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Career Changers

  1. What is the difference between a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or dietetic technician, registered (DTR) and a nutritionist?
  2. What is the difference between a RDN and a DTR and what career opportunities are available for each?
  3. I have a degree in another field and would now like a career in nutrition; do I need to start all over?
  4. What do I need to do to become a RDN?
  5. What do I need to do to become a DTR?
  6. What is the difference between a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) and a Coordinated Program (CP)?
  7. Is there a ranking of dietetics education programs by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)?
  8. If ACEND and the Academy do not rank programs, what factors should I consider when deciding on a school?
  9. Will getting my master's degree in nutrition meet the requirements to become a RDN?
  10. There is not a dietetics education program convenient to my home. Can I complete the requirements by distance education?

  1. What is the difference between a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or dietetic technician, registered (DTR) and a nutritionist?

    The "RDN" and "DTR" credentials can only be used by dietetics practitioners who are currently authorized by ACEND to use these credentials. These are legally protected titles. Individuals with these credentials have completed specific academic and supervised practice requirements, successfully completed a national registration examination, and maintained requirements for recertification.

    All RDNs and DTRs study nutrition and applications to food and health. Some RDNs or DTRs call themselves nutritionists. However, the definition and requirements for the term "nutritionist" vary. Some states have licensure laws that define the scope of practice for someone using the designation nutritionist.

  2. What is the difference between a RDN and a DTR and what career opportunities are available for each?

    A RDN is a food and nutrition expert who has met the minimum academic and professional requirements to qualify for the credential "RDN." To obtain this credential you must complete at least a bachelor's degree at a US regionally accredited college or university, required course work and required hours of supervised practice accredited by ACEND. In addition, you must pass a national RDN examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) and complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

    A DTR is a food and nutrition practitioner who has completed at least a two-year associate's degree at a U.S. regionally accredited university or college, required course work and at least 450 hours of supervised practice accredited by ACEND. In addition, you must pass a national DTR examination administered by the CDR and complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration. The majority of DTRs work with RDNs in a variety of employment settings including health care (assisting RDNs in providing medical nutrition therapy), in hospitals, HMOs, clinics or other health-care facilities. In addition, a large number of DTRs work in community and public health settings such as school or day care centers, correctional facilities, weight management clinics and WIC programs as nutrition counselors.

    More information on career opportunities, salaries, and job outlook for RDNs and DTRs .

  3. I have a degree in another field and would now like a career in nutrition; do I need to start all over?

    If you already have a degree from a U.S. regionally accredited college or university that is not in dietetics and are interested in a nutrition career, you can choose to become a RDN or a DTR. In either case, you will need to have your college transcripts evaluated by a director of a dietetics program accredited by ACEND. The director will evaluate your previous academic preparation and identify the courses that you would need to complete at that institution to meet the dietetics requirements. The number of courses you need and the college’s degree requirements will determine whether you need to complete another degree or not. It may be possible to complete the required dietetics coursework while enrolled in a graduate program. Because the policies, procedures and costs for the transcript evaluation may vary from one institution to another, you may want to contact more than one dietetics program for further information. The dietetics program director can advise you of your options.

  4. What do I need to do to become a RDN?

    To become a RDN you will need to:

    • Enroll in an ACEND-accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) at either the bachelor's or master's degree level. The program director will evaluate your previous academic preparation and identify the courses that you would need to complete at that institution to meet the academic requirements. The dietetics program director can advise you of your options. Once the required coursework is completed, you will receive a DPD Verification Statement.
    • You will then need to apply for and complete supervised practical experience in an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Internship Program (DI). After completing the DI, you will receive a DI Verification Statement.
    • You will then be eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians to become credentialed as a RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist.

    Or:

    • Enroll in an ACEND-accredited Coordinated Program (CP) at either the bachelor's or master's level. This program combines academic coursework and supervised practical experience in one program. The director will evaluate your previous academic preparation and identify the courses that you would need to complete at that institution to meet the academic and supervised practice requirements. The dietetics program director can advise you of your options and how to apply to the CP. Once the required coursework and supervised practice is completed, you will receive a CP Verification Statement.
    • You will then be eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians to become credentialed as a RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist.

    You can access contact information from the lists of ACEND-accredited CP, DPD, and DI programs. If you wish to complete a master's degree at the same time you are completing the RDN requirements, contact DPD or CP programs that offer a master's degree option. Please refer to the Education Pathways Flowchart entitled "Career changers/2nd degree - pathway to RDN."

  5. What do I need to do to become a DTR?

    To become a DTR, you will need to:

    • Enroll in an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Technician (DT) Program. The director will evaluate your previous academic preparation and identify the courses that you would need to complete at that institution to meet the academic and supervised practice requirements. Once the required coursework and supervised practice experience is completed, you will receive a DT Verification Statement.
    • You will then be eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietetic Technicians to become credentialed as a DTR, dietitian technician, registered, OR,
    • Complete a bachelor's degree from a US regionally accredited college of university or foreign equivalent and an ACEND-accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics

    For a list of ACEND-accredited DT programs with contact information, go to the DT Program page. Please refer to the Education Pathways Flowchart entitled "Career changers/2nd degree - pathway to DTR."

  6. What is the difference between a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) and a Coordinated Program (CP)?

    A DPD grants at least a bachelor's degree (some grant a master's degree) and is ACEND-accredited for only the required dietetics coursework. After you complete DPD requirements you will then need to apply for and be accepted into an ACEND-accredited DI Program to complete the supervised practical experience required to be a RDN. You must successfully complete an ACEND-accredited DI and obtain a Verification Statement from the director of the DI in order to be eligible to write the CDR registration examination for dietitians. Currently, there are more than 200 ACEND-accredited DPDs and more than 250 ACEND-accredited DIs in the United States.

    A CP may be a bachelor or master's degree program that combines the required dietetics coursework and supervised practical experience. A CP is ACEND-accredited to provide both the academic and supervised practice components necessary to be a RDN. Graduates of CPs who are verified by the program director are eligible to write the CDR registration examination for dietitians. Currently there are approximately 50 ACEND-accredited CPs within the United States.

    Although there are two routes to becoming a RDN with different time frames, degrees, etc., one type of program is not superior to another. All ACEND-accredited programs meet quality standards. Which route and which programs to consider are individual decisions based on many personal factors. For factors to consider when choosing a program see question number eight. You can access contact information from the lists of ACEND-accredited DPD, CP and DI programs.

  7. Is there a ranking of dietetics education programs by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)?

    Neither ACEND nor the Academy rate or rank programs.  All ACEND-accredited programs meet the Accreditation Standards, which signifies that the programs provide the knowledge, skills, and/or competencies you need to enter the dietetics profession. These accredited programs meet the requirements for membership in the Academy and registration by CDR.

  8. If ACEND and the Academy do not rank programs, what factors should I consider when deciding on a school?

    This decision is a very personal one that should be made based on a variety of factors that are important to you, such as:

    • Size of school and program—would you be more comfortable in a small private school or a large state (public) university?
    • Cost—can you afford a private school or is a state-supported school a better value for you?
    • Available financial aid—what resources are available to you?
    • Geographic location—do you prefer a rural or urban setting, residential or commuter school?
    • Faculty composition and qualifications—have you visited the Web site or campus and talked with faculty?
    • Degree awarded—are you interested in a bachelor's or master's degree?
    • Success of graduates in obtaining internship placement and jobs—how well do graduates do after completing the program?
    • Successes of graduates in pursuing career goals—what are your career goals and do they match the goals of the program?

    Talk with the program directors at the schools you are interested in attending, discuss the program, and ask to visit. It is sometimes helpful to talk with current students and graduates or RDNs and DTRs located in the area near the program to acquire information that may be helpful in making a decision.

  9. Will getting my master's degree in nutrition meet the requirements to become a RDN?

    Not unless the program is accredited by ACEND. ACEND does not accredit graduate programs except for those designed to meet entry-level educational requirements. Currently, there are a few DPDs and CPs that grant only master's degrees; others may have both bachelor's and master's tracks. Sometimes, one can complete the coursework requirements for becoming a RDN and take graduate course work at the same time if there is an ACEND-accredited program and graduate school in the same university that work together. The lists of ACEND-accredited DPDs and CPs on this Web site include the degree(s) granted by each program. Contact the schools you are interested in attending. You will need to check with the Dietetics Program Director before starting graduate coursework if you choose this route.

  10. There is not a dietetics education program convenient to my home. Can I complete the requirements by distance education?

    Many programs offer one or more courses by distance education and are identified in each list (CPs; DPDs). Because distance education is evolving you will need to contact the individual program to determine current information about coursework available by distance. Currently there are three ACEND-accredited distance education DPDs that allow a student to complete all the coursework requirements for becoming a RDN. These are at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, University of Northern Colorado, Greely, and Kansas State University. There is one ACEND-accredited distance education CP at Eastern Michigan University.

    Currently, there is two ACEND-accredited DT program that enable you to complete the requirements for becoming a DTR by distance. They are located at Central Arizona College, Coolidge, Arizona and Gaston College, Dallas, North Carolina.

    Information about distance education can be accessed from the lists of ACEND-accredited programs.