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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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