Graduate Certificate Programs in Nutrition and Nutritional Science - Online and Campus
Updated: April 12, 2022
Graduate certificate programs in nutrition provide post-baccalaureate academic training in the science of human nutrition and the evidence-based application of this science in the delivery of health and wellness services. These programs represent a means for college graduates to study advanced principles and practices of nutritional science and dietetics at the graduate level without having to enroll in a full master’s program, and they generally consist of four or five courses that cover topics in nutrition across the lifespan, nutritional assessment methodologies, and the relationship between health and diet.
Graduate certificate programs in the field of nutrition are typically designed to accommodate working professionals, graduate students, and others who intend to take classes on a part-time basis, including physicians and physician assistants, nurses, public health practitioners, physical and occupational therapists, health communication professionals, teachers and educators, and others who have full-time jobs. Indeed, there are a number of accredited, non-profit colleges and universities that offer graduate certificate programs in nutrition in partially and/or fully online formats in order to provide maximum convenience and flexibility.
In addition, the graduate credits earned in a graduate certificate program offered by an accredited institution in most cases can be applied towards a master’s degree in nutrition or nutritional science should students decide to pursue a full master’s degree in the future.
Nutritional Science Explained
Nutritional science encompasses the study of how the food, supplements, and other substances we consume as part of our diet are processed biochemically, the relationship between diet and health, and the psychological, social, cultural, and economic factors that impact diet and wellness. Nutritionists, dietitians, and other health and wellness professionals trained in nutritional science rely on this body of knowledge to assess the effects of dietary factors on illness and disease, physical and cognitive performance, and human development across the lifespan. They are thus able to provide evidence-based dietary guidance to individual clients, work in the private and non-profit sectors to implement initiatives aimed at improving population health, and offer subject matter expertise on food preparation, menu design, and dietary concerns to catering businesses, restaurant groups, institutional dining facilities, and companies developing new food products.
Nutritional science thus has broad applications in healthcare, public health, and health education, in the hospitality and food manufacturing businesses, in the personal health and wellness industry, and in the professional and recreational sports worlds. Professional nutritionists may work in hospital and clinics, institutional settings, food and hospitality businesses, and catering companies, as well as in public health departments, social work agencies, and private practice. It is important to note that some states require nutritionists to be formally licensed in order to engage in specific types of practice, while others do not.
It is also worth noting that there are several national certifications in nutrition/dietetics that employers may require or prefer. These include:
- American Nutrition Association’s Certified Nutrition Specialist, which requires a graduate degree in nutrition and 1000 hours of supervised practice experience;
- Commission on Dietetic Registration’s Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN), which requires a bachelor’s degree plus 900-1200 hours of supervised internships;
- Clinical Nutrition Certification Board’s Certified Clinical Nutritionist, which requires a bachelor’s degree, 900 hours of work experience, and a 56-hour postgraduate seminar in nutrition, or a master’s degree in nutrition.
Coursework completed as part of a graduate certificate in nutrition commonly counts toward eligibility for these professional certifications as well as for state licensing in the states that require it. However, students should always review licensing requirements for their state of residence before applying to a graduate program or a graduate certificate program if they wish to pursue licensure in the future.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in Nutrition
For a program to be classified as a graduate certificate it must consist of a cluster of graduate-level courses offered by an accredited college or university and be designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree, master’s, and/or doctoral degree. Certificate programs that do not require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree consist of undergraduate-level courses and are classified as post-secondary certificate programs rather than graduate certificate programs.
Graduate certificate programs in nutrition typically require students to complete four or five master’s-level courses, some or all of which may overlap with a Master of Science (MS) curriculum offered by the same school. Indeed, graduate certificate programs in nutrition are commonly offered through schools and colleges of health, public health, nursing, and medicine that have graduate degree programs. Common designations for these programs include, but are not limited to:
- Graduate Certificate in Nutrition
- Graduate Certificate in Nutritional Science
- Graduate Certificate in Applied Nutrition
- Graduate Certificate in Food and Nutrition Science
- Graduate Certificate in Human Nutrition
In addition to post-baccalaureate certificate programs in nutrition, there are also post-master’s graduate certificate programs in this field. A post-master’s certificate requires applicants to hold a master’s or doctoral degree, typically in a field related to nutrition, human health, nursing, public health, social work, or education. However, professionals who hold a master’s or a doctoral degree should note that most graduate certificate programs, regardless of whether or not they require at least a master’s degree, accept and are appropriate for students who have already earned a graduate degree.
Nutritional Science Graduate Certificate Coursework
Graduate certificate programs in nutrition generally require the completion of 12-18 credits of coursework, or between four and six courses. These courses and the specific focus of a nutrition graduate certificate curriculum vary by program. However, most certificate programs in nutrition cover core topics related to human metabolism, the role of nutrients and supplements in human health at various stages in life, accepted methods for assessing the nutritional health of individuals and populations, and evidence-based interventions for improving individual and population health.
In addition, these programs may include required or elective courses in specialized topics, including but not limited to: health and nutrition communication and education; sustainable food systems; sports nutrition; health psychology; obesity and weight loss; organic and natural foods; dietary supplements; and vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets.
The examples listed below are indicative of the types of courses that are typically required and/or offered as electives by graduate certificate programs in nutrition.
- Life Cycle Nutrition – An overview of physiological changes throughout the lifespan and the implications of these changes for nutrition and health.
- Nutrition Education and Health Communication – An examination of the current state of nutrition education at all levels with a focus on applying the principles of health communication to improving nutrition educational programming and public awareness about the connections between diet and health.
- Cultural and Community Nutrition – The social determinants of health and the role of cultural identity, social and physical environment, and economic status on behaviors related to food, diet, and nutrition.
- Health Psychology – The interplay between psychological (personality, behavior, coping mechanisms, and biological reactivity) and environmental factors, such as stress and social support, on diet and health outcomes at the individual and population level.
- Nutrition and Chronic Diseases – An examination of the relationship between nutrition and autoimmune conditions, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
- Culinary Medicine – The application of evidence-based nutrition expertise, medical knowledge, and culinary skills in achieving and maintaining optimal health and wellness.
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Nutrition
As noted previously, many accredited colleges and universities now offer graduate certificate programs in an online format in order to accommodate working professionals who may not be able to attend campus-based classes during the workday, and to serve students who live beyond commuting range of the school offering the program. This includes online graduate certificate programs in nutrition. Online programs provide all or most of their instruction via web-based learning management systems (LMSs), allowing students to attend virtual class discussions and access pre-recorded lectures and other instructional materials from anywhere with a secure internet connection.
When researching online programs, schools will typically refer to their online instruction methods as either being synchronous or asynchronous, so it is important to understand the difference, especially for working professionals. Live-streamed lectures and online class meetings that take place in real time are examples of synchronous instruction. Pre-recorded lectures and course materials that do not require students to be logged on to a program’s LMS at specific times are examples of asynchronous instruction.
Some programs offer all or the majority of their required coursework via asynchronous instruction, which provides students with the greater flexibility but requires more self-motivation and self-discipline in order to complete assignments on schedule. Other programs utilize a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction, which can provide greater structure for students who desire a more traditional classroom feel and who are able to attend live sessions, which are typically held in the evening or on weekends.
Another important factor when considering online programs is campus visits. While many online graduate certificate programs in nutrition do not require students to attend any campus-based sessions, some programs hold on-campus seminars, workshops, and/or lectures that students are required to attend. These campus-based sessions, sometimes referred to as residencies or intensives, may be utilized for labs and other types of hands-on learning experiences. They can enrich the online learning experience and give students the opportunity to connect with classmates and meet face-to-face with instructors. However, they may not be convenient for students whose work schedules conflict with required campus visits or for those who do not live near the school offering the program.
Examples of Online Nutrition Graduate Certificate Programs
The examples below represent a cross section of the types of online graduate certificate programs in nutrition that a currently offered by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities.
American University offers an online Certificate in Nutrition Education program that does not require students to attend any campus visits. This is an 18-credit graduate certificate program that requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. It consists of four core courses in topics such as nutrition throughout the lifespan, nutrition education, and applied nutritional science. Students in the program can also choose two elective courses in topics that include, but are not limited to, sports nutrition, nutritional epidemiology, and nutrition in schools. The program’s six course curriculum can be completed in one year and the 18 credits earned through the graduate certificate can be applied to American University’s 30-credit Master of Science (M.S.) in Nutrition Education program, which is also offered online.
Temple University has a Graduate Certificate in Nutrition program offered through its College of Public Health. The program allows students to take all of their courses online or attend evening classes at the university’s Philadelphia campus. This is a 12-credit certificate program that consists of four courses from an online Master of Science (M.S.) in Nutrition program that is offered by Temple’s College of Public Health. Students take one required course – Nutrition Program Planning, Theory, and Practice – and choose three electives from the M.S. program curriculum. Elective options include: Nutrition Education and Counseling; Cultural and Community Nutrition; and Nutrition Through the Lifecyle. Students in the Temple program can earn their graduate certificate in two semesters or take up to four semesters to complete the program requirements. The 12 credits earned in the Graduate Certificate in Nutrition program can be applied toward the M.S. in Nutrition program offered by Temple.
The University of Maine offers a Graduate Certificate in Human Nutrition through UMaine Online. The program is 100% online and does not require any campus visits. Students in the program complete 12 credits of graduate coursework, all of which can be applied to UMaine Online’s Master of Science (M.S.) in Food Science & Human Nutrition program. Among the courses that are available to graduate certificate program students are Nutritional Assessment, Nutrition & Aging, Integrative and Functional Nutrition, Communication in Nutrition and Food Technology, and Nutrient Changes in the Food System. Students choose four such courses in order to earn the graduate certificate, which can be completed in one year or less, depending on the number of courses taken per term. The Graduate Certificate in Human Nutrition program offered by UMaine is designed for students and mid-career professionals who have completed college-level coursework in anatomy, biology, chemistry, and physiology.
More Graduate Certificate Programs in Nutrition
|American University||Online||Graduate Certificate in Nutrition Education|
|Appalachian State University||Online||Graduate Certificate in Public Health Nutrition Practice|
|George Mason University||Fairfax, VA||Nutrition Graduate Certificate with Concentrations in Community Nutrition, and Food Security|
|Liberty University||Online||Graduate Certificate in Nutrition|
|Temple University||Online; Philadelphia, PA||Graduate Certificate in Nutrition|
|The University of Alabama at Birmingham||Online||Graduate Certificate in Nutrition for Community Health|
|University of Kentucky||Online||Graduate Certificate in Applied Nutrition & Culinary Medicine|
|University of Maine||Online||Graduate Certificate in Human Nutrition|
|Virginia State University||Virginia State University, VA||Graduate Certificate Program in Food and Nutrition Science|