The Academy has released a diagram of the new pathways to becoming a Registered Dietitian for students who will take the RD exam after January 1, 2024. Here, we present an explanation of the steps involved in these pathways and your options for programs within each pathway. Students will have many options for their paths, so we want to make sure you know all the ways to achieve your goal!
This guide is part of our Dietetics Dictionary – your guide to the field of dietetics.
So how do you become a Registered Dietitian? There are four major components to the new qualifications for registered dietitians (RDs): the didactic program coursework (which are the basic nutrition and dietetics courses), supervised practice hours (typically called the dietetic internship), a master’s degree in any area, and a qualifying exam (“the RD exam”).
If You Do Not Currently Have a Bachelor’s Degree:
To become an RD, you will need a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and supervised practice prior to sitting for the exam. You have four options for your bachelor’s degree: a bachelor’s degree coordinated program, a bachelor’s degree didactic program, a Future Education Model bachelor’s degree, or a non-nutrition bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor’s degree coordinated program:
A coordinated program (CP) includes all of the academic coursework and supervised practice hours required – it’s a combination of a dietetics degree and a dietetic internship all in one program. This can be a cost effective option; however, there are currently fewer CP programs than didactic programs (which don’t include the supervised practice hours), so it will limit the schools you can apply to for college.
After you complete a bachelor’s degree coordinated program, you must get a graduate degree in order to qualify for the RD exam. The graduate degree can be in any area, so you can personalize it to your career goals.
Bachelor’s degree didactic program:
A bachelor’s degree didactic program covers the essential dietetics coursework necessary for future RDs. These programs are more common than coordinated programs, but only cover one part of the RD requirements. After completing your bachelor’s degree, you will need to complete a masters degree and a dietetic internship.
You may choose to do the dietetic internship and the masters degree separately, or in a combined program. If you do the programs separately, you can do them in either order, though some dietetic internship programs may begin requiring or preferring a master’s degree to apply. There are also many dietetic internship programs that include a master’s degree.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also notes that you can pursue a graduate coordinated program or a Future Education Model graduate program, which include supervised practice. However, those programs include didactic coursework, so some classes may be redundant for you. On the flip side, they may provide more in-depth courses on these topics. You can evaluate these programs for your individual goals.
Future Education Model bachelor’s degree or a non-nutrition bachelor’s degree
The Future Education Model bachelor’s degree prepares you with the coursework and supervised practice that are required to become a Nutrition and Dietetics Technician-Registered (NDTR). It does not include all of the didactic coursework required for RDs, so you will have to complete this in your graduate degree. This is a good option for those who want to gain work experience in dietetics prior to graduate school, whether you want to “try out” the field or save up for graduate school.
You may also choose to pursue a non-nutrition bachelor’s degree. Some students may want to study a topic that is related to nutrition, such as psychology or food science, while others may want to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a public university in their state that doesn’t offer dietetics.
After either of these programs, you will still need the didactic coursework, a graduate degree, and the dietetic internship. The “all-in-one” options for this pathway are a Future Education Model graduate program or a graduate coordinated program. The FEM and CP programs have slight differences in how they model their curriculum, but they both accomplish the same goal.
Your other options include a graduate didactic program plus a dietetic internship or another bachelor’s degree using the pathways described above.
If you have a bachelor’s degree:
Bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics (with didactic coursework)
You will need to complete a master’s degree and a dietetic internship. Your master’s degree can be in any field, and you can choose to do it independent of or in combination with a dietetic internship program. If you are considering getting a master’s degree in a non-nutrition field, be aware that few combined master’s/dietetic internship program offer non-nutrition degrees. There are a few programs currently offering a master’s of public health with a dietetic internship, but most other master’s degrees will need to be completed independently of the dietetic internship.
There are currently a handful of programs that offer a combined dietetic internship and a doctoral degree. If you would like to teach at a university or pursue research in your career, these programs can work well with your professional goals.
Bachelor’s degree in a non-nutrition subject
(Please see above under “Future Education Model bachelor’s degree or a non-nutrition bachelor’s degree)
If you have a master’s degree or higher (in a non-nutrition field):
You are three pathways for becoming a registered dietitian: a Future Education Model graduate program, a coordinated program (bachelor’s or master’s), or a didactic program (bachelor’s or master’s) plus a dietetic internship.
You also have the options listed above for those with a master’s degree, and you have an additional, unique option: an individualized supervised practice pathway (ISPP). ISPPs are administered by certain dietetics programs, and students can design a supervised practice curriculum that works for their goals.