If you want a high-level career in the field of nutrition – or you want to provide medical nutrition therapy – you’ll need at least one university nutrition degree. And probably advanced / graduate level nutrition study.
What advantages does a university education offer?
Well, first, you’ll be exposed to a wide range of topics that you probably wouldn’t have considered on your own. For example, dietetics degree programs usually include courses in chemistry, biology, business, statistics, ecology, sociology, food management, and more.
Frankly, some of these courses can seem boring while you’re in the middle of them. However, the broad perspective usually proves valuable when you’re out of school and working in the field.
Beyond the classroom work, you’ll end up doing a dietetic internship in food service, medical support, etc. So you’ll get more real-world career experience while still in school, which is a nice bonus.
Even more, many nutrition degree programs can give you early exposure to research methods, analysis, and interpretation. This is incredibly valuable in the ever-changing field of nutrition.
There are disadvantages, though. The main ones? Time and money.
A typical nutrition degree program can cost as much as $100,000 USD in tuition and living expenses. Plus, it can take as many as 5 years to complete your coursework, internships, and RD exams.
If you’re prepared to accept the pros and the cons, your next step is picking the right program.
Most experts suggest – when it comes to choosing an undergraduate program – that the school’s reputation is the most important thing.
In other words, assuming you have a choice, it’s better to go to Big Name School than to Unknown Tiny School. That’s because bigger name schools usually, but not always, offer more resources and more exposure to research.
So, which nutrition programs really shine in this area?
We surveyed dozens of experts in the field and asked them specifically. In the end, they recommended more than 40 fantastic nutrition degree programs in North America alone.
(Of course, there are plenty of top nutrition schools in the English-speaking world. However, they’re beyond the scope of this review.)
From our experts’ recommendations, we looked for the nutrition degree programs most often mentioned. And came up with this curated, alphabetized list.
Top Undergraduate Nutrition Programs in North America
Baylor University offers an excellent program in dietetics out of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. The program runs an innovative peer nutrition educator program, whereby students help other students learn to eat in healthier ways. One residence hall is reserved especially for those students with a special interest in health care, including nutrition majors. And many opportunities for out-of-classroom learning are available.
Florida seems especially blessed with excellent nutrition programs; our panel of experts named at least six schools located in that state as highly worthy of consideration. But Florida State deserves special notice for its sports nutrition program. The Department of Food, Nutrition, and Exercise Science offers BSc degrees in Exercise Science, Athletic Training, and Food and Nutrition Sciences. There are two majors under Food and Nutrition Sciences: Dietetics and Food and Nutrition Science. Field experience is available to students in every stream.
McMaster’s programs are world-renowned for their emphasis on experiential learning. The university offers undergraduate degrees in both Kinesiology and Life Sciences with a strong nutritional component. Modern, well-equipped labs, access to a range of field courses offered both locally and at remote sites, and small-group seminars in current research areas are just some of the advantages this school offers.
The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition offers Bachelor of Science degree programs in dietetics, food science, and nutritional sciences. Faculty and staff engage in research to solve contemporary issues in food production, quality and safety, as well as nutrient function and applications to health and chronic disease prevention. The dietetics program is one of the largest and best established in the U.S. With a large, diverse, and highly active student body, the school is also home to several student-run nutrition-related clubs.
The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development offers programs in Nutrition and Dietetics, Food Studies, and Global Public Health, and also allows for the combination of these concentrations. Students are actually encouraged to take courses across all areas throughout their undergraduate years. The program also gives students a strong liberal arts foundation so they can put their nutritional knowledge into context.
All nutrition undergraduates at Ohio State participate in a planned and supervised internship, allowing them to get hands-on experience in the particular area that interests them most. The program’s internationally recognized research, teaching, and outreach focus on nutrient-gene interactions, nutrient metabolism, diet and risk of disease, weight management and prevention of obesity, sports nutrition, healthy behaviors, food safety education, and food security.
With a young and especially innovative department, faculty research interests at Texas A&M include cancer prevention, the role of phytochemicals in health, childhood obesity, and the relationship of anxiety and depression to disordered eating. The school offers undergraduate programs in Nutritional Sciences and Food Sciences and Technology, as well as several highly regarded graduate programs.
University of British Columbia
UBC offers programs in Dietetics, Food Market Analysis, Food Science, International Nutrition, Nutritional Sciences, Food and Nutritional Sciences, and Food, Nutrition, and Health. Available areas of study span a continuum from the production and processing of food to its marketing, consumption, and the impact of nutrition on the health of individuals and the wider community. The school is home to an exceptional experimental farm.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Positioned within a school of public health and a school of medicine, UNC provides its students with an exceptionally broad range of faculty experience and expertise. A leader in obesity research and in the role of nutrition and physical activity in preventing and treating disease in diverse populations,it’s also a great place to study if you’re curious about how agriculture and food systems can improve access to healthy food and promote economic development. The school is also home to an excellent and highly recommended graduate school.
The Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise at Virginia Tech offers a unique fusion of exercise science and nutrition, marking the school as a leader in the field of disease prevention through better diet. Faculty research interests include the psychosocial dimensions of food and health, behavioral interventions, human performance, and youth and adult weight management. The program includes a strong emphasis on community service and outreach.
Note: If you’re interested in becoming a Registered Dietitian, make sure the program you choose is accredited by your country’s Dietetic Association. If not, you won’t qualify for dietetics licensure.
Here’s where to start your search:
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (USA)
- Dietitians of Canada
- Dietitians Association of Australia
- The British Dietetic Association
Also Note: Again, this list provides a summary of the top universities most often recommended by our North American panel of experts. That’s why it’s skewed towards North America. Since it’s not the world’s most comprehensive or definitive list of undergraduate programs, please treat it as a curated starting point.