Nutritionists help people lead healthier lives by providing expert advice on eating well and making positive lifestyle choices. Practitioners may find the field to be rewarding because they can make an impact on a client’s life.
But with an overwhelming number of schooling options, from graduate programs to online certificates and courses, it may be hard to choose a path into the field. In this guide, we share information about online nutrition courses and certificate programs, the pros and cons of both, and some general insights into the field so you can decide whether you’d like to pursue nutrition education.
Online Nutrition Courses from Accredited Schools
If you’re considering a career in nutrition, completing a course or certificate may be one way to decide if it’s a good fit for you. A number of schools offer online nutrition certificate programs that may allow you to complete courses from home while also maintaining a full-time work schedule. If you’re only interested in taking a single course, there are options for this, as well.
Check out this collection of some online programs and courses from accredited schools:
University Name: Cornell University
Name of Course: Nutrition and Healthy Living Certificate from Cornell University
Length: 6 months
Pre-requisites: High school biology recommended
Course Description: The online Nutrition and Healthy Living Certificate from Cornell University consists of six courses, all of which are entirely online and instructor-led. In the program, students learn about diet, healthy cooking, exercise, chronic disease, and the environmental factors that impact our health.
University Name: Colorado State University
Name of Course: Graduate Certificate in Nutrition Science from Colorado State University
Length: 3 semesters
Pre-requisites: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited school
Course Description: This three-course online program can serve as continuing education credits for current health care professionals. It provides a foundation in advanced nutrition to all students. The program focuses on health promotion and chronic disease, empowering students to make informed decisions about nutrition.
University Name: Harvard University
Name of Course: Online Nutrition & Wellness Courses from Harvard University
Length: 2 to 13 weeks
Course Description: Harvard University offers a range of short-term courses on nutrition and wellness, catered toward the general public and health care professionals. Some examples are the 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating course, the Lifestyle Medicine: Nutrition and the Metabolic Syndrome course, and the Culinary Health Education Fundamentals (CHEF) Coaching—The Basics course.
University Name: San Diego State University
Name of Course: Nutrition for Optimal Health and Wellness Certificate from San Diego State University
Length: 4 to 5 months
Pre-requisites: Not specified
Course Description: This program is intended for personal trainers and fitness instructors who are hoping to learn more about nutrition’s role in athletic performance and sports. Its three courses cover topics like supplements, meal plan analysis, and public health and wellness.
University Name: Stanford Center for Health Education – Sponsored Short Course
Name of Course: Nutrition Science Online Short Course from the Stanford Center for Health Education
Length: 8 weeks
Course Description: Recognize the value of nutrition in human health in the Stanford (SCHE) Nutrition Course with expert nutrition guidance and insight from Prof. Christopher Gardner.
University Name: Tufts University
Name of Course: Nutrition Science for Health Professionals from Tufts University
Length: 1 to 3 years
Pre-requisites: Online application, including an academic transcript, current resume, and personal statement
Course Description: This certificate program, requiring completion of three courses, provides health professionals with an understanding of nutrition to inform disease prevention and treatments for patients. In addition to this online program, Tufts University offers other online graduate programs and certificates in nutrition, including Nutrition Science for Communications Professionals, Developing Healthy Communities, and Nutrition for Industry Professionals and Entrepreneurs.
University Name: University of Cincinnati
Name of Course: Human Nutrition: Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate from the University of Cincinnati
Length: 1 year
Pre-requisites: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and a minimum 3.0 GPA; one year of biochemistry, one year of anatomy and physiology, one year of chemistry, and one course on introductory nutrition
Course Description: This online certificate is designed specifically for health care professionals seeking an advanced understanding of nutrition and metabolism. Students are encouraged to maintain their full employment while pursuing the certificate, and do not have to be enrolled in a graduate program to participate.
University Name: University of Kentucky
Name of Course: Online Graduate Certificate in Applied Nutrition & Culinary Medicine from the University of Kentucky
Length: Not specified
Pre-requisites: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited school; completion of at least two courses in basic nutrition, biochemistry, biology, or physiology
Course Description: Intended for health care professionals, the University of Kentucky’s online certificate in nutrition can be completed at any pace and spans nutritional strategies and culinary preparation.
University Name: University of Maine
Name of Course: Graduate Certificate in Human Nutrition from the University of Maine
Length: Not specified
Pre-requisites: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and a minimum 3.0 GPA; one year of chemistry, one semester of biology, one semester of anatomy and physiology, and one introductory nutrition course
Course Description: The entirely online human nutrition certificate from the University of Maine exposes students to topics ranging from evidence-based nutrition strategies to alternative medicines like homeopathy and dietary supplements.
University Name: University of North Dakota
Name of Course: Fundamentals of Nutrition Online Course from the University of North Dakota
Length: 3 to 9 months
Course Description: You can complete this online course from the University of North Dakota at your own pace, taking as long as nine months, if necessary. It covers basic nutrition topics, including weight management, food nutrients, and physical fitness.
What is a Nutrition Course?
Generally, a nutrition course is much shorter than a certificate or degree program in nutrition. They may last for a week or two, or as long as several months. There are health care certificate courses that are available to both the general public and working health care professionals like doctors, pharmacists, and nurses with nursing degrees who are trying to acquire more knowledge about nutrition to better help their patients or complete continuing education hours.
In some cases, universities may offer certificates of completion for the nutrition course. This may be helpful for personal trainers, wellness coaches, or health care professionals hoping to differentiate themselves in a competitive industry and demonstrate their dedication to the field.
What to Expect from a Nutrition Course?
No two courses are the same. Each school designs its nutrition course with a specific audience and specific learning outcomes in mind. Depending on the coursework, an online nutrition course may introduce you to the metabolic and chemical side of nutrition, or macro-level aspects like creating a diet plan and exercising. Some courses heavily involve the medical side of nutrition, while others focus more on theories that guide public health policy decisions in the field, preparing candidates to analyze nutrition-related research and claims
Every class is different, so be sure to read course descriptions to get a sense of what you can expect to learn. Regardless of the course you choose, after completing it, you should have a better understanding of the basic science behind nutrition.
Should I Consider an Online Nutrition Course?
From personal gratification and goals to earning potential, there are several reasons why someone might enroll in an online nutrition course. Ultimately, only you can decide whether completing a nutrition course will benefit you.
In order to practice, nutritionists and dietitians typically need a bachelor’s degree, supervised internship experience, and licensure. If you’re serious about following this career path, then completing a bachelor’s or graduate degree may allow you to kickstart a career in the field.
You may choose to work in a hospital, where you’ll make nutritional plans for patients and advise them on eating plans. Or, you might prefer to work in a residential care facility, public health clinic, government agency, nonprofit, or school. In any one of these settings, you may end up working with patients to help them tackle digestive disorders or obesity and obesity-related conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
However, if you’re unsure whether you’d like to commit to a full degree program yet, an online course may give you a snapshot of the topics you would learn in a bachelor’s or graduate program. Alternatively, if you’re a professional who could benefit from acquiring more knowledge about nutrition—like a nurse or physician—an online course may help you make informed decisions and offer better guidance to your patients.
Those interested in becoming a full-time nutritionist may be wondering about job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment of nutritionists and dietitians will grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the national average. When it comes to pay, those figures vary by location, employer and work setting, among other factors. The BLS however found that nutritionists earned a median salary of $61,270 in 2019. The highest 10% earned more than $87,360.
What Can You Do with a Nutrition Certificate?
Workplace settings for nutritionists are wide-ranging, with some professionals working for food or pharmaceutical companies. Others may even run a private practice. Online nutrition courses may be catered to professionals with a particular background. Whether you’re a health practitioner or a journalist who could benefit from an introduction to the field, you may find a course that fits your needs.
Online nutrition certificates may also come in handy if you’re planning on launching a career as a personal trainer or fitness instructor. In this case, it may help to prepare you to offer credible advice to your clients when it comes to diets that optimize their athletic performance. Be sure to check professional requirements and standards in the field to determine the right level of education for your career.
Keep in mind that while certificates might be a positive addition to your resume, you still need a license to practice in many states. Licensure requirements vary by state, and so does scope of practice. Some nutritionists pursue the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential, which involves obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree and 1,000 hours of supervised practice. Administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, the CNS credential is accepted in a number of states for licensure purposes.
Similarly, those entering the field may choose to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential. According to the BLS, the RDN credential is not always required, but “the qualifications are often the same as those necessary for becoming a licensed dietitian in states that require a license,” and certain employers may look out for it. The Commission on Dietetic Registration administers this credential, which requires candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree.
From performing patient assessments and prescribing nutrition plans to overseeing procedures and outcomes, you may find that working as a licensed nutritionist may be a rewarding career for you. There are also alternative jobs, like corporate nutritional consultant and culinary specialist that may allow you to put the knowledge gained from your course or certificate program to use.
Still wondering whether an online certificate or course in nutrition is right for you? We’ve answered a few common questions about the nutrition field to help you make an informed decision about this career path.
Is a certificate in nutrition worth it?
A nutrition certificate may be worthwhile if it’s issued from an accredited institution, which may help to ensure that employers and other universities or colleges will recognize the accomplishment. A certificate may help you develop a niche in nutrition within your current profession, whether it’s in or out of the health care sector. Depending on the program, it may also be possible to transfer the credits earned through the certificate toward a graduate program. At the end of the day, be sure to pick a certificate or course that aligns with your personal goals and needs.
How do I become a certified holistic nutritionist?
Holistic nutritionists integrate the various aspects of health—including emotional health, diet, and physical health—into one practice. To become Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN), you will need to complete an approved program in holistic nutrition, finish 500 hours of professional experience in the field, and pass an exam administered by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
What is the difference between a nutrition degree vs certificate?
Earning a nutrition degree may prepare you for a career as a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) or a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN), provided you complete the required internship hours and pass the corresponding exams. On the other hand, some credentials can be obtained with just a high school diploma. In some states, you need a license and degree to practice as a nutritionist, so check with your state to determine the necessary education requirements. Also remember that full degree programs typically last longer than standalone courses or certificate programs.
What is the difference between a nutritionist vs dietician?
Nutritionists and dieticians both study similar concepts—in particular, the ways nutrients impact our bodies—but the two professions are different. Registered dietitians typically pursue an intensive professional program in school that prepares them to become licensed. While dieticians have to complete an accredited dietician program and their practice is governed by the law, nutritionists’ training can vary widely, and only some nutritionists are registered.
Information on this page was last retrieved in October 2020.