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.

A computer on a table with a cup of coffee with the words "4 things to do now as a dietetics student" in black writing.

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 is a long (but rewarding) road full of ups and downs. I was fortunate enough to have a university advisor that did not sugar coat the facts: over 50% of students that apply for a dietetic internship (DI) will not match. Currently the national computer match rate is 47%, which means that over half the students who are eligible and apply will not continue on for supervised practice and must wait six months to one year before applying again. Some students have applied two or three years in a row, and still receive no match. Have I scared you yet?

I’m here to tell you the biggest secret to ensuring your best chances at being matched to a DI: EXPERIENCE!

Without a doubt, the best thing you can do for your application and your future career is to gain valuable, relevant experience in nutrition and dietetics. Other than a great GPA, your experience and leadership skills are what will set you apart from other applicants and show internship directors that you didn’t sit back and rely on just your GPA, you took initiative to jump into the field with both feet.

Below are four essential things do now as a nutrition student to gain experience while building your resume for DI applications.

4 Things to Do Now as a Nutrition and Dietetics Student

1. Join campus, local, & national dietetic associations

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).

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. Your 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 student membership fee made me eligible to apply for scholarships and in the end the $50 investment turned into $5000+ in scholarships.

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. 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. Now, only a few years after graduating, I am the president of my local Academy chapter and it would not have happened if I hadn’t became involved as a student.

2. Gain valuable nutrition-related work experience

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 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, community, and foodservice–and it is a good idea to have an understanding of each of these areas.

  • 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. In fact, this study shows that DI directors rank service learning after GPA as the predictor of future success in the internship.

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 experiences 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.

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 to get the newsletter off the ground. 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!

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. 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!

Want more actionable resources on your journey to RD? Check out all of the Fork in the Road #RD2Be Resources, leave a comment below to start the conversation, or contact me directly with questions and concerns. I love helping others on their path to career success!
Kristina Todini, RDN of Fork in the Road cutting vegetables in an outdoor kitchen.

Author: Kristina Todini, RDN

I'm a registered dietitian who believes that food should be good for you AND good for the planet. Join me in taking the "fork in the road" to eat green and live sustainably.

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  • 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

  • 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!