anatomy & Physiology, and, finally, in the summer just before beginning my graduate program I took Microbiology and Biochemistry.
4. Apply to Your Chosen Program
Most applications are due sometime between December and February to start the following fall. It’s fine to apply to schools before you’re done with the prerequisites — you’ll just send updated transcripts as you complete courses. When I applied to schools, I had only completed about half the prerequisites, so I just outlined my plan for completing the rest (e.g. I will take these courses in the spring and these courses in the summer) at the end of my personal statement.
5. Get Accepted and Rejoice!
You did it! Time to get out there and start changing the world
I hope you guys found this helpful — I remember it being kind of a nightmare trying to figure all this out on my own, so hopefully I’ve spared some of you the same fate Good luck!