What to Look for in a Graduate Program in Nutrition: 10 Important Questions to Ask
An advanced degree in nutrition can deepen your healthcare knowledge, broaden your scope of practice, and open up new career possibilities. Healthcare practitioners such as chiropractors, medical doctors, registered nurses, and registered dietitians can benefit from completing a graduate program in nutrition.
But which program should you choose? In the following, we’ll help you answer that by exploring what to look for in a nutrition graduate program.
The field of nutrition is changing—and growing in importance—as we understand more and more about the critical relationship between food choices and individual health. How well a graduate program prepares you for this evolving field will depend heavily on the quality of your learning experience.
Let’s take a look at the questions you should be asking as you consider potential programs.
1. Does the program focus on functional nutrition?
Functional nutrition represents a progressive, highly individualized approach to improving people’s health and wellness through diet.
Practitioners of functional nutrition understand food as medicine. They bring an evidence-based perspective to how their clients or patients can alleviate current health issues, prevent others, and enhance their overall health—all through specific dietary choices.
Check out this brief video on what a career in functional nutrition can look like:
For healthcare professionals, having an advanced degree in functional nutrition gives you the ability to more effectively implement personalized nutritional interventions and recommendations.
Be sure to find out if a given program focuses on providing you a functional perspective. To understand more about what that can look like, check out the Master of Health Science in Functional and Integrative Nutrition program offered by Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU).
2. How well will the program prepare you for the future of healthcare?
The future of healthcare is changing. We’re entering an exciting new era with the advent of integrative healthcare, a patient-centered, team-based approach involving practitioners from various fields working together to help patients.
With your functional nutrition expertise, you may find yourself routinely communicating with healthcare professionals from other disciplines.
That’s why it’s so important to have an educational experience that readies you for integrative healthcare. Make sure you investigate how effectively a given nutrition program will prepare you to bring an integrative approach to your practice.
NWSHU, for example, has designed a nutrition curriculum that prepares students to be effective practitioners within an integrative healthcare environment.
3. What’s the program’s approach to online education?
If you’re a healthcare professional, you ideally want the flexibility to take graduate-level courses while also meeting your current responsibilities. And that makes a fully online education a great option.
However, be aware that online graduate programs in nutrition vary greatly in the learning experience they offer. In your research, try to enquire about factors like the following:
Are the courses synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination of both?
Synchronous courses are conducted live and require you to attend online courses at set times. Asynchronous courses allow you to attend courses, typically in the form of pre-recorded videos, on your own time.
Are the program faculty dedicated to maintaining updated learning content?
This is an important question because nutrition, especially functional nutrition, is rapidly evolving. You want a curriculum and a body of learning content that reflects the latest insights and evidence.
How easy will it be to speak live with your instructors and fellow classmates?
Online students often report they have a more satisfying learning experience when there are options for live interactions. See if the graduate program in nutrition you’re considering provides opportunities like that.
NWHSU’s program, for example, provides an option for weekly live meetings with faculty and fellow students. All the program’s instructors hold virtual office hours weekly to make this possible.
Get a glimpse of NWHSU’s online Master of Health Science in Functional and Integrative Nutrition from program chair Christina Meyer-Jax, MS, RDN, LDN:
What are the opportunities to grow your professional network? You ideally want a program that can provide you more than just an advanced degree in nutrition. For instance, with your new nutrition qualifications, you may want to take your career in a different direction. But where do you start?
Having access to insightful faculty who are thought leaders in nutrition can be a huge benefit (see also No. 6 below). In addition, a program that has well-established relationships with healthcare systems and nutrition-related businesses can provide you opportunities to expand your network and make valuable connections.
4. How long will the program take to complete?
Flexibility is a great reason for choosing an online learning option (see No. 3 above). But you should also understand just how flexible a given program is.
For example, when would you like to start (and finish) your graduate education in nutrition?
If you’re thinking the sooner the better, then consider a program that empowers you to take on a heavier course load to finish in one year. On the other hand, you may want to take the customary two years to graduate—or even opt to take longer if you need to.
Closely related, you may find that choosing a graduate nutrition program like NWHSU’s, which allows you to start in the fall, spring, or summer, is important to meet your timeline goals.
5. Does the program enable you to gain additional certifications?
Along with achieving a master’s degree, you may want to enquire how a given nutrition program can help you obtain related certifications. These can strengthen your qualifications and empower you to take a new direction in your career.
NWHSU’s online program includes an embedded option for students who would like to become a certified health coach (CHC). Health coaching is a rapidly expanding field and a formal CHC credential can be a great addition to your advanced degree in nutrition.
Depending on your career goals, you may also want to check if a given program satisfies the coursework requirements for nutrition certifications such as a Certified Nutrition Specialist and a Certified Clinical Nutritionist.
6. Who are the faculty you’ll be learning from?
Ask about your instructors. Will they be actual faculty members who have a vested interest in the quality of the program and your learning experience? Or will many of them be adjunct instructors?
Also, try to see if you’ll be learning from nutrition practitioners who have valuable experience in, for example, operating a business and/or implementing a nutrition-based practice within a healthcare organization.
NWHSU’s nutrition program includes faculty who are experienced practitioners, business innovators in nutrition, and recognized thought leaders in their respective fields of expertise. Among the instructors are experts in areas like sports nutrition, supplements and pharmaceuticals, and behavior science relating to health change.
7. Does the program prepare you for the business side of nutrition?
Bringing your nutrition expertise to real-world scenarios requires more than just scientific knowledge. Try to get the most from your advanced degree in nutrition by selecting a program that can help you become more business-competent.
More specifically, find out if a program’s curriculum includes coursework on sound business strategies. This is in addition to practices that can help you develop, manage, and implement nutrition-based services.
At NWHSU, for example, graduate students enrolled in the Master of Health Science in Functional and Integrative Nutrition take Business Practice Management for Integrative Health Professionals.
A highlight of this course is the opportunity to develop a business plan or business proposal that reflects your professional ambitions. Importantly, students carry out coursework under the guidance of instructors with professional experience in nutrition-based businesses.
8. How much will the program cost?
The exact number of credits it takes to complete a graduate degree in nutrition may vary from one program to another. You may want a program that makes a concerted effort to design a high-quality curriculum. This way it packs more value into a lower total credit load—and has a lower overall tuition.
That’s actually the approach that NWHSU has taken. The Master of Health Science in Functional and Integrative Nutrition is a 36-credit program, with 21 credit hours in core courses and 15 credit hours in elective courses. The program designers have also kept fees for textbooks and other learning materials to a minimum.
Learn more about the tuition details here.
Make sure you incorporate financial concerns into your search early on. The best place to start is with a school’s financial aid specialists. And be sure to also research the possibilities for scholarships.
9. What’s the school like in terms of its resources?
As you explore programs, find out about the resources available to you. To help you understand what those can be, here’s an overview of student resources offered by NWHSU, both for students around the world as well as those who can feasibly take advantage of the physical campus in Bloomington, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis.
World-class university offerings. NWHSU is a large facility with great student accommodations. For example, on-campus healthcare clinics and an extensive research library that you can access no matter where you’re located.
Student services. The Office of Student Affairs has a wide range of programs and services, many available both live and virtually, that not only enhance your student experience but also help you prepare for your career. Highlights include:
- Student clubs and organizations. NWHSU has over 50 clubs and organizations available that cover a wide range of interests. Ultimately, they give you a chance to pursue topics beyond those taught in your courses.
- Career Services. Students can receive one-on-one career counseling; check out career fairs; attend workshops to prepare for job interviews; and search for job opportunities more efficiently with the members-only job platform Handshake.
- Counseling Center. Students have access to no-cost mental health counseling. This service is available on campus and online. In addition, it is also accessible as a network of community-based resources.
- Alumni Services. After students graduate, they can continue to look to NWHSU for support with career development.
The above are in addition to Academic Support services such as tutoring, which is available at no cost to all students.
10. Can I easily learn more about the program?
You’re making a profoundly important investment in your future when you enroll in a nutrition graduate program. So, it’s well worth your time to seize the opportunities you have to better understand the program.
Does it provide convenient ways for you to do that? NWHSU puts on multiple admission events a year for prospective students. You can also set up appointments to talk to an admission counselor and a current student.
Take the next step toward your future
This is an exciting time for the field of nutrition. Do you see yourself playing a role in this increasingly important area of healthcare? If so, then an advanced degree in nutrition can be a powerful next step.
You’ve just absorbed a lot of helpful info on what to look for in a nutrition graduate program. Want help putting it all in perspective? This is the perfect time to reach out to NWHSU for personalized support to better understand what our nutrition program has to offer you.