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How to Become a Dietitian: Requirements, Costs, & Challenges

Are you interested in a career in food, dietetics, and nutrition? You’re not the only one.

Becoming a licensed dietitian is a challenging endeavor. You may need several years of study.

However, it’s a rewarding job because you can advocate for public health while earning a high salary.

If this sounds good and you want to learn how to become a dietitian, then you’ve found the right guide.

Today, we discuss the requirements, costs, challenges, and steps to become a dietitian nutritionist!

An Overview of Dietitians: A Primer

Dietetics is a job that people overlook. There are misconceptions that it only involves cooking food. Of course, this isn’t the case.

Dietitians, like nutritionists, create food service and nutrition plans. Yet, a dietitian is a step above a nutritionist because of the harder qualifications for licensure.

Licensed dietitians are people recognized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You need their certification to practice clinical nutrition.

Dietitian Duties

Dietitians practice health science by assessing their client’s needs. They develop a meal program for those needs.

Their duties include treating autoimmune diseases, heart diseases, diabetes, kidney diseases, and obesity.

Clinical dietetics involves medical nutrition therapy. This is the nutrition-based treatment conducted by a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Dietitian Workplaces

As a dietitian, you can work in hospitals, elderly care facilities, or clinics. Cafeterias, schools, and government facilities need dietitians.

You may also practice from your home and provide meal plans for your clients online! Many self-employed dietitians become consultants for organizations as a side gig.

How Much Do Dietitians Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average salary for a dietitian nutritionist is $29.64 per hour. It’s equivalent to $61,650 per year.

To give you perspective, the top 25% make $77,430 each year, while the lowest-paid individuals earn $49,490 annually. Dietitians in California can make up to $103,240 per year!

This job is so sought-after that the US News and World Report says that the unemployment rate for dietitians is only 1.6%

Because of the demand for the food and healthcare industry, the growth outlook for dietitians is 7% by 2031.

Young female dietitian typing in laptop keyboard in her clinic

What You’ll Need to Become a Dietitian [& Associated Costs]

These are the associated costs of becoming a registered dietitian.

  • Bachelor’s Degree: The price of a bachelor’s degree varies. Brigham Young University in Utah and Florida State University offer a dietetics program for $6,000. Yet, most tuition fees cost $25,000 to $40,000. You should check for colleges within your state to get a discount.
  • Master’s Degree: Getting a master’s degree in dietetics can set you back $13,000 to $36,000 in total tuition. This is good for 30 credits, or 2 ½ years of study.
  • Registration Exam: Taking the exam from the CDR is a requirement for dietitians. The fee for taking this exam is $200. You have the option to buy review materials for it for $75 to $385.
  • CDR Registration Maintenance: After passing the Commission on Dietetic Registration Exam, you need to pay $70 per year. This will let you maintain your credentials.
  • Licensure Fees: The license fees are different per state. In Delaware, it costs $233 to apply. In Washington, you only need to pay $81 to get your license, and $61 to renew it. You should check your state’s website to see the actual costs!
  • Continuing Education: You never stop learning as a dietitian. This means you need to take refresher courses and seminars throughout your career. You can attend one for anywhere between $40 to $1,300.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Dietitian?

Because it’s involved with human sciences, most of the cost of dietetics goes toward education. The total cost may start at $20,000.

If you take a more expensive didactic program, it could set you back close to $78,000!

Is It Hard to Become a Dietitian?

It’s not difficult to become a dietitian as long as you’re prepared for the investment in time and resources. The passing rate for the CDR exam is 88.77%, which means the majority can do it!

Some of the challenges are dietetic registration and supervised practice. Starting in January 2024, having a master’s degree will become a requirement for the RDN exam.

Once you get through the hardships, you’ll get rewarded with high pay and work flexibility. It’s among the best second jobs for a reason!

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dietitian?

Becoming a registered dietitian can take 4-8 years in 2023. It includes studying a dietetics program in college and completing a dietetic internship.

Note that in 2024 it will take people at least 6 years to become a dietitian. The Commission on Dietetic Registration says dietitians have to finish a graduate degree. Only then can they qualify for licensure exams.

It seems long, but studying nutrition is still one of the fastest routes to joining the healthcare industry. In comparison, doctors need 10 to 14 years of study!

How to Become a Dietitian in 6 Simple Steps

Do you want to become a registered dietitian to treat people with nutrition and food service? Here’s how you can practice one of the best gig jobs:

Step 1. Complete Your Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree

image from within how to become a dietician post on gigworker.com

Dietetics is a food science that requires plenty of study. Most universities require a GPA of 3.0 before you can enroll.

Typical courses the program covers are nutrition, microbiology, chemistry, and food service management. You’ll also learn about food systems, human physiology, immunology, and biomolecular science.

Ensure you enroll in a recognized school by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. Only graduates from ACEND-accredited schools can take the licensure exam!

Step 2. Finish Your Supervised Practice Dietetic Internship

It’s necessary to complete a dietetic internship program before you can apply for the CDR exam. This supervised practice program needs accreditation from ACEND.

The internship period lasts 6-12 months. You may seek training from food service corporations and healthcare facilities. Working at night is possible for your internship.

The California Department of State Hospitals has a combined internship and master’s program.

Another great place to complete your training is at the National Institutes of Health. It offers 1,200 hours of supervised practice.

Step 3. Take the Commission on Dietetic Registration Exam

You get your CDR examination eligibility after you complete the internship. This is a credentialing exam that’s required for all dietitians.

The exam coverage includes nutrition care and dietetics principles. Food service systems and the management of food programs are part of it.

A great tip is to buy the latest online study guide from the CDR
Once you pass this exam, you officially gain your RD credential!

Step 4. Apply for State Licensing

To complete your dietetic registration, you may apply for a license from your state. Note that this isn’t a requirement for all places.

According to the CDR, California, Colorado, and New York don’t practice exclusivity. It means you can still work in nutrition as long as you have your RD credential.

The states who do require licensure will ask for a copy of your CDR exam.

Step 5. Maintain Your Credentials With Continuing Education

Becoming a dietitian requires a commitment to lifelong learning. You need to practice attending extra classes because of it.

Every 5 years, you must submit evidence that you’ve attended 75 hours of a continuing education program! Training should be CDR-accredited, of course.

Some states ask for additional courses on top of this. For example, in Texas, you need 12 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

To help organize training, it’s common for dietitians to create a learning plan for their next dietetic registration renewal.

You can choose classes from the American Nutrition Association to start.

Step 6. Become a Board Certified Specialist

After the training you have to attend, is it still worth learning a specialty? Well, yes. With a specialization, you can assure your patients you have enhanced knowledge.

You can establish yourself as a leader in the industry, get higher compensation, and become more satisfied.

Some advanced dietetics programs include renal, sports, pediatric, and oncology nutrition. You may also practice critical care nutrition and specialized obesity management.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Dietitian

A cheerful female Dietitian doctor talking with her patient in a clinic

Why should you find work in human nutrition? Here are some of the perks of becoming a dietitian:

  • Great Work-Life Balance: The US News and World Report say that dietitians feel the flexibility of their work is above average. It’s ranked number 76 in the top 100 best jobs list.
  • Many Job Options Available: There are plenty of job opportunities for dietitians in the United States. Whether you want to work full-time, or sideline as a consultant, there’ll be a position available for you.
  • High Compensation: Working in dietetics means that you’ll receive a higher salary than the median American income.
  • It’s a Rewarding Career: dietitians use food to advocate for public health. Their nutritional services help people make better habits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the questions we often get asked about becoming a dietitian.

What Degree Is Best for Dietitians?

It’s best to get a bachelor’s degree in nutrition in college. This is the most basic nutrition education program. Yet, passing it will allow you to apply for many specializations.
Some of the best master’s degree options are clinical nutrition, food security, and food science!

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dietitian?

It takes 4 to 8 years to finish a dietetics program and internship to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.

For people who don’t want to fully commit, a dietetic technician associate degree will only take 2 years. You can work part-time to assist registered dietitians and still earn a decent salary.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Not sure if working in food, dietetics, and nutrition is right for you? Here are other side gigs to consider!

Wrapping Up

Learning how to become a dietitian is full of challenges. You have to finish a master’s degree and get credentials.

Yet, once you get through the hardship, you’re rewarded with flexible work options and high pay. This makes dietetics a fulfilling job option.

Did you find our guide useful? Don’t forget to share it with your friends and let us know what you think in the comments section below!

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