An online nutrition degree prepares students to work in a variety of fields, including dietetics, fitness and wellness, sports nutrition, and community health. As people pay more attention to their health and wellness, the need for professionals skilled in both food and nutrition, who understand the relationship between diet, health, and disease, should continue to grow.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 15% job growth for dieticians/nutritionists between 2016 and 2026. This projected growth is nearly twice that of the average occupation in the U.S. and reflects an immediate need for professionals who can help individuals and communities better understand what they can do to improve their health, habits, and lifestyle.
The BLS also projects a significant increase in employment for agricultural and food scientists (7% growth), fitness professionals (10% growth), and health educators (16% growth) between 2016 and 2026. Students who earn a nutrition bachelor’s degree online or on campus over the next decade should enter a favorable market.
Students pursuing an online nutrition degree can specialize in one of many areas. Depending their expertise, they can look forward to jobs in education and research, food and nutrition management, public health, or private practice and consulting.
Online Bachelor’s in Nutritional Sciences Degree Ranking Guidelines
We selected the following degree programs based on the program quality and range of courses provided. We also considered school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The Best Online Nutrition Degrees
1. Arizona State University – ASU Online
ASU ranks among the Carnegie Foundation’s
Highest Research Activity public research institutions. The university’s distance learning campus, ASU Online, enrolls more than 30,000 students in over 150 programs, several of them nationally ranked. All are fully online and offer six start dates per year. ASU Online also maintains unique partnerships with edX, offering free online courses and full tuition coverage to eligible employees.
ASU delivers its bachelor of science in nutrition through the College of Health Solutions, a department that produced 247 Barrett Honors scholars in 2016 and whose faculty are involved in cutting-edge research projects including the impact of the environment on food security. The BS in nutrition online curriculum comprises 120 credit hours, or 40 classes. A minimum of 30 must be completed at ASU. Each course takes 7.5 weeks to complete. Students choose from three professional tracks: food and nutrition management, nutrition communication, and food studies. In addition to core areas like health and wellbeing, cultural aspects of health, social statistics, and development of healthy cuisines, students can develop unique specialties, such as persuasion and social influence, under the nutrition communication track.
Distance learners can join ASU Online’s student community Sun Devil Nation, through which they can connect with peers and network with fellow local ASU alums. ASU also emphasizes strong support services for its online students, from tutors to academic success coaches, career services, and study abroad opportunities.
ASU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
2. The University of Alabama
As Alabama’s flagship university and first public college, UA promotes excellence in both on-campus and online education. Scores of nationally recognized faculty have helped develop highly ranked programs, through which many students earn prestigious awards. Many begin their undergraduate journey at Bama by Distance, UA’s online campus.
The school’s bachelor of science in food and nutrition satisfies the requirements needed to become a registered dietitian (RD). The program comprises 120 credit hours of coursework divided by 56 hours in the major, 20 hours of science prerequisites (which must be completed in person, on campus), and 44 hours of general education. Students study the relationship between nutrition and human health through courses such as nutritional biochemistry, medical nutrition therapy, food service management, and the nutrition care process. The program culminates in 160 hours of supervised field experience at a site of the student’s choice.
Distance learning applicants must have a high school GPA of at least 2.5 or a college-level GPA of at least 2.0. Applicants do not need to submit high school transcripts if they have completed at least 24 credit hours of eligible college coursework. UA accepts transfer credit from other regionally accredited schools, and also offers distance learners credit for prior work and/or life experience.
UA is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Its online nutrition degree is one of few distance learning programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
3. Kansas State University
With three locations serving 24,000 students, K-State’s Manhattan campus attracts the most multicultural students and high school graduates in Kansas. The university also highly values ambition and affordability overall; its bachelor’s degree graduates boast a 94% job placement rate, and out-of-state students pay the same tuition as residents.
K-State offers its bachelor of science in nutrition and health through a partnership between the College of Health and Human Sciences and the Global Campus, which has delivered distance education for more than 50 years. The 120-credit degree completion program connects food and nutrition to illness, wellness, and other stages of the life cycle. The curriculum encompasses 58 hours of general courses, including social and natural sciences, communications, humanities, quantitative studies, and one human ecology course, up to 18 hours of unrestricted electives, and 47 hours of major courses. The latter combine food and nutrition with business operations, management, science, and counseling. Additionally, a didactic program in dietetics involves supervised practice experiences that satisfy programmatic accreditation requirements.
Students may transfer credits from another university or community college to meet general requirements. Applicants to the bachelor in nutrition science must have earned at least 30 college credits, in courses such as chemistry, biology, anatomy, and physiology, with at least a 2.0 GPA.
K-State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). Its didactic program in dietetics is granted continuing accreditation by ACEND.
4. University of Arizona
Established in 1885 as a land-grant university, UA ranks among 62 leading-edge national research institutions comprising the Association of American Universities. UA emphasizes experiences beyond the classroom through its
100% Engagement initiative; 100% of its associate and bachelor’s students graduate with proven experience in their major.
One of more than 80 online degrees, the bachelor of science in nutritional science integrates nutrition with medicine, cell biology, biochemistry, and food chemistry. Students can specialize in one of two emphases, in dietetics or nutrition. The program’s dietetics option prepares students to become RDs and the nutrition option enables students to continue on to graduate study in related fields. Unique courses include sports nutrition, combining nutrition and exercise physiology through applied science; diet genes and disease, using diet to prevent disease and improve quality of life; and experiential learning in nutritional sciences, a volunteer opportunity with a class component exploring marketability for future employment.
UA requires students to complete prerequisites—either by transfer or in person — in general chemistry, organic chemistry, general microbiology, and biology of microorganisms. Besides these prerequisites, applicants need only submit an online application and transcripts. A pay-per-credit tuition system makes nutrition one of UA’s most affordable online programs. Flexible start dates allow distance learners to work at their own pace. Most degree seekers complete the program in four years.
UA is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
5. Eastern Michigan University
Located eight miles east of Ann Arbor in Ypsilanti, EMU is among Michigan’s most comprehensive public universities. EMU offers 36 extended programs, including 19 by distance, as part of EMU Online. Online students pay in-state tuition rates regardless of their place of residence, however, only students in SARA member states are eligible to apply.
The dietetics program, in which students complete theory and supervised practice concurrently, can be completed as either a master of science or bachelor of science degree. To apply, students need a cumulative GPA of 2.75 and a prerequisite GPA of at least 3.0. Prerequisites include six pre-application courses: human physiology, microbiology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, careers in nutrition and dietetics, and human nutrition. In the major, students take courses in topics including nutrient metabolism, food and culture, integrative medicine, and development of the entrepreneurial dietitian. Several courses include writing intensives and Learning Beyond the Classroom experiences: for example, the nutrition therapy experience encompasses three phases of medical site-based practice.
The program can be completed entirely online. Distance students can access the same full suite of academic and career advising services as their on-campus counterparts. They can also earn credit for prior experience and transfer credits from other regionally accredited universities. Graduates of the bachelor’s degree in nutrition science and dietetics who have completed at least 124 credits are eligible to sit for the RD exam.
EMU is regionally accredited by the NCA and its coordinated program in dietetics is fully accredited by ACEND.
The Advantages of a Nutritional Sciences Education
Graduates of an associate-level online nutrition degree may qualify for some entry-level positions in traditional healthcare settings. These are often assistant-type roles, such as food science technicians and technologists, nutrition assistants, or research assistants. However, for many jobs in nutrition, applicants need to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science qualifies students for work in various fields and can substantially boost their earning potential. According to a 2017 BLS survey on wages in the U.S., the median weekly pay for bachelor’s degree holders was about 40% higher than associate degree holders. The unemployment rate was also lower for graduates of four-year programs as compared to graduates of associate programs: 2.5% vs. 3.4%.
The same survey found that professionals with a master’s degree earned about 19% more each week than bachelor’s degree holders and 67.5% more than associate degree holders. While a bachelor’s degree in this field qualifies graduates for careers as registered dietitians or nutritionists, some learners go on to earn a master’s or doctorate. Aspiring agricultural and food scientists can also find work with a bachelor’s degree, although many of these workers possess advanced degrees in nutrition, food science, microbiology, or chemistry.
Nutritional Sciences Degree Salary Information
The education and job experiences dietitians and nutritionists receive can also prepare them for careers beyond the confines of nutritional science. The following options represent a few possible career paths available to individuals with a degree in nutritional sciences. Some of these jobs may require a graduate-level degree, although a bachelor’s in nutritional sciences serves as a solid foundation for any career in the field.
A dietitian primarily works in a clinical setting, helping people manage their health and certain medical conditions, like diabetes, through specialized diets. Earning an online nutrition degree at the bachelor’s level serves as the minimum educational requirement to become a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist. Dietitians can also help formulate meal plans for hospitals, clinics, and schools.
Food scientists, along with agricultural scientists, work to maintain and expand the nation’s food supply. They do so by conducting research and development to create new food products and/or improve existing ones. Food scientists assess the nutritional value in foods and develop ways to distribute, process, store, and preserve foodstuffs.
Environmental scientists can work with schools, companies, healthcare organizations, the government, and nonprofits in the design, planning, implementation, and promotion of food programs that center on sustainable food and nutrition. Some environmental scientists hold expertise related to the relationships between food, nutrition, and the environment.
Health educators—who must hold at least a four-year degree, like a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics — promote wellness and help individuals manage existing health conditions and access appropriate health services. A health educator may work with individuals or entire communities, sometimes working with specific populations, such as the elderly, women, or youth.
Nutritional journalists cover the latest trends, updates, and breaking news concerning new diets, research, nutrition, and health and wellness.
Salary by Experience for Nutritional Sciences Careers
|Job Title||5–5 Years||1–10 Years||10–20 Years||20+ Years|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Choosing an Online Nutritional Sciences Degree Program
Prospective students looking into online nutrition degrees should research and compare several schools to ensure they find one that matches their needs and interests. Factors to consider include accreditation status, prerequisites for admission, and any on-campus residency requirements. As nutrition programs expand to fill the talent gap in the workforce, the choices a student has should continue to grow.
Online college programs often have lower overall costs than on-campus programs. Online education eliminates many traditional college costs, such as room and board and transportation. Online learners at some schools also avoid paying out-of-state student fees. However, schools may charge a technology fee specific to online learners.
Many online colleges and universities allow students to transfer in credits toward a degree. The best online nutrition degree for a student might be awarded by a program that allows them to transfer in ample credits, which can help them graduate and enter the workforce quickly. Transfer policies vary by school, but most stipulate that students must have earned prior credit from an accredited institution.
School Size and Type:
When comparing private and public colleges, private schools tend to be smaller, with smaller classes and enrollments sometimes below 1,000 students. As an online learner, smaller class sizes may allow instructors to offer more individualized attention. However, private colleges often cost considerably more than public schools.
Full-time students usually finish all degree requirements for a bachelor’s program in four years. Part-time students generally take 2–3 years longer to graduate. However, transfer credits may considerably reduce the time a student needs to reach the requisite credit total. For example, students who transfer into a program with an associate degree usually only need two more years of full-time study to earn their degrees.
Some online programs require students to visit campus at some point, such as for orientations, lab work, or weekend seminars. However, many students earning online nutrition degrees never need to visit campus. Although aspiring registered dietitians and nutritionists must complete an internship to gain licensure, they can typically carry out this field requirement locally.
Accreditation for Online Nutritional Sciences Degrees
Colleges that hold accreditation have undergone a voluntary review process that ensures a school’s academic quality. Accrediting groups, such as the Higher Learning Commission (a regional accreditor) or the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (a national accreditor), award accreditation to colleges and universities that meet or exceed established quality standards. For students, families, government officials, and future employers, accreditation helps validate the credibility of a school or degree.
Students looking to earn the best online nutrition degree should verify a school’s accreditation status. Two types of institutional accreditation exist in the United States: regional and national. The more recognizable and respected of the two types—regional accreditation — typically applies to nonprofit colleges and universities. National accreditors, on the other hand, generally review for-profit or vocational schools.
The U.S. Department of Education and the nongovernmental Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize accreditors at the regional, national, and programmatic levels. These organizations also maintain databases of accredited postsecondary institutions/programs.
Programmatic accreditation is specific to a school or program within a college or university. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) serves as the primary programmatic accreditor for nutritional sciences. Students interested in pursuing graduate school and/or licensure and certification may be expected to hold an ACEND-accredited degree.
Nutritional Sciences Concentrations
Depending on the program, students may be able to choose a specialization to better match their personal interests and future career goals. For example, learners may decide to become a nutritionist or a dietician. Many states strictly regulate dieticians, so learners pursuing that pathway can expect a more rigorous educational experience.
Dietetics and Nutrition:
In this concentration, students learn the competencies, knowledge, and skills needed to work with clients to adjust or manage diets with the goal of achieving better health. Learners focus on critical thinking and developing their problem-solving skills as they pertain to clinical and community nutrition.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Registered dietitian, registered dietitian nutritionist, food scientist
This online nutrition degree concentration emphasizes the principles of food preparation, nutrition, and management to help prepare students for supervisory roles in schools, hospitals, and food agencies. Food management tracks combine scientific study with business, offering courses like chemistry, bacteriology, economics, statistics, accounting, and labor relations.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Food service administrator, director of food and service
Food Safety and Nutrition:
Students who choose a food safety and nutrition concentration take additional courses in food science, nutrition, and microbiology. Graduates can pursue employment in the food industry or at government agencies, working on projects dedicated to quality assurance, product development, research, and inspection. Topics covered include sensory evaluation; microbial biology; fermentation science; and food safety with regards to production, processing, marketing, preparation, and consumption.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Food safety specialist, food safety/QA manager
This concentration focuses on the regulation of food and dietary supplements and how to apply scientific findings to food production, healthy eating practices, and diverse population management. Students also learn how to apply nutritional principles and alternative practices to nutrition, such as those covered in an online holistic nutrition degree program.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Holistic nutritionist, nutritional counselor, nutritional manager
Nutrition and Fitness:
This concentration combines nutrition coursework with exercise science. Students interested in the physiological sciences who aspire to work with clients in sports, wellness, and corporate health often pursue this specialization. Courses include kinesiology, physiology of exercise, human anatomy, and sports nutrition.
- Careers this concentration prepares for: Sports nutritionist, health and wellness director
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Nutritional Sciences?
Students pursuing an accredited online nutrition degree at the bachelor’s level typically need to take about 120 credits. Full-time learners usually complete all requirements within four years, although part-time students may take a few years longer to graduate. However, with transfer credits and self-paced learning, students can sometimes move through a program at a faster pace.
Many online programs allow for asynchronous participation, meaning students can log in to complete coursework at their convenience. This flexibility may enable students to take on greater course loads and expedite graduation.
Additionally, in cohort learning, students progress through course materials at the same pace as a group of their peers. While many benefits can be found in cohort learning, such as greater peer support and more collaborative opportunities, the degree completion timeline is rigid and may be longer.
Courses in an Online Bachelor’s in Nutritional Sciences Program
Dieticians and nutritionists hold similar educational backgrounds. Both begin their online nutrition degree education by taking foundational courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. From there, they move on to other topics, such as nutrient metabolism and the effects of social science on nutrition.
Additionally, many bachelor’s in nutrition science programs require students to complete an internship. As an example, many large food companies offer summer internships to nutritional science students. These internships take place on site, so it’s important to research each internship location to ensure a reasonable commute. Students who perform well during their internship may receive a job offer or letters of recommendation that will help with future job searches.
Aging and Nutrition
This course teaches students how to address the health needs of older adults. Learners explore the life cycle of getting older and the impact nutrition can have on longevity, wellness, and disease. Topics include public health, nutritional intervention, preventative healthcare, and risks of chronic disease.
Principles of Foods
Students learn about the principles of food science with an emphasis on food selection and food preparation techniques. This course addresses the functions and interaction of different ingredients. Topics may include the chemistry of food preparation, sensory evaluation standards, nutritional values, and food safety.
Students in this course develop an understanding of microorganisms and their relationships to humans and health. Coursework explores both the beneficial and harmful effects of microorganisms, along with how cells derive their energy from carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. Specific topics include microbial cells, pathologies, cellular nutrition, and growth.
Learners pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics online study the principles of human nutrition, including the physiological requirements of proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins. This course examines the role of nutrition in human growth and health as well as the role that diets play in the development of chronic disease.
This nutritional sciences course examines the scientific method and its application in nutrition-based research. Students learn about quantitative and qualitative approaches. Example topics include responsible research; evidence-based practice; food production and dissemination; and population research concerning diet and chronic diseases, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
Nutritional Sciences Membership Associations
Networking opportunities represent the most cited benefit of joining a professional association; however, these organizations offer much more than new contacts. Professional organizations help promote a field and the professionals in it, advancing the profession’s visibility, cause, and mission. By joining a professional organization, members gain access to information, advice, and career services; resources to increase the impact of their work; and the latest on research, trends, and policy.
American College of Nutrition:
Established in 1959, ACN works to advance nutrition science to better prevent and treat disease. Members include clinicians, students, researchers and academicians, and international nutrition professionals. Benefits include publishing opportunities, award eligibility, and a discount to an annual conference.
Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior:
SNEB represents the interests of nutrition educators from around the world through research, policy, and practice. The organization promotes effective nutrition education and better health outcomes. Members enjoy access to public policy updates, networking opportunities, professional development, and continuing education.
National Association for Nutrition Professionals:
Founded in 1985, NANP serves as a professional business league representing the cause of the holistic nutrition industry. This organization developed education standards for nutritional consultants and natural chefs. NANP member benefits include a members directory, career center, certifications, and discounts for an annual conference.
American Society for Nutrition:
ASN was formed in 2005 by the merger of three member organizations: the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, and the Society for International Nutrition. The society’s mission involves fostering and enhancing nutrition-related research for humans and animals.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
Founded in 1917 with the singular goal of helping the U.S. government conserve food and improve public health and nutrition during WWI, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics serves more than 100,000 credentialed members in the food and nutrition industry. The organization works to advance the profession through research, education, and advocacy.