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How Long Does it Take to Become a Nutritionist?

From juice cleanses to “ancient” grains, these days it can be hard to figure out what foods are truly good for you and which diets are simply passing fads. Nutritionists provide much-needed clarity on these subjects for their clients.

Unfortunately, there is very little regulation when it comes to who can call themselves a nutritionist. For example, many fitness gurus also market themselves as experts in nutrition. This is why it’s more important than ever to make the distinction between a “nutritionist” and a “clinical nutritionist.”

A professional may be considered a “nutritionist” with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition, while “clinical nutritionists” have completed a master’s degree, such as the Master’s in Human Nutrition. Clinical nutritionists have been trained in the most up-to-date research, and are qualified to work in a variety of environments, such as hospitals, outpatient medical offices, and government agencies.

Clinical nutritionists may also complete internships and obtain additional licenses that provide them with credibility. If you are looking to make an impact in the nutrition field, and become a clinical nutritionist, these are requirements you must check off.

So, how long does it take to become a nutritionist? All in all, becoming a clinical nutritionist takes about six years to complete from start to finish.

Bachelor’s Degree (Average of 4 Years)

While it is technically possible to label yourself a nutritionist after receiving a bachelor’s degree in an area such as Health Science, a master’s degree is preferred for candidates interested in becoming licensed professionals. Either way, you must start with a bachelor’s degree. For your undergraduate program, it is suggested that you major in health science, nutrition, dietetics, or food science.

After completing your degree, you may be qualified to sit for an exam administered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, the passing of which designates a “Certified Nutritional Consultant.”

However, if your goal is to work in a clinical environment, you should continue on to study in a master’s program. In this case, you may prepare for a Nutrition master’s program in your undergraduate studies, by majoring in health science, biology, or a related field. After your four-year bachelor’s degree, you’ll be ready to begin your graduate-level coursework.

Note, however, that it is possible to pursue a master’s degree in Nutrition, even if your undergraduate degree is not science-related. In this case, you’ll just need to complete science prerequisite courses such as anatomy, physiology, biology, and nutrition before beginning your graduate program.

Master’s Degree (+/- 2 Years)

A master’s in Nutrition prepares students for a career working closely with patients to help them prevent and manage diseases through nutrition. This level of degree will also provide you with the knowledge you’ll need to work in nutrition education and health promotion. A master’s program is typically two years in length, though some online MS in Nutrition programs allow students to complete their degree in as few as 23 months.

Online master’s programs also provide flexibility to students who wish to complete their degree at a more measured pace. Typically, students have up to five years to complete their master’s degree.


During a master’s program, students are expected to complete foundational courses in physiology and biochemistry. Other courses that may be required are:

  • Pathophysiologic Basis of Metabolic Diseases
  • Evidence-Based Nutrition
  • Biochemistry of Nutrition
  • Assessment of Nutritional Status
  • Lifelong Healing w/Food

Supervised Experience

In addition to graduate-level coursework, prospective clinical nutritionists typically must complete supervised experience hours. At University of Bridgeport, these hours qualify candidates to sit for the Certified Nutrition Specialist exam after graduation, a professional credential that is recognized in many states.

To complete this exam, the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS) requires both a graduate degree as well as 1,000 hours of supervised experience. These hours can be completed in the context of internships or coursework. For example, UB’s unique Virtual Clinic course provides students with real case studies and clinical management experience. This clinic is eligible for 255 hours of supervised experience credit.

Licensing and Certification (-/+ 2 months)

After completing formal education, graduates should complete professional certification or licensure to work as nutritionists in certain states. State requirements are continually evolving and changing. It is important to check with your local boards and regulations, to understand the requirements in your state.

Generally, nutritionists who lack credentialing are less likely to find employment in a medical setting or research facility. With that in mind, graduates should consider professional certification after graduation. This extra step can also position you for higher salary potential and upward mobility in the field.

As noted above, those who graduate from a master’s program and complete the prerequisite supervised clinical hours are eligible to sit for the CNS licensing exam, a nationally recognized credential that is accepted in many states. As a Certified Nutrition Specialist, you can work in advanced medical nutrition therapy and nutritional research. You can expect to wait several weeks to receive your results and obtain licensure.

Please note that licensing and certification requirements are constantly evolving, and vary by state. Be sure to check your state’s requirements to work as a clinical nutritionist.

Becoming a clinical nutritionist requires dedication, hard work, and a passion for health. While it is technically possible to refer to yourself as a “nutritionist” without licensure or a degree (in some states), those who are serious about providing well-informed care to their patients should consider pursuing a master’s degree in Nutrition. When all is said and done, those two extra years of education will make an impact on both the quality of care you can provide, as well as the job opportunities open to you.

Interested in pursuing a career in clinical nutrition? Contact us online to get more information about the University of Bridgeport’s M.S. in Nutrition.