Passionate about learning? Want to be on the cutting edge of new discoveries? Then graduate school is perfect for you. Typically a graduate nutrition program prepares you for high-level research, analysis, or communications in the nutrition field.
Of course, grad school offers many advantages beyond what you get as an undergraduate.
First, you get the time to explore a particular area of interest in depth. You even get to participate in ongoing research in that area.
Learning how to plan and carry out research projects is particularly exciting for most incoming grad students. As is learning how to analyze and summarize research findings for publication in scientific journals.
In addition, most masters and PhD students get the chance to develop their lecture and teaching skills, important if you decide to go into academics as a career.
Finally, because you’re surrounded by other students – as well as faculty mentors – who are also deeply interested in your area of study, the opportunity for camaraderie and mentorship is unique.
Of course – just like with undergraduate nutrition study – time and money are huge barriers for many people.
A masters degree usually takes 2-3 years; a PhD 4-6 years. Add in an undergrad degree, and some nutrition students spend between 7 and 11 years completing their education.
At an average cost of $20,000-$25,000 per year for tuition and expenses, the academic route can get pretty costly.
Nevertheless, if you decide this is the route for you, there are a many excellent graduate options. But, again, how do you choose?
Most experts suggest – when choosing a graduate program – that you pick the advisor, not the school. In other words, figure out whose research interests align most closely with your own. And start there.
You can do this by surveying Pubmed for the topics you’re most interested in. What you’ll find is that a handful of specific researchers are doing the work you like reading most.
Next, find out which universities they’re affiliated with and contact them. Ask what they’re working on now. Ask about the university, about the program. Find out if it sounds like the right fit for you.
Note: Just because a professor is well published doesn’t mean they’ll make a good mentor. So talk with current and former students. Ask them about their experiences.
Grad school is a big investment. So make sure you know what you’re getting into.
To help provide you with a list of the best nutrition graduate programs, again, we surveyed dozens of experts in the field and asked them specifically. We curated their recommendations and arrived at the following list.
Top Nutrition Graduate Programs in North America
Boston University offers several options for highly motivated students interested in nutrition. First, its Department of Medicine is home to Master’s and PhD programs in Nutrition and Metabolism. Small classes and diverse faculty provide specialized knowledge to prepare students for wide-ranging careers in basic and translational nutrition research. Meanwhile, the College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences offers multiple streams: a Master’s of Science in Nutrition; a combined Master’s/ didactic dietetics degrees; and PhD degrees in Human Physiology. Practicum experiences range from an eating disorders clinic to a private practice focused on nutrition for athletes. And if your undergraduate degree is in a different field than nutrition, you may still qualify for a special stream of BU’s dietetics program.
At Colorado State you can pursue one of several tracks of study, all leading to a Master’s of Science of PhD in Food Science and Nutrition. For example, you might focus on Nutritional Science (laboratory-based research that could involve human samples, animals or cell lines), Community Nutrition, Nutrition and Exercise Science (a program that emphasizes activity and chronic disease risk rather than sports nutrition), or Food Science (functional foods for health, food safety, fermentation science). In addition, Colorado offers a special Peace Corps Master’s International program in nutrition, which involves a 27-month internship doing field work in another country.
Cornell houses the largest academic unit in the U.S. devoted to the study of human nutrition and, as a result, the school provides exceptional opportunities for multidisciplinary research. With program streams in molecular nutrition, human nutrition, community nutrition, and international nutrition, there is something for just about everyone. It is also possible to enroll for a combined PhD/ RD degree at Cornell
Harvard’s reputation speaks for itself. But its Department of Nutrition (housed in the School of Public Health) does not rest on its laurels, instead providing training in areas that extend from molecular biology to human epidemiology, with three tracks available for study: Nutritional Biochemistry, Nutritional Epidemiology/International Health, and Public Health Nutrition. Multidisciplinary approaches are encouraged. Currently, some of the world’s largest detailed studies of the relationships between various dietary factors and major diseases are ongoing under the direction of Harvard faculty, and already many important findings have emerged.
With a focus on public health, Johns Hopkins holds a deserved worldwide reputation as a leader in both domestic and international nutrition issues. Its fifteen full-time faculty and more than 50 affiliates conduct studies both locally and across the globe in areas such as obesity, food policy, evaluating the benefits of nutritional interventions with high-risk populations, and the role of micronutrient supplements in maternal and infant health. Faculty collaborate with nutrition institutions in at least twenty different countries.
The oldest teaching and research institution in human nutrition in Canada, McGill focuses on food safety and security, and in global health and international nutrition. Both applied and theoretical Master’s degrees are available, as well as a highly respected PhD program. Faculty research interests include nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics, biodiversity and dietary diversification, the health consequences of poor nutrition in high-risk populations, maternal and infant health, oxidative stress and inflammation, and more.
The Interdepartmental Nutrition Program at Purdue offers training in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition, Human and Clinical Nutrition, Animal Health, Growth, and Development, and Public Health and Education. The INP has faculty with expertise in food toxicology, sensory evaluation, product formulation, botanicals, and consumer behavior. In addition, students interested in food processing and food technology can take courses through the School of Food Sciences. Purdue’s graduate dual-title PhD in Gerontology offers a unique and valuable opportunity to study the role of nutrition in the health of aging populations.
With a highly diverse student body, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tuft’s offers advanced degrees in at least seven areas of specialization and runs a noted child obesity project. The school’s master’s degree programs in Humanitarian Assistance, Nutrition Communication, and Agriculture, Food and the Environment are unique in that U.S. Field-based research occurs across the globe, from Afghanistan to Uganda. The Friedman School also offers one of the only “blended learning” masters degrees in nutrition in the United States. Students can attend the Friedman School without disrupting career and family obligations through the Master of Nutrition Science and Policy degree program which combines online instruction with short, intensive residencies at the Boston campus.
UConn’s Nutritional Sciences Department offers degrees in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition, Human Nutrition and Metabolism, and Community Nutrition. Opportunities for interdisciplinary research and study exist with other departments and university units, including the University of Connecticut Health Center, the Department of Sports, Leisure, and Exercise Sciences, the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, and more. Obesity research is a special focus, with faculty members exploring the role of nutrition in obesity from a variety of distinct perspectives.
The Division of Nutritional Sciences at Illinois Urbana-Champaign holds a deserved reputation as a leader in research and graduate training. It offers an interdisciplinary program for graduate education in nutrition with extensive research opportunities that span the spectrum of nutritional sciences from the level of the genome and proteome to clinical and population-based studies. Students can design their own interdisciplinary programs based on their particular interests. Research strengths include molecular and biochemical nutrition, community nutrition, nutrition education, and consumer acceptance, and food safety and toxicology.
Other Interesting Programs with a Holistic Nutrition Focus
Our panel of experts also identified the following graduate programs as being unique for their holistic and functional nutrition focus.
Bastyr is a nonprofit, private university offering graduate and undergraduate degrees, with a multidisciplinary curriculum in science-based natural medicine. Concentrations are available in nutrition and exercise science, nutrition for wellness, and dietetics. Bastyr is accredited by the American Dietetic Society. Campuses are located in Washington State and California.
The Masters of Science in Applied Clinical Nutrition is a 2 year, 36 credit online program focusing on the role of nutrition in disease prevention and management. The program emphasizes an integrative approach to healthcare. A regionally accredited master’s program, it prepares students to sit for several national accreditation examinations.
The University of Bridgeport (MS in Nutrition)
The University of Bridgeport is a private, four-year institution. Its Masters in Nutrition is distinguished by an emphasis on functional medicine (that is, on determining and addressing the underlying causes of disease) and on preventative health. Applicants are often medical professionals seeking to upgrade their knowledge in the field. Students must hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA to qualify for admission. Online and weekend learning options are available.
Note: Several schools listed in the last section offer highly respected nutrition graduate programs alongside their undergraduate offerings. So, in this section we’re just listing the other advanced study options that were recommended.