Strengthen Your Opportunities to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Here are some suggestions to improve your ability to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Whether you are an existing student or considering dietetics as a career, this information will help you understand the education avenues and help position you for success.
Explore the Avenues to Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Note: Starting 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 for registered dietitian nutritionists.
If you intend to become a registered dietitian nutritionist, you must choose from one of the following pathways through an ACEND®-accredited program to become eligible to sit for the credentialing exam for RDNs. You can access a list of ACEND-accredited programs on our website.
Coordinated Programs (CP)
An ACEND-accredited CP integrates classroom learning (similar to a DPD) and supervised practice experiences (similar to a Dietetic Internship) within one program. If you graduate successfully from a CP, you will be eligible to sit for the RDN exam. There are coordinated programs at both the bachelor's and master's level.
Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) and Dietetic Internship (DI)
This pathway consists of first enrolling in an ACEND-accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics, which consists of class instruction. After completion of the DPD, you must then enroll in an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Internship. The DI consists of supervised practice experiences in real-life work settings. The majority of students who go through a DPD plus DI pathway apply for a dietetic internship position through a competitive, online matching process. If you are considering applying to a DPD, ask whether the program has placement agreements such as "pre-select matching" that will provide you with a dietetic internship position as long as you maintain the DPD requirements. If not, you will be required to apply for a dietetic internship placement through the online matching process. Some DPD and DI programs offer graduate degrees. Additional options for DPD graduates include applying to an FG or graduate level CP to complete the master's degree and supervised practice.
Future Education Model Graduate Program in Nutrition and Dietetics (GP)
Prospective students can apply to GP which have both graduate level coursework and supervised experiential learning incorporated into the graduate degree program. Students earn a graduate degree while meeting the required ACEND competencies and experiential learning to be eligible for the credentialing exam for RDNs. Each GP determines its application requirements. Some programs may require applicants to have a dietetics degree or a DPD verification statement.
Utilize Your Resources
The first place to go for information is your academic advisor, program director and/or faculty. They understand the education process and can help you decide where to apply and navigate the application process.
We encourage you to research as many ACEND-accredited programs as you can to understand what is available and to refine your area of interest. Some programs schedule open houses for students either in person or virtually. Programs are required to provide information related to their graduates such as employment rates, program completion, performance on the RDN exam and acceptance into internships to prospective students and the public upon request. To obtain this information, view the program's website or contact the program director. As you investigate programs, these are areas to research and compare your notes to find the best program to fit your career goals and position you for success.
How to be a Competitive Applicant to an ACEND-accredited Program
Here are some areas to strengthen your application to dietetic internships or future education model graduate programs:
Make sure that your letters of recommendation and references are from individuals who really know the quality of your work and your character and are willing to put positive recommendations in writing. Vague or mediocre letters of recommendation do not stand out to programs and can indicate that the person who wrote the letter of recommendation does not know you well or does not have many positive qualities or examples to share.
Discuss your career goals, previous work and volunteer experiences with your reference writers. Share your resume. This will help them be able to give specific examples that speak to your character and abilities.
Always do your best work, and always cultivate good relationships with your advisors, teachers, employers, peers, patients, clients and students.
Selecting potential references:
- Ask for letters of recommendation from people who know that you do high-quality work, have a strong study and work ethic, and behave in a professional and ethical manner.
- Make sure that that people who are writing letters of recommendation or serving as references are doing so because they truly believe in you, not because they feel obligated to do so.
- Make sure that the people you ask to write a letter of recommendation or serve as a reference are considered by others to be honest and professional.
- Never ask for a letter of recommendation or a reference from someone for whom you have done poor or mediocre work.
Pay attention to how you communicate, whether verbally or written, because this conveys much about your sense of organization and attention to detail.
- First and foremost, give yourself enough time to write a strong personal statement, application letter and resume. Personalize your messages. Avoid using a generic statement or letter that is the same for every application that you submit. Carefully read the directions for each program and address what is requested in the application. Study the program where you plan to apply, and make sure that your cover letter and application documents highlight your strengths and experience that directly relate to the program.
- Ask others who know dietetics to proofread your writing and incorporate their suggestions.
- Make sure that any documents submitted for your application (letters, resumes, writing samples and other documents) are without error. Use standard conventions for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Double check the correct program is referenced in your application.
- Communicate thoughtfully, concisely and respectfully whether in writing or verbally.
- Speak well of your DPD and your experiences. Disparaging remarks or gossip about advisors, teachers, employers, peers, patients, clients and students is unprofessional.
- Always keep your writing professional, cordial and factual. Under no circumstances should you ever write or communicate in a tone that could be construed as derisive or complaining.
There are many things that you can do as a student to make your application stand out from the others that will not only improve your chances of getting admitted into a program, but also propel you in your career as a registered dietitian nutritionist.
- Volunteer and provide community service, especially in areas related to health and nutrition. If possible, volunteer at a facility that serves as a practice site for a program that includes supervised practice, so that preceptors and/or the program director can become familiar with your abilities.
- Get practical, paid work experiences, especially in areas related to your desired area(s) of practice. If possible, seek employment at a facility that serves as a practice site for a program that includes supervised practice, so that preceptors and/or the program director can become familiar with your abilities.
- Become actively involved, especially at the leadership level, in professional organizations, such as college dietetics clubs and/or district-, state- and national-dietetics associations. Publish and present any relevant research, projects or work that you have done in journals and at conferences or in poster sessions.
Up the Odds
Along with implementing the recommendations above, you can also increase your chances at getting into a program by making sure that you do the following.
- Apply to internship locations that receive a lower ratio of applicants to the number of available positions. This information may be available by contacting the internship directly, or by reviewing the Applicant Guide to Supervised Practice which many DPDs have available to their students as a resource.
- Apply to several programs and do not limit yourself to only one geographic region when searching for programs.
- Read the program's website information or contact the program director well in advance of preparing your application to determine what qualifications and documentation you need to make your application the most competitive.
- Research the requirements for each program and make sure that you are qualified before you apply. Do not apply to a program if your GPA or GRE score is lower than the internship requirements; if you don't have all the required experiences and documentation; or if you cannot afford the tuition, relocation or local living expenses.
Make sure that your GPA is at or above the minimum required by the program, the higher the better. Although GPA is not the only factor considered, it is often heavily weighted. A GPA of 3.0 (B) is often listed as the minimum considered by most DI programs; however, remember that this is only a minimum.
If your GPA is not competitive (i.e., low or close to the minimum required), consider strengthening your application in other ways. Be sure to explain in the applicant statement why they should be considered.
Check to see if the program to which you are applying requires a Graduate Record Exam score. If so, you must take the GRE. The same advice applies to GRE scores as does to GPAs. Make sure that your GRE score is above the minimum required by the program. A score that is just at the minimum will get your application reviewed, but your chances of being accepted are much better if your score is well above the minimum.
If your GRE score is not competitive (i.e., low or close to the minimum required), consider retaking the GRE to bring it up to the highest possible level.
Although many decisions and experiences can increase your chances of getting accepted into a program, a few may jeopardize your chances and negatively affect your entire professional future!
- Consider your social media presence. Avoid posting unprofessional information or photographs on the Internet.
- Avoid criminal behavior. A criminal record may make you ineligible to work in many health-care facilities and prevent you from completing your education.
Never misrepresent or falsify information regarding your education, work experiences or credentials. If you are discovered doing this, you could ruin your professional reputation and jeopardize your career.
Unmatched DI Applicants
Typically, applicants are not matched with an internship as a result of two conditions:
- The applicant was qualified, but the qualifications of other applicants were ranked higher.
- The applicant did not meet program admission requirements.
In some cases, a different internship with more positions, fewer applicants, or different entry requirements may be a better fit based on your qualifications. Consider the following recommendations:
Computer matching occurs in April and November of each year. A second-round match occurs a few days after the April and November matches if any unmatched internship positions remain.
- To participate in another computer-matching process, research which internships are participating in the month when you plan to reapply (April or November); then register with D&D Digital.
- To participate in the second-round match, check the D&D Digital website to view the list of internship programs that still have openings; then contact the program directors at the internships to see if you can submit an application.
Unmatched applicants can also explore applying to an Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway (ISPP), GP or a graduate level CP.
You can also increase your chances at getting an internship by using the suggestions in the section above and by following the recommendations listed below:
- Talk with the program director of those programs to which you applied to get suggestions for making future applications more competitive.
- Consider seeking employment in a food-and-nutrition department at a facility that serves as a practice site for an internship program, so that preceptors and the program director can become familiar with your abilities.
- Evaluate if it is beneficial to repeat classes to achieve higher grades in those dietetics courses or supporting courses that may be contributing to a less competitive GPA.
- Improve your GRE score by taking the examination again.
- Begin a graduate degree before reapplying for the internship placement.
- Obtain certifications and credentials that are related to your work, such as the Nutrition and Dietetics Technician, Registered (NDTR) credential. Changes in eligibility requirements for the NDTR exam now allow DPD graduates to sit for the NDTR exam.
Find an ACEND-Accredited Program
ACEND has more than 600 accredited programs across the United States and select countries internationally, with in-person and online options. Use the search filters to find the program that fits your needs.