California Masters in Nutrition and Food Science Programs

Masters in nutrition and food science programs teach students about food in every stage of its existence. This ranges from the process of growing ingredients and producing and distributing food, to how it impacts people’s health.

At the masters level, these programs often take a professional perspective. That means courses might examine the roles and responsibilities inherent to careers in nutrition and food science. Some classes might also discuss research methodologies, and how to understand and apply research findings effectively. Because nutrition and food science approach the study of food from different angles, the specifics might vary.

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Nutrition vs. Food Science: What’s The Difference?

While nutrition and food science both concern food and how people interact with it, beyond that, the subjects typically differ. This has mostly to do with their primary focus. Nutrition, both as an area of study and as a profession, is person-centric. It focuses on people’s relationships with food, and how it impacts health both positively and negatively. In some programs, this topic could also touch on the impact food availability has on different types of communities. Food science, on the other hand, looks at what food is made of and how it’s produced, distributed, and kept safe. This could include an array of more specific concentration areas, such as food safety, packaging, or beverage science.

Nutrition Masters Programs

Earning a masters in nutrition degree, you might take one of two paths: building the knowledge and experience to support your professional role once you graduate, or setting yourself up for a nutrition doctoral program. The objective your program is designed to accommodate is likely to impact the curriculum and the types of experiences offered.

The majority of masters in nutrition programs tend to be career oriented. Many of these may be designed with experienced professionals in mind. In those cases, they might ask for a certain amount of relevant professional experience as a prerequisite to attend. These types of nutrition masters programs use that experience as a foundation on which to build further expertise. However, that’s not always the case—some nutritionist programs may be aimed toward those new to the field. In that case, the curriculum might aim to establish a broad foundation of essential knowledge, skills, and experience to help you get started.

Example Nutrition Masters Curriculum

In a masters in nutrition program, you’re likely to encounter courses that focus on the human body, to better understand how those systems are affected by nutritional needs and deficiencies. Example course topics could include the following.

  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Human nutrition
  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Systems physiology

If your nutrition masters program is designed primarily to accommodate those with little or no experience, the curriculum may additionally include field experience opportunities. These may help students prepare for licensure. According to BLS, nutritionists across the United States generally need to obtain a minimum amount of supervised training in order to become licensed to practice. The specifics, however, may vary by state, so make sure you follow up with your school and/or the licensing entity in your state if this is a concern for you.

Masters in Food Science Programs

Food science masters programs apply scientific principles to the composition, preparation, handling, and distribution of food. In other words, these programs tend to look not at the people eating it, but rather at the food itself in all its forms. This can be a fairly broad topic, and as a result, you might encounter a diverse array of more specific programs which may allow you to study one particular element of food science in detail. Some examples of this are listed below.

  • Masters in Food Science and Technology Program
  • Food Safety Masters Degree
  • Food Engineering Masters Degree
  • Masters in Beverage Science Program

Generally, food science masters programs require a bachelors degree in food science or a related field such as biology or engineering. However, specific requirements or preferences can vary. Some programs may also ask that prospective students completed relevant coursework. The type of courses they may ask for could include biology, chemistry, calculus, organic chemistry, etc. As with degree requirements, this tends to vary by program.

Example Food Science Curriculum

In food science masters programs, the types of courses you might attend could be impacted by the focus of your program. If you’re attending one that’s a little broader, your curriculum might be a little more diverse. A more specialized program, meanwhile, might spend more time looking extensively at one area.

That said, some of the more common courses one might attend while working toward a food science masters degree include:

  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Microbiology
  • Food technology
  • Dairy science
  • Food processing

In addition, many food science masters programs require students to complete a final project. Usually, this is either in the form of a thesis or a capstone project. A food science degree thesis could resemble a long academic research paper, and serve to demonstrate a firm grasp of existing food science thought leadership. A capstone, meanwhile, would more closely resemble the types of projects one might do in the field, and could take a variety of forms from building a campaign or developing a product, to performing research.

Masters in Nutrition Program Formats

Of course, one big component of choosing a food science or nutrition masters program is how it will fit into your life, not to mention your learning style. Choosing a program format that works for you could be a crucial element of your success! Whether you prefer to sit in a classroom learning face-to-face, want the freedom to study on the go, or maybe a little of both, a variety of programs could be available. Generally, you might choose one of three program formats, each with its own unique advantages.

  • Online Masters in Nutrition Programs: Online nutrition masters programs are designed to offer the rigorous graduate education you’re looking for in a flexible format. This could be particularly attractive to students already in the field, who want to leverage their education to enhance their ongoing careers. Online programs may offer many similar experiences to campus ones, including face-to-face learning through video streaming and career and academic counseling. Some nutrition or food science programs may even offer digital lab simulations, to allow students to get similar research experience that they would in the classroom.
  • Food Science Masters Schools: Prefer learning face to face? Earning your masters on campus could have a number of unique advantages. For one, you could study in your community, under faculty who have experience in your area. Plus, if you need field experience, campus programs might have the local connections to help place you. Many graduate school programs also offer students valuable resources, like up-to-date lab space, research opportunities, simulated work areas, and personal support.
  • Hybrid Nutrition Masters Programs: Also sometimes called partially online or blended programs, hybrid nutrition masters programs offer a compromise between online and campus study. Anchored on campus, students have the advantage of working with faculty face to face and performing research in campus lab spaces. They might also take advantages of the program’s local connections. By bringing online study into the mix, busy professionals could find the flexibility they need to balance their lives, without compromising on the learning experience they want.

As you search, keep in mind that each school might organize their programs differently—and may even divert from these general descriptions. As such, when you’re looking for ones that work for you, make sure you take stock of your particular needs, and ask any questions necessary to make sure it’s a good fit.

Considerations for Choosing A Nutrition Masters Program Format

Choosing a nutrition or food science masters program could be a complicated process. You have to balance your goals and interests, your daily schedule, how you learn, and the types of opportunities you’d like your program to offer. These details can vary by school, and may especially be impacted by your chosen program format. Here are a few things to ask yourself during your search. Don't forget, you can also contact schools directly with questions by clicking on any program's link and filling out a simple on page form.

  • Do you need a program that will help you gain experience?
    If you’ve never worked in food science or nutrition, you might prefer to attend a program that helps you see what it’s really like to work in the field. This could be done through observations, internships, externships, or similar arrangements. If the nutrition masters program you’re looking at includes this type of element, bear in mind that it could have an impact on your course schedule and the times you might need to be available during the day.
  • Do you need a program that will help you earn a certification?
    Not all careers in nutrition or food science require a license—but some do. Many states require some type of professional certification or license to practice as a nutritionist or dietitian, in addition to a certain amount of on-the-job training. If this aligns with your personal goals, you may want to emphasize a program that would help you prepare to earn the license required by your state.
  • What kinds of resources do you need from your ideal masters program?
    Are you interested in a program focused on research? If so, lab space, libraries, and research support might be priorities for you. Need a bit of career guidance? Maybe you’d prefer a nutrition program that offers career support. Some schools may even offer academic support or tutoring services to students who need it.
  • Is the schedule or location convenient for you?
    Whether you’re studying in an online, campus, or hybrid program, this could be a major factor. For example, a food scientist already in the field might have to balance their professional obligations with their continuing education. Being able to reliably get to class on time (or access it on time) could be a pretty important factor in your success.
  • Does this program focus on what you’re interested in?
    Finally, are you interested in studying something in particular? Beyond just choosing nutrition or food science, you might  want to pursue a certain concentration. Passionate about food safety, or beverage science? Make sure the program you choose offers the courses or concentration options you want.

Nutrition and Food Science Career Info

Earning a masters in nutrition or food science degree may support a variety of potential career paths. You might pursue roles providing nutrition therapy, engineering food packaging or performing crucial food or nutrition research. While in many cases, entry level employment may be found with a bachelors degree, additional prerequisites may vary. For example, many states ask that dietitians or nutritionists earn a professional credential (like a license or certificate) in order to practice, and may require on the job training.

A few examples of the types of careers one might pursue include the following.

  • Dietitians and Nutritionists: $58,920 (2016 median annual salary)i
  • Health Educators: $44,390 (2016 median annual salary)ii
  • Agricultural and Food Scientists: $60,920 (2016 median annual salary)iii
  • Food Scientists and Technologists: $63,950 (2016 median annual salary)iv

For more information on these and other career paths, and how your selected program might support you in pursuing them, reach out to the school for details.

Search for Masters in Nutrition Programs

Begin your search for nutrition masters programs and food science masters programs right here! If you already have an idea about your program format, choose that option from the menu above. Then read more about what it’s like to study in those programs. When you’re ready, start reviewing the sponsored program listings. When you find a program you think you might want to attend, click on its name to learn more and get in touch.


[i] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/agricultural-and-food-scientists.htm | [iv] bls.gov/oes/current/oes191012.htm

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