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! :)
**Just a note: I do not work for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, and I won’t be able to answer any questions you have specific to your own back to school journey. Please don’t email me with those sort of technical questions!
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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. There are also online options, although I don’t know anything about those because I didn’t research them myself.
- 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. (This can be done online, or at a community college to save money.)
- 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. You can do the coursework at either the undergraduate or graduate level. Since I already had a bachelors degree, I choose to apply to only graduate programs. What you do is up to you! There are also online-based programs, but I don’t know anything about those because I didn’t research them personally.
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! I recommend this study book from Kaplan.
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. You can take these online, or at a community college, to save money. To determine the exact prerequisites you need, check the websites for the programs you are interested in, or call their admissions office.
Prerequisites You’ll Definitely Need to Take:
- Chemistry 1 + lab
- Chemistry 2 + lab
- Biology 101 + lab
- Organic Chemistry + lab
- Anatomy & Physiology + lab (you’ll definitely need A&P 1, and you might also need 2)
- Human Nutrition (or something similar — an intro to nutrition)
- Intro Biochemistry
You may also need (depends on program – check with them directly):
- 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 nearly all of them at community college to save money – I recommend you do the same, but check with your programs first to make sure the credits transfer! 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 :)
A couple quick tips: RD and RDN is the same thing. Interchangeable. In case you were confused. Also, it’s spelled dietitian with two T’s, no C!
Also: the MPH-RD programs are basically an MS in Nutrition + extra public health coursework. So no, there’s no way to get around all those science classes!
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!
I have been getting TONS of emails with follow up questions for me now that I’m actually an RD. I’m happy to answer your questions, but as my email inbox is completely out of control, here is some information that might answer the questions you have. Please check this out before emailing me. :)
- I started my Masters of Public Health in Nutrition from UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall of 2010; I graduated in December 2012 after completing the coursework, internships, and writing/presenting my masters paper. As I noted above, the program was basically a Masters of Science in Nutrition plus extra public health coursework (about a semester worth) so that we got the MPH-RD instead of an MS-RD.
- For my internships (which were done during/as part of UNC’s program, since it is coordinated – I don’t know anything about the separate formal internship application process since I didn’t do it):
- I spent the first summer (2011) between classes doing my community/public health rotation at the NC Cooperative Extension. Here’s a post about one of my days there: A Day with the NC Cooperative Extension. We taught cooking classes for kids, led community events, taught adults about hypertension and eating healthy, made healthy eating materials (see How to Make a Recipe Healthier), and more. It was a lot of fun!
- My second summer (2012) internship was clinicals, where we all interned in hospitals. Most of my classmates interned in NC, but I was able to come back up to DC to intern at Washington Hospital Center. I wrote a little about it in this post: First Week at My Hospital Internship!
- My final internship (your third internship in a Masters of Science program is normally a food service rotation, but since I was in a Masters of Public Health Nutrition program, it was different) was in the fall of 2012, and we were able to basically create our own internship. Classmates did a variety of things, interning in hospitals, at public health organizations, food service, etc. I broke mine into three mini-internships and interned with a corporate wellness organization and two private practice dietitians, all here in the DC area. You can read more about my corporate wellness internship in this post. Interning with private practice RDs was really helpful when it came to starting my own practice later!
- I loved UNC and highly recommend it. I really miss Chapel Hill, too – here’s a post all about my time there.
- After I studied for and took the RD exam in February 2013 (more details on how I studied: how to pass the RD exam).
- I started my own nutrition counseling private practice here in the Washington DC area right after I passed the RD exam (www.AnneTheRD.com). If you’re interested in started your own practice, please check out this post: How to Start a Nutrition Counseling Private Practice.
- I counsel clients using an approach called Intuitive Eating, where we work together to improve their relationships with food in a way that has them eating food that makes them feel good, but still allows for indulgence, too. If you’re interested in learning more about intuitive eating, check out this book: Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works.
- Ever since graduating, I have been working for myself full time, doing a combination of nutrition counseling, blogging, and freelance writing and nutrition corporate presentations (I contract with corporate wellness companies to do these). I also taught the Basic Nutrition course to undergraduates at The George Washington University in DC in the spring of 2013, and have also developed a Nutrition for Runners Program with a running coach and a 6 Week Virtual Intuitive and Mindful Eating Program with 2 other RDs who specialize in intuitive eating.
- I either work from home or out of a co-working space, and my days are mostly a mix of computer work (blogging, client research/follow ups, freelance writing, emails) and client meetings (both in person at a coffee shop, and via phone or skype). Want to see what a typical workday is like for me? Here are a bunch of “Day in the Life” blog posts: April 2016, September 2015, February 2015, September 2014.
- I absolutely love what I do, and I don’t regret going back to school at all, even though it was a long process (and created a lot of expensive loans). Follow your dreams – you won’t be sorry!