4 Tips for Potential Dietetics Majors

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Just two short years ago, I sat down at my family's computer, ready to start my search for a college. I already knew I wanted to be in a nutrition-related field, but didn't know how to translate that into a major or a career path. Today, I am a proud student of dietetics and a #FutureRDN.

Here are four things that would have saved me some minor freak-outs had I known them when I was considering becoming a dietetics major.

A Nutritionist Is Not the Same Thing as a Dietitian

Unlike the term "nutritionist," the title of registered dietitian nutritionist may only be earned by completing specific undergraduate courses and supervised practice and passing the Registration Exam for Dietitians. Unlike some other titles, a dietitian is recognized as a credible and knowledgeable nutrition professional. In addition, depending on your state, many nutrition and wellness related jobs are only available to licensed dietitians.

There are Two Types of Undergraduate Programs to Consider

Option number one is called a didactic program in dietetics, or DPD, in which students complete four years of undergraduate work. After graduation, these students match to dietetic internship, or DI. Finally, they sit for the RD exam.

The second option, called a coordinated program in dietetics, or CPD, combines the undergraduate courses and internship. Getting matched to a dietetic internship can be competitive, so one upside of a CPD is the elimination of the stress that comes with the matching process. Unlike a DPD, however, most CPDs have predetermined emphases (such as community wellness, pediatric nutrition or clinical nutrition). This means that you need to have a good sense of your intended career path before entering into the program. The pros and cons of each may vary, so it's important to look into a specific school's program before deciding to apply.

Look No Further for Online Help

You wouldn’t believe how many wild goose chases I went on searching for dietetics programs. Trust me, you can skip every other resource and head straight to the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, or ACEND, the accrediting agency of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Their website, eatrightpro.org/ACEND, makes it super-easy, with a list of all the accredited programs, separated by type (didactic or coordinated) and state.

Don't Expect Fellow Students to Have Heard of Dietetics

Unlike accounting, education or business, dietetics is not yet a very well-known field. Get ready for some confused looks from your fellow students, but don't let that get you down. Instead, proudly state your intended dietetics major and use it as an opportunity to tell others a little bit about the role of dietitians in our society. One of my go-to explanations is that I'm studying food, nutrition and the science behind it. I also like to include a few places where dietitians are employed, such as hospitals or research labs.

For anyone thinking of majoring in dietetics, I cannot stress enough the importance of asking questions and doing your own research. For me, all it took was that one little leap of faith. I haven't looked back since.

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Sara Petty
Sara Petty is a dietetics major and co-author of Braving the Way blog.