A common misconception in nutrition is that a clinical nutritionist and a registered dietitian are one and the same. While both careers are in the health and wellness industry and focus closely on the human body relative to nutrition intake, there are many distinctive differences. Are you trying to decide what career path is right for you? Let's look at the differences between the two to help guide you in the right direction.

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Nutritionist Overview

The journey to becoming a nutritionist starts with a degree program and certifications that vary by state. To become a clinical nutritionist, generally you will need to have earned the Certified Nutrition Specialty (CNS) credential, which entails an examination and 1000 hours of supervised practice experience. After earning your degree and completing your certification, it's time to start your career. The top careers of clinical nutritionists are private practice, the food and supplement industry, direct patient care in an outpatient setting, college teaching and research. There are many specialties you can choose to pursue including sports nutrition and human performance. An M.S. in Applied Clinical Nutrition can be completed in as little as two years and entirely online when completed at Northeast College of Health Sciences.

Dietitian Overview

Becoming a dietitian starts with a Bachelor's degree in science or more specialized nutrition courses. After earning an undergraduate degree, you must be matched with a competitive internship program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). These internships typically last 900-1,200 hours in length and focus on different types of dietetic studies. At the end of the internship, you would take an exit examination and, upon passing, would finally be eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dieticians. Once this exam is completed successfully, you would be a legal dietitian.


A nutritionist taking notes

It is no surprise that there are many similarities between a nutritionist and a dietitian. require a lot of the same coursework and both career paths will land you a job focusing on the human body relative to nutrition intake. Undergraduate coursework for both concentrate on science-based courses with a nutrition focus, although a nutrition degree is not required for the MS in Applied Clinical Nutrition Program. Nutritionists and dietitians both require certifications to practice legally in some states, and after completion, both earn the same average salary of $61,270.


While there are many similarities between nutritionists and dietitians, some distinctive differences lead to two different career paths. The main difference is the certification requirements. A nutritionist has to pass a different certification examination to hold a nutritionist title. As either a nutritionist or dietician, you would also have a more comprehensive range of specialties you can choose to pursue, including sports nutrition, human performance, and pediatrics.

Which One is Right For You?

Now that you know the differences between nutritionists and dietitians, how do you choose which one is right for you? It all depends on what you want out of your career and the steps you want to take to get there. At Northeast, our Applied Clinical Nutrition degree will get you to your career goals in as little as two years completely online. If you are looking for a convenient work-with-you plan for nutritionists, then completing your M.S. in Applied Clinical Nutrition at Northeast might be the right choice for you.

Whichever path you decide on, both nutritionists and dietitians offer rewarding careers. If you are interested in learning more about Northeast's Clinical Nutrition degree, visit our website for more information or contact us today.