A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is considered the top nutrition expert who will link good nutrition to better health. The RDN 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 RDN credential will be a greater requirement in this growing field.
To view frequently asked questions about dietitian careers, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.
The RDN credential is earned following completion of academic training, supervised practice experience, and the successful passage of the nationally administered board exam.
The RDN 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.
Effective January 1, 2024, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) will require a minimum of a master’s degree to be eligible to take the credentialing exam to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Read more information on the new graduate degree eligibility requirement. In addition, CDR requires that individuals complete coursework and supervised practice in program(s) accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). In Illinois, graduates also must obtain licensure to practice as a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN). Graduates who successfully complete the ACEND-accredited DPD at the University of Illinois are eligible to apply to an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program and apply to take the CDR credentialing exam to become an RDN. For more information about educational pathways to become an RDN please visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Eat Right Pro website.
Two Paths to Becoming a Dietitian
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- RDN Exam: After you complete either pathway, you're eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietetics. When you pass, you become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and can use the initials "RDN" after your name, signifying that you're an expert in food and nutrition.
RD Exam Information
All candidates eligible for the RDN exam, which is accomplished by the satisfactory completion of a supervised practice program (i.e. dietetic internship completion), will automatically receive an online application for their initial exam. Upon receiving this information after successful completion of the dietetic internship, an applicant will have one year to take the exam. In the case where an examinee fails the first attempt, a second attempt will be allowed after 45 days of the first attempt. However, please remember that the first exam should not be used as practice for the following reasons:
- The RDN exam is very expensive.
- Dietetic programs are evaluated on their students' first-time pass results.
- If dietetic students take position immediately after completing their dietetic internship, employer may expect their new employee to pass the first time in order to not delay their role as a dietitian.
Preparation Methods and Resources
- Classes, such as Breeding & Associates Workshops
- Manuals, such as Hess & Hunt's Review of Dietetics
- Online programs, such as Eatrightprep.org/rdn-exam
- E-mail review questions
- Accreditation Council on Dietetic Registration's website
- CDR's Handbook for Candidates (pdf)
Date and Location
The RDN exam can be taken year-round at an approved test site from Monday to Friday, with the exception of some test centers which are open on Saturday as well.
The RDN exam can be taken at over 225 approved ACT test sites nationwide. Candidates will receive the list of test centers at the time of registration. Regardless of the exam location, state licensure for dietitians has to be obtained in each state where you would practice dietetics.
For the RDN exam, the application fee is $200.00, effective January 1, 2008. It must be paid with credit card (Visa or MasterCard), check, or money order at the time of registration.
The number of questions varies for each examinee. The minimum number of questions is 125 and the maximum number of questions is 145. These include about 25 unscored pretest questions to be fair for all examinees. The computer monitors and varies the number of questions each examinee is given based on this. In other words, fewer questions will need to be answered correctly to pass the exam if the examinee gets slightly more difficult questions. More questions will need to be answered correctly to pass the exam if the examinee gets slightly easier questions.
Examinees will be allowed to complete an introductory tutorial and the exam within 3 hours. Once the examinee starts the exam, 2 hour and 30 minutes will be allowed to complete the exam material. The examinee can choose to either see or hide the clock during the exam. At no time during the RD exam will the examinee be allowed to go back to a question once they have moved from it.
- Principles of Dietetics 12%
- Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups 50%
- Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services 21%
- Foodservice Systems 17%
- Examinees will automatically receive the score on screen immediately upon completion. Never stop on your own. The computer will prompt the examinee by giving a pass/fail status. As examinees leave the testing center, they will be given the printed result in the scale 1-50. A score of 25 or above is required to pass the exam.
"Nutritionist" vs. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
The difference between a "nutritionist" and a RDN 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 RDN 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 RDN is required to complete continuing education units to remain knowledgeable in current practices in the field.
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.
Becoming a Nutrition and Dietetics Technician
DPD graduates with bachelor’s degrees who do not complete the additional requirements to become a RDN can become certified as a Nutrition and Dietetics Technician, Registered (NDTR) by passing a national exam. NDTRs can work either independently or on teams under the supervision of an RDN in fields such as health-care, industry, public health, and foodservice management. See the links below for more details.