4 Things to Do NOW as a Dietetics Student
Are you a nutrition student looking to become a registered dietitian nutritionist but don’t know where to start? Do these four things NOW to set yourself up for success on the road to RD.
I’m just going to come out and say it: becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is hard work. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it – it’s a long (but rewarding) road to RD.
Currently the national computer dietetic internship match rate is 65% (which is an increase over years past!), which means that over one third of the students who are eligible and apply will matched to a dietetic internship.
However, I’m here to tell you the biggest secret to ensuring your best chances at being matched to a dietetic internship: EXPERIENCE!
Without a doubt, other than haveing a great GPA the best thing you can do for your application and your future career is to gain valuable, relevant leadership and nutrition experience in nutrition and dietetics.
Want to learn the four things you should be doing NOW as a nutrition student to prepare for your future internship application? Read on!
⭐️ 1. Join campus, local + national dietetic associations
One of the most valuable skills you can show internship directors is that you are a future leader in the dietetics profession.
How do you do this? Get involved in your school’s nutrition organization and volunteer with your local and national dietetics associations.
🍏 Get involved with your campus nutrition club
Being a member of your campus nutrition club is the easiest way to get involved and make a name for yourself in your program. Volunteer, join a committee, or even run for office!
While in undergrad, I served as my student dietetic association’s newsletter editor and was also active in committees. Being active in your program will not only help build relationships with your peers, but you will also show your professors your commitment to the program (which will be a big help when it comes time to ask for letters of recommendation!).
🍎 Join your local and national chapters of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Becoming a student member of the national dietetics professional group, the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND), and joining individual dietetics practice groups (DPGs) and other health-related organizations are resume builders and show your unique interests in the field.
🥦 Here are the benefits of joining the Academy as a nutrition student:
- Show directors you are serious about the profession. Joining the professional organization for dietitians as a student shows directors you are serious about becoming a dietitian in the future.
- Be eligible for scholarships. Your national Academy membership automatically enrolls you as a member of your state dietetics association and your small membership fee can pay off in dividends if you apply to scholarships. Paying the $50 student membership fee made me eligible to apply for scholarships and in the end that $50 investment turned into $5000+ in scholarships.
- Network with dietitians in your area. Becoming active with your local and state dietetics association chapters will help you network and meet RDNs in your area — you never know who you will meet or how they can influence your future career.
👉 How volunteering in my local nutrition chapter helped my career
While still in school, I joined and served as my university’s student representative to the Bay Area Dietetic Association. I met many RDNs who were very helpful with advice about internships and was able to take on leadership positions, as well as help with many events in the area.
Only a few years after graduating, I also took on the role of president of my local Academy chapter and it would not have happened if I hadn’t became involved as a student.
Get paid work experience in a nutrition or food-related job while still a nutrition student shows directors that you’re committed to gaining experience in the profession even before becoming an intern.
💡 Here are some ideas for getting nutrition-related work experience:
- Diet clerk or other food-related hospital kitchen job
- Working in a community clinic
- Any paid work with a dietitian (private practice, blogging, etc.)
- Working in a medical office (doctor, dentist, chiropractor, etc.)
- Restaurant/food-service related jobs (probably the easiest to obtain)
- Working in your campus health center
👉 My experience working as a nutrition student
I, like many students, was not lucky enough to stop working while finishing my degree. School was my number one priority, but working was essential…the bills still had to get paid and I was adamant about finishing without outrageous students loans.
While in university I worked in food service because I felt that it would yield the most amount of money in the least amount of time – and I was also able to make enough money on the weekends to take off during the week for class and studying.
I also worked part time for a dietitian in private practice, doing administrative work a few times a month, which gave great insight into owning a nutrition business. Many friends in my program obtained positions in clinical hospitals as diet clerks, which shows internship directors that you are comfortable in hospital and kitchen settings.
Other ways of gaining paid experience would be working at community clinics, food banks, or other nutrition related jobs. These positions tend to be harder to come by, but being diligent and reaching out to RDNs can help you to get paid while also gaining great dietetics experience.
👨🌾 3. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!
An important word of advice: start volunteering now! Volunteering your time shows DI directors that you are committed to the pursuit of gaining dietetics related experience.
🌱 Generally there are three types of volunteer experience:
- Clinical Nutrition Volunteering: Obtaining a position in the nutrition department of a clinical hospital will show that you are familiar with working in a diet office and are comfortable working with patients. Finding clinical volunteer positions can be challenging in some areas without many hospitals, so also look into extended care, rehab, and skilled nursing facilities. Research every potential site and call their volunteer offices to see if they accept nutrition/dietetics volunteers. Asking your university director or other students in the area may help you get in touch with the right person.
- Community Nutrition Volunteering: Community clinics, meal services, and health departments are great resume and experience builders. Meals on Wheels, Women, Infant, Children (WIC), and health departments are a great places to start your search.
- Foodservice Nutrition Volunteering: Food banks are an excellent way to gain volunteer hours and many have drop-in times that can fit a hectic schedule. I was able to drop in from 3:30pm-5pm in the afternoons after class at one homeless shelter during my first semester in my DPD program. Farmer’s markets on campus or in your area can also help you create relationships with local foodies while learning about seasonal produce.
The importance of volunteer experience cannot be stressed enough. My program director told every student in my program to start volunteering as soon as possible and said that at least 500 hours of service was considered competitive. Because of this, everyone in my class volunteered regularly and our class had the highest internship match rate of our program to date.
👉 What type of experience is most important for matching to a dietetic internship?
After researching many dietetic internships prior to applying, I found that the number one experience that most DI directors value was clinical.
Not every internship director may feel this way, but if the programs you are interested in are clinically focused then you will want to make sure to have great experience in that area. Are the programs you’re looking at focused on community? Make sure your community experiences are top notch.
And remember, while it is good to have a wide breadth of experiences, it is also important to show that you have been able to hold positions for longer periods of time. Directors want to know that you are mature and responsible enough to handle the workload of the internship.
💯 4. Create your own dietetics volunteer experience
While all of the above suggestions are key areas in building your resume, how exactly can you make yourself stand out from the rest of the applicants?
The easiest way to show your creativity and initiative is to create your own experiences.
Is your school nutrition club lacking a resource you would find helpful? Then start it! Find an area that is weak or dream up a committee that would be helpful to your peers.
Develop a mentoring committee or eating disorder support group on campus—the possibilities are endless, but the core idea is to show that you are able to detect a need and implement a new idea into action.
👉 How I created my own nutrition leadership experience
While I was a senior dietetics students I reached out to Nutrition Entrepreneurs, a DPG within the Academy, and suggested starting a newsletter for its student members. My idea was well received and I worked with the executive committee for months to create a quarterly newsletter geared towards students that is still in action today.
Starting your own club, committee, or volunteer experience will set you far apart from other applicants and will show that you are blazing a new path for yourself and your fellow students!
👩⚕️ How gaining experience helps you decide your dietetics future
It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you jump in there are many possible ways of obtaining quality dietetics experiences.
The benefits of having a strong resume are obvious on paper, but personally you will also gain perspective on the field and will fine tune your interests.
For example, you may have thought you would love clinical, but then had an amazing experience in community that captured your heart. You may realize that corporate or business dietetics careers are in line with your goals.
Whatever your path may be, seeking out a variety of experiences as a student will show that you will excel in various internship rotations and will be able to handle what is thrown your way.
Taking the time to build a strong resume as a student will allow you to enter the internship application process or the employment arena with more confidence, and instead of being scared you will be proud to have reached such a pivotal point in your career. Good luck!
👉 More actionable RD2Be resources
Make sure to read my other articles for future dietitians:
- The process of becoming a registered dietitian, explained
- How the DICAS dietetic internship application works
- What you should know before writing your personal statement
- How to prepare for your dietetic internship interviews
- What I wish I had read before taking my RD exam
If you want more resources and tips for the dietetic internship application process, subscribe below!
This article was so very helpful for me.
I am a Pharmacy Technician of 10+ years and Professional dance artist – looking to transition into Dietetics.
Starting in 2019 I will be taking prerequisite classes to apply for the DPD program at Drexel University. I recently decided that keeping my Pharmacy job while pursuing this field will not help me get my foot in the door ; that I need to be in a more specific environment to sculpt the skills needed for the future.
Thank you for your honesty and advice, this was an important read!
I’m so glad this was helpful to you! I completely understand it being hard to change careers, I was a second career dietitian and it was a big sacrifice…but it was definitely worth it. However, I do think your pharmacy tech position will provide you good experience so don’t give it up if you don’t want to, there are great ways to get nutrition experience by volunteering or becoming a leader in your school’s clubs. I think director’s would find someone with your experience valuable as it shows you are familiar with the medical field. Either way, good luck!
This is great thank you! I will be graduating from my community college with an Associated in Nutrition and a certificate as a dietary supervisor. Im transferring to a DPD program in 2019 so ill be using this article as reference on how to gain more experience. Hopefully I finish the program before 2024 haha
That’s great! I’ve been where you are, it’s a long road to RDN but it’s definitely worth it. Keep pushing through, you’ll get there!
I am so grateful that google brought me to you! Long story short- I worked in kitchens, got sick, started a food blog, quit the blog to rest, decided I was ready to explore my calling and now am working towards those RDN credentials. I am loving your website, thank you for taking time to create the content I needed to see today!
That’s so great to hear! That seems like my story, I worked in food service for many years and then went to school to become a dietitian. It’s a long road, but it’s definitely worth it. Good luck!
Thank you very much for sharing your story.
I have a BA in accounting and been working in the field for the past 5 years but its not my passion. On the other hand, Nutrition and be able to help people with their food choices light my heart. I am looking to transition into Dietetics but first i need to take prerequisite classes in order to apply for the DPD program at Florida National University. I am a single mom of three who works full time and have no idea how i am going to make it work but i know in my heart its my calling. Too bad i didn’t realized it 10 years ago and did my BA in accounting but its never too late. I am grateful i found you and read other people’s comments about changing paths, its makes me feel i am not alone… Thank you 🙂
That’s great that you’ve found your calling and it’s totally fine that it happened later in life. I honestly am happy that I have prior career experience, I’ve only found it to be an asset in my dietetics career so far. If I were you I would definitely look into masters degree programs because soon there will be a master’s requirement to become a RD (check with eatright.org for all requirements). But even just taking one class at a time will help, I found online classes to be the the most flexible when I was working. Good luck, you can do it!
Thank you so much for writing this blog post, my University’s Dietetics Program is not as helpful as this blog (nervous laugh) but I’m excited to continue my journey, prepare for Grad School and become a RD!!! My GPA plummeted due to depression last year, but now that im on medication im back to only getting A’s so I hope that this wont damage my chances to get in (what are your thoughts?)
Since my school seems to be and have low interest in food I’ve been working on creating a food and nutrition association/club and a program to help students for the last three months. (wish me luck)
Thanks for stopping by and for your comment! It can be challenging to get good information as a student and it feels like you’re never doing enough. As far as the slip up on grades, I think you can actually use that story as a strength when you’re applying to internships. You can say that you went through a hard period but came back stronger and more determined. And the fact you started a food association means you saw and gap and created something, that’s huge! Good luck!
Hi there, i have found your articles very helpful. i am 24 and after long time struggling to find what i want to do, my goal has been set on the Nutrition field. one of my questions is would getting a personal training certification and working as a personal trainer dabbling in sports nutrition help get an internship?
also the internship process, im unclear how that works? i live in a small town, would i have to relocate if they match me with an internship in another town or state? and could you find a local business to sponsor an internship?
sorry i have so many questions haha
Hi Ciara, thanks for reaching out and I’m glad the article was helpful for you. I think any food, restaurant, health, nutrition, or exercise can help you to get into an internship. If you know 100% that sports nutrition is the field you’d like to be in, then it can help. But I would definitely get started on your RD classes first instead of waiting and getting yet another certification. As far as matching away from home, if you apply to out of town/state internships and you match there, then yes you would have to move. They do have distance dietetic internships as well, so do a little research on those programs. I’ve never heard of businesses sponsoring an internship, unfortunately. Hope that helps!
Hello, I read your blog and I liked it. I’m physician in my country. I practice Medicine for about 7 years. I moved to US because I got married and I was interested in do my Master in Nutrition but when I went to the university, there told me that I had to be first RD to practice here. So, I am going to start my DPD this year. Do you thing my background as a Doctor will help me to match in the internship? Can you give another advice in this new step in my life? Thank you!!!!
Hi there, thanks for reaching out! I think that your background as a physician will absolutely help you in your pursuit of an internship. I would also suggest volunteering and getting involved with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well, which will show that now nutrition is your chosen field. I hope that helps, thanks!
Thank you for this information! I am a first time college student and am currently taking Gen Ed’s for my Associate’s Degree in General Science . I then have to apply to a college for the Dietician Program. However, I am worried I wont make it through the hard classes to come. I am a bariatric patient and want to work with people that have had weight loss surgery like I have. Do you have any advice for someone like me just getting started? Thanks!
Hi Mirranda, thanks for reaching out. I would say just start. I was scared of the science classes as well, but honestly they weren’t as hard as I thought they would be (but I did have to buckle down and study). Get involved with study groups and find resources online like Kahn Academy to help you through hard topics like chemistry. It seems daunting in the beginning but you will get there!
Thanks for sharing!
I am currently a junior and starting to panic about the internship matching process coming up. I have two kids under 2 and am finding it soooo hard to volunteer! I have been volunteering at one community food place since 2011 but have never kept track of my hours, does that matter?? This field seems very overwhelming at times, but this is also the most busy I will probably be until my kids are in high school…. hopefully. Ha! Your blog is very helpful though, I am glad I stumbled upon it, yay Pinterest! 🙂
I think the DICAS application is more of an “honor system” as far as hours volunteered, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken advantage of because directors could potentially call the places you list and ask for confirmation. So I would do a good guestimate and make sure you really emphasize your other work like any leadership roles, prior work experience, etc. to make sure you’re a well-rounded applicant. Good luck!
Thank you for sharing this information! I just graduated last year with a BA in Hospitality Management. After working in the industry, I wanted to go into a field where I could directly help and guide people who needed help for better health & lifestyle. I am 24, and it is a big change to change from humanities field to a very scientific field.. Do you have any suggestion where to start from? I did notice that work experience is very important when matching for internship/job in future.. Should I jump straight into taking pre-requisites for Masters or do shadowing/volunteering in any food related field? Sorry for long questions, Thank you so much!!
Hi Diana, thanks for reaching out and I’m sorry for my long reply! I completely understand it’s scary to make a big life change, I didn’t go back to school until I was 26 and it took me about 5 years to become a RDN. I would first decide if this career is truly something you want to do before jumping in, so reach out to RDs and see what kinds of job opportunities are available and if it’s something you would enjoy. Then go on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website and see if there are programs around you, then contact those programs and see what their prereq classes are. I would worry about work experience later and just get started with the classes you need and contacting programs. Good luck!
Thank you for this information, it’s been helpful! I am currently working in Public Relations but am thinking about going back to school to become a RD. It’s obviously expensive and time consuming to go back to school. In my heart I know it’s what I want, but do you have any advice on books or intro classes to take to ensure this is really what I am interested in (and I can actually do well)?
Hi Madison, thanks so much for reaching out. It was hard for me to sacrifice my full-time job and life as a “regular adult” to go back to school, but now that I’m on the other side of it I know it was the best decision I could have made. However, I don’t work in traditional dietetics, I actually workin PR/marketing myself, so now it’s the best of both worlds. I would reach out to dietitians doing jobs you think look interesting and speak with them about their experiences first. Then I would research all it would take to become a registered dietitian (check out my How to Become a Registered Dietitian post for more info). Then I would sign up for an intro nutrition class at a community college or similar to make sure this is really something you’d like to study. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a very rewarding career. Good luck and feel free to email me at [email protected].