Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Becoming a Registered Dietitian

Being a Registered Dietitian

A Registered Dietitian (RD) is considered the top nutrition expert who will link good nutrition to better health. The RD credential is the only credential nationally recognized in foods and nutrition. This credential is necessary for most employment in the health care industry as well as for many other opportunities in foods and nutrition. For this reason, it is expected in the future that the RD credential will be a greater requirement in this growing field.

The RD credential is earned following completion of academic training, supervised practice experience, and the successful passage of the nationally administered board exam.

The RD exam is a computer-based board exam, similar to that of other health professionals board exams. It is reflective of all the major areas in dietetics including: food service, clinical, management and community.

There are two different pathways you can take to become a dietitian.

Path 1

  1. Enroll in an AND—accredited Coordinated Program, which is a Bachelor's or Master's degree program combining classroom and supervised practical experience. This pathway is available at the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC). A list of all Coordinated Programs can be found on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.

Path 2

  1. Academics: Enroll in an AND—Bachelor's degree program called Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD). Every DPD has a different set of required coursework to meet the same standards (read our overview). Some of your courses may already meet the requirements, but these will need to be reviewed. Courses may be completed during graduate school (organic chemistry is needed before an application will be reviewed), as another BS degree or as a non-degree program (however, non-degree seeking students are low priority for courses at the University of Illinois).
  2. Supervised Practice: Apply to and complete a dietetic internship. Internships can be found nationwide, and are, on average, 10-12 months long. This is a very competitive process which relies on grades, experience and extracurricular involvement. There is an internship associated with our graduate program at the University of Illinois.
  3. RD Exam: After you complete either pathway, you're eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietetics. When you pass, you become a Registered Dietitian, and can use the initials "RD" after your name, signifying that you're an expert in food and nutrition.

Optimizing Dietetic Internship Competitiveness

Strong Grades Variety of Related Experience
  • GPA of 3.2+
  • A's and B's in all FSHN courses
  • A's and B's in all science courses, preferred
  • Food service management
  • Clinical
  • Community
  • Research
Leadership Well-rounded Portfolio
  • Lab reports
  • Papers
  • Photos
  • Projects

"Nutritionist" vs. Registered Dietitian

The difference between a "nutritionist" and a RD is that there are no requirements to use the title of "nutritionist". This term has no standard of education or training. This means that anyone could use the title "nutritionist" even if they have no background in this field. For this reason, you need to verify their qualifications in order to be a reputable source. In contrast, the RD is a nationally recognized title for nutrition expert. It reflects a high level of training and experience in the nutrition and health field. To maintain this status, the RD is required to complete continuing education units to remain knowledgeable in current practices in the field.

Licensed Dietitian

A licensed dietitian (LD) is one who has been licensed by a state to ensure that only qualified, trained professionals provide nutrition services or advice to individuals requiring or seeking nutrition care or information. Only state licensed dietetics professionals can provide nutrition counseling. Non-licensed practitioners may be subject to prosecution for practicing without a license.

Application to become a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) in the State of Illinois

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