A dietitian and a nutritionist are both professionals who work in the field of nutrition and health, but there are some key differences between the two. A Registered Dietitian (RD), also called a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), is a licensed health professional who has completed a formal education from an accredited dietetics program, has completed supervised practice, has passed a registration exam, and must accrue continuing education hours. Dietitians work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and private practice. They provide medical nutrition therapy to individuals with specific health conditions and may work with other healthcare professionals to develop treatment plans. They also provide advice on healthy eating habits and help people manage their weight, cholesterol levels, and other health concerns.
A nutritionist, on the other hand, is a broader term that can refer to anyone who works in the field of nutrition. Unlike dietitians, nutritionists are not always required to have specific education or licensure to practice. While some nutritionists may have advanced degrees in nutrition or related fields, others may have little formal education and rely on personal experience or informal training. Nutritionists may work in a variety of settings, including private practice, community health centers, and fitness centers. They may offer advice on healthy eating habits, weight management, and supplements, but they do not provide medical nutrition therapy.
It's important to note that there is some overlap between the two professions, and some individuals may use the terms interchangeably. However, if you have specific health concerns or need medical nutrition therapy, it's important to seek out a registered dietitian who is licensed to provide these services. Learn more
Note: It is not recommended to self-advise. There are many things to consider besides the required courses such as prerequisites and course sequencing, balancing your schedule, building in time for volunteering, shadowing, research, entrance exam preparation, and planning for the application cycle. See the Director of Pre-professional Advising for individualized long-term planning.
Students who are planning to apply to RDN programs will need the following:
- Bachelor’s degree with a competitive cumulative and science GPA
- Required prerequisite coursework
- Research Experience (recommended)
- Clinical Experience and Service
- Communication and Leadership Skills
- Letters of Recommendations
- Personal Statement
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
- Understand the Application Timeline
- Illinois Accredited Dietitian Programs
- Pre-Dietitian Resources
A baccalaureate degree is required in any field as long as the prerequisites are met. Biology and Biochemistry majors can meet all prerequisites within their programs. Other majors will still need to take the prerequisite courses in addition to their major and degree requirements.
To be a competitive applicant students must have a strong grade point average (GPA). Professional programs will look at several GPAs:
- Cumulative GPA: all courses and from all schools attended including repeats, remedial courses, and possibly graduate-level courses
- Science GPA: includes biology, chemistry physics, and often math (or BCP/BCPM)
- Prerequisite GPA: calculated only on the prerequisites necessary for that particular professional school program.
- All other GPA: calculated on all courses except your science courses
Professional schools do not honor “grade forgiveness” or “grade replacement” for repeated courses. All grades count and repeats are averaged together. There is also no expiration date on courses taken many years ago.
The following list indicates the most common classes required or highly recommended by most RDN programs. Applicants should always check directly with each program they are applying to and see the Preprofessional Advisor for more information.
|Writing I & II
|ENG 101 & 102
|Biology I & II
|BIO 201 & 202
|Anatomy & Physiology I & II
|BIO 318 & 319
|General Chemistry I & I
|CHEM 211 & 212
|Organic Chemistry I
|MATH 173 or higher
|Not offered at NEIU
Additional courses to consider
Food Service Management, Nutrition Science, Cell Biology, Statistics, Pre-Calculus
- AP and IB credits are generally not accepted toward prerequisites
- Community college credits can be viewed differently by each program. Check before applying.
- Some programs do not accept international courses to meet prerequisites. Check before applying.
- Online lab courses are not accepted toward prerequisites. Some programs will not allow any online coursework. There may be some exceptions for courses taken at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check before applying.
- Too many withdrawals (W's) on your transcripts can reflect negatively on your application.
- Some programs have expiration dates on their prerequisites. Make sure you have taken them within the program's time requirements.
Undergraduate research is not required for admission however, programs value the experience and it can make an applicant stand out. Subjects can include basic science, biomedical, and clinical research, as well as social science and health systems research. You can reach out to the Student Center for Science Engagement for help finding research opportunities.
Experiences should be meaningful to you on a personal level and reflect your professional goals. Remember that you will be expected to write thoughtful descriptions of your experiences in the application process. Quality over quantity is most important. Programs would rather see commitment and dedication over time than hopping from one short-term experience to the other. Keep a journal not just to document your hours, but to express how various interactions impacted you and your long-term goals.
Ask a practitioner to observe their work. This will give you a glimpse into their daily routine and allow you to see if you’re really a good fit for the profession. Shadowing opportunities are notoriously hard to find, so start looking as soon as possible. The most common way to find shadowing opportunities is through networking: ask family, friends, and colleagues if they know a professional that would allow you to shadow them. The more they know about your aspirations as a future health professional, the more likely they are to take you on for shadowing or refer you to a colleague who will.
You are preparing for a "helping" profession and it is assumed that you care about those you are planning to serve. Therefore, it is important to have volunteer experiences demonstrating a commitment to service. This should be ongoing throughout your college years. Medical professions often play a big role in the community. Getting involved in your community is a great way to experience this. You can volunteer at a church or other religious facility, community centers, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, etc.
Get involved on campus through student government, honors programs, or student organizations that are related to your major or future profession such as the Future Health Professionals Club. Get involved by participating in their events. They often conduct enrichment programming and even community service. Try to become an officer in an organization to gain leadership experience. You must take this role seriously though and live up to the commitment you make. You can search all of NEIU's Student Organizations to find others that are a good fit for you.
As a health professional, you will be a leader and team member with your patients, staff, colleagues, and in your community. Other ways to gain leadership experience include offices held in organizations, committee work, leadership in religious activities, coordinating a project; managing, training, and supervising at work, teaching or training experience of any kind, tutoring, as well as peer counseling or mentoring.
You will need at least two to three strong letters of recommendation ideally from science faculty and/or relevant professionals preferably from clinicians who have supervised you in clinical settings. You will need to give them at least two months’ notice so be sure to research the letter of recommendation requirements for each program you're planning to apply.
Get to know people from these ideal categories so you will feel comfortable asking them to write excellent letters for you.
- Relevant practitioner
- Science professor
Learn more on how to request letters of recommendation. Please note that NEIU does not offer a committee or composite letter.
You will have to write a personal statement/essay as part of your application. It should be about two pages double-spaced and discuss how your life has led you to your desired career. While most personal statements are general in nature and can be used for multiple applications, some programs want applicants to follow specific guidelines and answer prompts that they will provide. Check with the schools you’re applying to and make sure you’re following directions. Look up examples of personal statements and have several people read yours before submitting it. If you would like to talk about why you’re interested in a particular program you can write several statements and customize them as needed.
This is also your opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are beyond your GPA, test scores, and experiences. It communicates what is important to you and explains in-depth your reasons and motivations for pursuing professional school. Additionally, a personal statement can help explain any gaps in education or experiences, as well as any weaknesses in an application.
Learn more about how to write Personal Statements.
Most programs no longer require the GRE, though some still do for students who may have lower-than-expected GPAs. Be sure to check with each program you're planning to apply to. The GRE is administered throughout the year. It may be repeated, but the best strategy is to prepare thoroughly and take it once. Taking the exam by the spring of the year before you wish to enter PA school will enable you to apply earlier. More information on the GRE.
- Two (2) multiple choice sections which are scored on a scale of 130-170
- Verbal Reasoning
- Quantitative Reasoning
- One (1) Analytical Writing essay that is scored on a 6-point scale.
GRE Preparation Resources
Most programs admit students to begin their program in the Fall. The application cycle begins about 12 months before you intend on enrolling, in the fall of the year prior to enrollment. However, the exact timing depends on when you will take the GRE (if needed), complete prerequisites, etc. Meet with your paraprofessional advisor to develop a long-term plan for applying. Keep in mind that course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, exam preparation, and even your personal and family life can all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline. These programs do not use a centralized application service like many other professional health programs. Applicants will most often apply directly to the programs through their graduate admissions office.
- Benedictine University
- Dominican University
- Eastern Illinois University
- Illinois State University
- Northern Illinois University
- Rush University: MS in Clinical Nutrition (Not RD)
- Southern Illinois University (Carbondale)
- Southern Illinois University (Edwardsville)
- University of Illinois/Chicago Coordinated Program M.S.
- University of Illinois/Champ-Urbana
- Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
- Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)
- Occupational Outlook Handbook - Dietitians and Nutritionists