How To Become A Nutritionist Without A Degree

Many people seeking a career in dietetics might wonder how to become a nutritionist without a degree and if it’s even possible. While not having a degree does limit your ability to fill this role, it is technically possible to land certain jobs without a formal higher education. The real question is whether it's worth it – and we'll try to answer the mystery here.

Why Most Nutritionists Need Degrees

First up, the tough news: Most nutrition career paths involve higher educational requirements. In other words, if you're looking to get a job, build a career, and help clients through nutritional therapy or counseling, you'll need to attend – and complete – a college-level program. Unless you are a self-proclaimed health nut on social media that calls themselves nutritionist – you’re going to need more training. 

The reason is that almost all formal credential programs require you to have a degree. For instance, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN) credential requires at least a bachelor's degree to get the ball rolling. You'll also have to do a didactic internship under the supervision of a licensed practitioner.

Another alternative credential, the American Nutrition Association's Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), is even more demanding. For that, you'll have to earn a graduate degree just to get your foot in the door.

These credentials are some of the most common, which is why it's arguable that nutritionists need a college education to succeed – after all, 65 percent of nutritionists have bachelor's degrees, and 14 percent have a master's degree. But that doesn't mean there aren't alternate paths to working in nutrition science or dietetics.

How to Work in Nutrition Without a Degree

As we mentioned above, you absolutely need a degree if you want to advertise your services as an RD/RDN or CNS – no bones about it. You might find some leeway, however, by becoming a specialist who technically isn't a nutritionist.

Find a State Where You Don't Need a Degree to Practice Nutrition

One of the easiest ways to get into the field without higher education credentials is to simply be choosy about where you work. Even though bodies like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Nutrition Association maintain strict standards on who is and who isn't a nutritionist, the formal legal framework is a bit patchier – at least in the US.

You might be surprised to learn that in many states, there's no law forbidding people from performing nutrition counseling on their own. Interestingly, several places only have restrictions on reimbursement – meaning that anyone can provide nutrition counseling services, but only RDs can get reimbursed by government healthcare systems.

What about states that require credentials? It depends – For instance, your state may mandate licensure but maintain alternative programs if you don't want to become an RD specifically.

It's worth mentioning that being able to practice without a license doesn't mean the road ahead will be easy, even though states that allow it, such as California, New York, and Texas, lead the pack in terms of employment opportunities with 7690, 4,880, and 4,460 estimated jobs respectively. For instance, you're way less likely to find an insurance company willing to reimburse its policyholders for your services if you're not at least an RD, which can make it quite hard to drum up a sustainable business. While the initial barriers to entry are lower for non-degree-requiring career paths, you also must consider the long-term outlook.

Find A Related Dietetic Role

One way to work in nutrition without getting a degree is to try finding an adjacent role. Medical nutrition therapy isn't the only viable path to working in clinical nutrition – from sports nutrition to administrative jobs, there are plenty of alternatives.

For instance, nutritionists commonly work in hospitals and health systems to devise patient menus that promote healthy eating habits. If you like cooking and have a knack for food science, then working as a food services professional in one of these settings might be a good start. It's not a nutritionist job per se, but it could help you get a feel for what the work entails and explore whether it's something you'll want to invest your time in pursuing later. This could help you determine whether specializations like weight loss nutrition are for you.

Get An Alternate Degree

OK, so this path technically still requires higher education, but it's important to emphasize that nutritionists don't all come from the same backgrounds. In other words, if you've already got a degree in biology, life sciences, public health, or some related field, you don't necessarily have to run out and get another university degree in nutrition. Depending on what you've already studied, you could be eligible, so check the rules for your preferred qualification track to see what you can do with what you've already accomplished.

This advice also goes for people who've satisfied the requirements to become nutritionists in other countries. While you'll most likely still need to go through some form of higher education in most places, different nations have their own standards governing who can work as a nutrition specialist.

Final Thoughts

Make no mistake: Becoming a nutritionist typically requires a bachelor's degree, master's degree, or doctoral degree – but this is still a flexible career path. Don't discount the value of following your dreams and studying what you're truly passionate about, as doing so might just open new doors you hadn't considered.

Curious about successful nutritionists and where to find them? Check out Top Nutrition Coaching!

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