Nutrition impacts our everyday lives, from balancing our energy levels throughout the day, feeding our families, and keeping us fit, to how much we’re willing to spend at the supermarket, to whether we’ll fight cancer at some point in our lives, and how much we rack up in dental bills.
It’s no wonder that such a diverse range of jobs in nutrition exists, as policymakers need proper training to implement nutritional guidelines and food safety laws. Patients additionally need clinicians with specialized training to help them manage illnesses or chemical imbalances. As the weight loss industry continues to grow, requiring new experts and advancements in research is necessary to stay ahead.
Many nutrition jobs require the completion of a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition, but students who want to branch out into policy, research, or pursue medical degrees or Ph.D.’s need to start by getting their Master’s degree. MA in Nutrition graduates can pursue government jobs, internships in the food industry, or non-profit jobs educating communities in need about sustainable nutrition. Many programs on this list include dietetic training for those wanting to become Registered Dietitians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 15% increase in demand for dietitians and nutritionists until 2026, and median pay is over $60,000 a year.
MA in Nutrition grads who go on to pursue the education required for jobs in academia or medicine can expect jobs that pay between $78,000 a year for postsecondary teachers and over $200,000 a year for physicians and surgeons. Nutrition experts who pursue careers in community health education can expect job demand growth of 18% over the next seven years, along with annual pay around $50,000.
Nutrition grad students will find, however, how research programs offered on this list go far beyond the meal-planning and body composition tests one would expect from a nutritionist. Because prerequisites for MA programs include advanced chemistry, biology, and biochemistry courses, students can participate in research under professors in many departments across campus and possibly end up pursuing food science, cancer research, or food safety design.
With that in mind, some programs on our ranking are tightly focused on training the next generation of research-minded dietitians and policymakers, while others purposefully allow students to explore different areas of research with the goal of further graduate education.
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Here are the 15 Best Master’s Degrees in Nutrition!
15. Tufts University – Medford, MA
Master of Science in Nutrition + Didactic Program in Dietetics
The Master of Science in Nutrition + Didactic Program in Dietetics degree from Tufts University allows MS students to simultaneously register in the Didactic Program in Dietetics Certificate program at Simmons College. Following the completion of the MS program, students then have coursework necessary to apply for accredited internships to become a Registered Dietician. During the 48-unit program, students complete a set of core courses, specialized classes, and electives. MS students choose between three specializations during the program: Food Policy and Economics, which focuses on policy solutions to address hunger and poverty worldwide; Nutrition Interventions: Design, Operation and Management, which focuses on combating large-scale malnutrition; and Humanitarian Assistance, which seeks to find solutions to hunger and nutrition needs in emergencies.
While this particular program is geared for students intending to pursue dietetics following their Master’s completion, Tufts offers several other Combined Degree programs that center around nutrition but allow students to specialize further in public health, law, or nutrition policy within wider policy frameworks. Each program enables students to complete courses, upon approval, at other nearby institutions that count toward their MS degree but allow for further specialization. As a university strongly focused on public health, policy, and international humanitarian service, it’s no wonder Tufts offers so many degree options for Nutrition students. Students interested in research might be particularly drawn to the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, one of the largest research centers in the country studying nutrition, aging, and exercise.
14. University of Arizona – Tucson, AZ
Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences
The Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences program from the University of Arizona is a highly individualized and research-focused program that combines 1:1 faculty mentorship, laboratory rotations, and strong core nutrition courses to help new graduate students find their passion and ensure their employment following graduation. Graduate research focuses on a few major areas, primarily cancer, and body composition, but students can get involved in other ongoing research programs in diabetes, obesity, disease, and immunity. 27 Nutritional Sciences Graduate Program (NSGP) faculty also serve as mentors for graduate students, guiding them through their initial lab and research rotations and through graduation requirements to ensure students find the path of study that speaks to them.
Science-heavy prerequisites, as well as minimum GRE scores, are required to be considered for admission. A research-based thesis is required for graduation, as are courses such as Metabolic Integration, Statistics, and Advanced Nutritional Science. The MSNS is designed to be completed in two years. The University of Arizona is a large, lively, research and athletics school with an active Greek life, though the graduate Nutrition program is fairly small and selective: just 38 MS students graduated between 2005-2016. NSGP graduates have gone on to jobs in education, medicine, business, private industry, and public and non-profit service.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $11,486 / $31,463
13. University of Alabama at Birmingham – Birmingham, AL
Master of Science in Nutrition Sciences, Dietitian Education Program
The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Science in Nutrition Sciences, Dietitian Education Program is an excellent choice for students who know they want to become Registered Dietitians and don’t want to have to complete extra training after completion of their MS to meet that goal. The two-year, full-time, accelerated program gives students the training they need to take the national exam for the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist qualification. The curriculum is centered start-to-finish on dietitian services, with courses such as Nutrition Counseling and Education, Community Interventions for Healthy Lifestyles, and Communication in Nutrition.
One special aspect of this program is that it can be completed fully-online and practicums can be completed in the students’ home state, though three total campus visits are required for certain courses. Practicums entail at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice with professionals in clinical, specialty practice, or food service settings. Preceptors might be Pharmacists, Physical Therapists, Medical Doctors, or other healthcare professionals that deal directly with nutritional issues. UAB offers a range of in-house scholarships for MS students, but admitted students are also encouraged to check out scholarship opportunities from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $7,866 / $17,910
12. Michigan State University – Lansing, MI
Master of Science in Human Nutrition
The Master of Science in Human Nutrition from Michigan State University is a 30-credit program with either a Master’s Thesis or Master’s Program with a final exam option that combines research, advanced nutrition education, and specializations for a customized degree path. MS students interested in using their expertise to solve environmental problems might choose a specialization in Environmental Toxicology, while others might prefer a specialization in Food Safety. Still others interested in early-age nutritional interventions can specialize in Infancy and Early Childhood. Courses in these specializations bring together graduate students from many different MSU departments, giving students unique exposure to a variety of perspectives on problems that affect large populations.
Prerequisites for admission include courses in introductory and upper-level nutrition, general and organic chemistry, biology, biochemistry, statistics, and biochemistry, as well as a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0, submission of GRE scores, and a personal essay. Almost 11,000 graduate students take classes at MSU, which sits on a gorgeous 5,200 sq. ft. campus to the east of Lansing, MI. MSU ranks No. 85 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 National Universities ranking. Nutrition students particularly interested in home-grown, organic food might be excited by MSU’s student-run organic farm.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $17,436 / $34,260
11. University of Kentucky – Lexington, KY
Master of Science in Nutrition and Food Systems
The Master of Science in Nutrition and Food Systems from the University of Kentucky combines diet, wellness, and food system education with evidence-based strategies to improve health outcomes of both communities and individuals. The program combines 24 credits of coursework with either six credits of thesis research, or six credits of research or “special problems hours” to work on a special project. The program encourages students to complete a thesis if they plan to pursue further graduate work. UK offers additional coursework opportunities for MS students who want to pursue dietetic training, but a specific dietetic program is not provided concurrently to the MS program. Like several others on this list, UK’s program has a broad range of course offerings for students considering either public health and policy work or careers in dietetics.
Three unique opportunities afforded to MS in Nutrition and Food Systems students are Teaching Assistant, Graduate Assistant, or Research Assistant positions. Students in these roles help with technical and clerical work for their assigned faculty supervisors, and these positions provide additional direction to MS students not fully set on their post-graduation plans. Assistantships are also a money-saving tool, as UK supports assistantships with stipends, out-of-state tuition scholarships, and in-state tuition rebates. The Dietetics and Human Nutrition department houses The Campus Kitchen at UK, in which students cook healthy meals for struggling community members with food that would have gone to waste, as well as The Food Connection at UK, in which students work with local farmers and community members in food outreach and education.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $11,363 / $28,861
10. University of Connecticut – Storrs, CT
Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences
The University of Connecticut’s Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences offers a generalized advanced nutrition education with specialization options and a thesis or non-thesis track. Students in both tracks must complete at least 30 credits, and those in the non-thesis track must pass a comprehensive final exam and submit a review paper. The non-thesis track is available to students who already have practical experience in the field of nutrition. Students may choose to specialize in one of four areas: Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition, Community Nutrition, Nanotechnology, and Human Nutrition and Metabolism.
UConn Nutritional Sciences faculty lead a variety of research topics, including Metabolic Diseases, Rehabilitative Nutrition, Gut Health and Chronic Disease, and more. Students can get involved in off-campus activities with the UConn Nutrition Club, which leads free screening events in the community, and participates in after-school programs, volunteering, on-campus education, and conferences. UConn’s peaceful rural campus is home to almost 20,000 students, and the university is especially well-known for its NCAA Division 1 basketball teams. U.S. News & World Report lists UConn No. 63 in its 2019 National Universities ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $14,500 / $35,812
9. Texas A&M University – College Station, TX
Master of Science in Nutrition
The 32-credit Master of Science in Nutrition program from Texas A&M University includes research, seminar, and lecture courses, as well as completion of a thesis. Core courses are in Nutrition, Physiology, Statistics, and Biochemistry. Students may be able to participate in a variety of research programs, and the university also offers a Didactic Program in Dietetics. Additionally, MS students can complete an additional 15 hours of coursework for a Certificate in Food Diversity, in which students learn about diverse food systems, environmental toxicology, food safety, and more.
Texas A&M’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science aims to serve the greater community with food choice and nutrition education, as well as by developing, distributing, and marketing foods people will like, and businesses will sell. As part of that mission, the department is home to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, which provides free nutrition education online and in-person to communities in need across Texas. In 2017, Texas A&M was the second-largest university in the U.S. with enrollment exceeding 63,000 students. The university has been recognized for its affordability and quality of education, earning it No. 18 on Money’s 2019 Best Colleges For Your Money ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $5,941 / $16,461
8. University of Illinois at Chicago – Chicago, IL
Master of Science in Nutrition
The Master of Science in Nutrition from the University of Illinois at Chicago is an excellent choice for students looking for a straightforward path toward either dietetics or research with a reliable and holistic nutrition education. The program focuses on addressing many areas of human health through nutrition, including both eating habits and energy, as well as mental health issues and access to food. Students who are already Registered Dietitians and who want to pursue further graduate work and possibly a Ph.D. are excellent candidates for the MS Traditional Program, while MS students who wish to become Registered Dietitians should apply for the Coordinated Program, which is a Didactic Program in Dietetics and prepares grads for the national exam to become a Registered Dietitian.
Both degree paths require 36 credits, and the coordinated program includes part-time and full-time supervised practice hours. Monitered practice locations include hospitals, local businesses, research facilities, etc., and students participate in projects such as feeding trials, dietary counseling, food packaging, and more. UIC claims that an impressive 100% of coordinated program grads pass the Registered Dietitian exam within one year of graduation, compared to the national average of 80%. The College of Applied Health Sciences houses a teaching garden in which students can learn about nutrition from planting seeds to the preparation of a home-grown meal.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $13,502 / $23,742
7. University of Minnesota Twin Cities – Minneapolis MN
Master of Science in Nutrition
The Master of Science in Nutrition program from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities offers a thesis and non-thesis track and no restrictions on program minors so students can create their own fully-customized degree paths. The program requires a minimum of 30 credits, 10 of which are either thesis credits or additional coursework/independent study. Six upper-level graduate courses must also count toward a minor or field outside the major. Though students have relatively free reign in this area, they are encouraged to work with their advisors to choose courses and, a list of recommended interdisciplinary courses is available. All MS students are expected to participate in graduate teaching, assisting in at least two courses during their time at U of M.
Students have a range of research and education opportunities through U of M’s affiliations with several nutrition/health-related institutes on campus: these include the Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute, the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center, the Food Protection and Defense Institute, and the Sensory Center, which provides a range of consumer testing to clients across the state. Through these affiliations, U of M is really at the center of food production in the Midwest, which provides students exposure to influential companies and entities in the food industry. U of M ranks No. 30 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Top Public Schools ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $16,728 / $25,884
6. Rutgers University – New Brunswick – New Brunswick, NJ
Master of Science Graduate Program in Nutritional Sciences
Rutgers University’s Master of Science Graduate Program in Nutritional Sciences offers three options: the nutritional biochemistry and physiology focus prepares students for further graduate work and careers in academia, while the applied nutrition option prepares students for careers in nutrition education or community nutrition. The dietetics focus is similar, but offers students the training and practical work experience they need to take the national exam to become Registered Dietitians. Only 12 students annually are accepted into the dietetics program and at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice is required for graduation. Admissions criteria include prerequisites in advanced biology, chemistry, and biochemistry, a minimum GRE score of 304, a GPA of at least a B average, and three letters of recommendation.
Course titles include Principles of Nutrition Research, Nutritional Aspects of Disease, and Recent Advances in Nutritional Sciences. Like nutritional departments at many other large research institutions, the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers is committed to community outreach and education. The department accomplishes this through its Ask Before you Eat food allergies program, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, which serves community members who do not qualify for food stamps, and the New Jersey Obesity Group center for research. Rutgers prides itself on its excellent faculty, with Pulitzer Prize winners, Guggenheim Fellows, Fulbright Scholars, and more.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $16,848 / $28,656
5. Ohio State University – Columbus, OH
Master of Science in Human Nutrition
The Master of Science in Human Nutrition program at Ohio State University is a research-heavy program that focuses on the relationships between diet, disease, and overall health, and how research can be translated into policy that improves the wellness of communities. The program is ideal for students who want to use the MS as a stepping stone to Ph.D. or M.D. programs, or those who wish to enter clinical practice right away after graduation. The 30-credit program includes a six-credit thesis, as well as research-based courses. Research topics include food security, behavioral nutrition, dietary intake and disease, and more. Applicants must submit GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement, along with an undergraduate transcript.
Graduate students can get involved with research at OSU’s Food Innovation Center, which works on global-scale projects in food insecurity, food mapping, and more. The center also leads public education projects on childhood obesity, food policy, and advances in food science. Students looking for a gorgeous campus and city with plenty of recreational opportunities will love OSU and the greater Columbus area, and the university is home to one of the most competitive football teams in college sports. U.S. News & World Report ranked OSU No. 17 in its 2019 Top Public Schools ranking and No. 18 in its Most Innovative Schools ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $11,560 / $33,032
4. North Carolina State University – Raleigh, NC
Master of Science in Nutrition
The Master of Science in Nutrition program from North Carolina State University offers a thesis and non-thesis track, depending on whether students wish to pursue further graduate work or pursue certifications for clinical practice. The 30-unit thesis track is ideal for those who want to develop their research skills, while the 36-unit non-thesis track offers several degree concentrations. Concentrations include: Emphasis in Feed Science, Emphasis in Human Nutrition, Food and Bioprocessing, Professional Science Master of Nutrition- Feed Science Emphasis, and Professional Science Master of Nutrition-Human Nutrition Emphasis. Both tracks can be completed in about two years, though part-time students may take longer. Unlike most other programs on this list, the MS degree can also be completed fully online.
Admissions criteria include prerequisite courses heavy in biology and organic chemistry, an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0, and GRE scores above the 30th percentile in all categories. MS students can participate in one of NC State’s many nutrition outreach programs, including educating the community on produce safety, promoting breastfeeding, and educating preschoolers and their parents on health and nutrition. Faculty in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, & Nutrition Sciences (FBNS), with the help of graduate students, conduct research in the areas of food safety and foodborne illness, food packaging, and food for health. FBNS faculty have won numerous awards over the years, including a recent election to the National Academy of Sciences and many food industry research and teaching excellence awards.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $8,492 / $23,967
3. Purdue University – West Lafayette, IN
Master of Science in Nutrition Science
The Master of Science in Nutrition Science from Purdue University is another heavily-focused research-based program designed to prepare students for further graduate work or clinical certification. Upon enrollment, MS students choose one of four concentrations, which shapes their research experience in the program. The Public Health and Nutrition Education focus examines nutrition needs and education needs in populations; the Human and Clinical Nutrition concentration examines food choices and relationships between nutrition and disease; the Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition concentration analyzes the molecular science of nutrition; and the Animal Growth and Development focus seeks to optimize the health and nutrition of animals.
The MS program can ideally be completed in three years, though four years are allowed for extenuating circumstances. Admissions criteria include GRE scores in the 50th percentile or higher, a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, transcripts and recommendation letters, and a personal statement. Thirty credits are required for completion of the MS program, and the number of research students who participate can vary. A thesis is required for all MS students. Purdue is home to several graduate research centers analyzing many aspects of human health-relevant to nutrition students. Purdue also tied for No. 56 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 National Universities ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $9,208 / $28,010
2. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – West Lafayette, IN
Master of Science in Nutritional Science
The Master of Science in Nutritional Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign aims to prepare students for jobs in the nutrition industry, academia, and government. Admitted students train under a faculty member who guides them in a particular area of research, including pediatric or geriatric nutrition, epigenetics, ingestive behavior, and more. Students may pursue either a thesis or non-thesis track, both of which require at least 32 credits for graduation.
The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition hosts several in-house research facilities, as well as hands-on facilities in which students can learn about preparing and testing foods. For instance, researchers in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Metabolic Kitchen use equipment to control food and liquid nutrition for experimental meals to study how elements of diet and microbiome contribute to population health. Research from the department investigates the connection between cooking ingredients and cancer, natural pigment in foods and diabetes, and more. The university aims to be on the cutting edge of food and nutrition research, and with its reputation as the No. 13 Top Public School according to U.S. News & World Report, it hopes to continue attracting passionate students who will contribute to that goal.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $15,186 / $28,773
1. University of Washington – Seattle, WA
Master of Science in Nutritional Science
The Master of Science in Nutritional Science program from the University in Washington offers an interdisciplinary approach to nutrition in which students take classes from faculty in the School of Public Health, College of Pharmacy, School of Medicine, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Students can choose to combine their degree path with the Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics (GCPD) training, in which they must complete supervised practice at a professional health facility. All MS students can choose between a research-based thesis or capstone. Past examples include projects investigating kidney disease, tube feedings, activity tracking for weight loss, and more.
MS students concurrently enrolled in GCPD training have access to a number of facilities in the UW Medicine system for their supervised practice rotations. Students can complete their hours in several critical care and acute care settings, and four stipend-supported Maternal and Child Health Traineeships are available every year for students in the program or MS students who are already Registered Dietitians. UW’s location in Seattle and its housing of one of the best medical schools in the country affords students a diverse array of research opportunities. Affiliations include Seattle Children’s Research Institute, UW’s Center on Human Development and Disability, and more. Overall, UW is ranked No. 20 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Top Public Schools ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $15,207 / $27,255
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