Becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) are the food and nutrition experts who address today’s complex issues surrounding foods and nutrition. Because the RDN credential is widely recognized as the designation that an individual is an expert in food and nutrition, most employers are looking for individuals with their RDN certification in their qualifications for hire. The demand for RDNs and nutritionists is expected to grow by 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More information about becoming an RDN is available on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' website.

According to the academy's 2011 Dietetics Compensation and Benefits survey, the mean salary range for all RDNs is $42,000 to $92,200. Half of all RDNs in the United States who have been working in the field for one to four years earn $52,400 while those who have worked five to nine years earn $65,900 per year. As with any profession, salaries and fees vary by region of the country, employment setting, scope of responsibility, and supply of RDNs. Salaries increase with years of experience and with advanced degrees and additional certifications. The highest salaries in all areas of dietetics range from $98,500 to $137,400. RDNs who earn these salaries typically work in the areas of food service management, business, education and research.

Steps to Becoming an RDN

Complete the Dietetics option

Complete the course work for the Dietetics option.

Apply and be accepted into an accredited dietetic internship (DI) program.

Students can choose to apply to a traditional DI program, a distance DI program, or a dual DI and master’s degree program. See the Applying to a DI Program page to learn more about the different types of programs and how to apply to apply to a DI program. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics maintains a list of accredited DI programs.

Acceptance into a DI program is a very competitive process. In the past four years, the national match rate has been 50 percent due to the shortage of available internship spots. The Penn State Didactic Program in Dietetic's (DPD's) match rate has been greater than the national average for the past five years.

Over a 5-year period, 73% of Penn State students in the Dietetics option have been accepted into Dietetic Internships. In the past two years, 78% of graduates of the dietetics option who applied to Dietetic Internships were accepted. This past year (Fall 16/Spring 17), 80% of Dietetics option graduates were accepted into Dietetic Internships.

These acceptance rates are well above the 50% national average match rates into Dietetic Internships.

See Applying to a DI Program for more information to learn how to increase your chances of getting accepted into a DI.

Complete the requirements for the DI program.

During the internship, students complete at least 1,200 total hours of supervised practice. During that time, they will have experiences in the three areas of dietetics: clinical dietetics, community dietetics, and food-systems management. Many internships offer additional experiences in research, sports nutrition, or other areas. These additional experiences will vary by internship. Students should check each individual internship's website to learn about the additional experiences offered.

DI programs typically last 10-13 months. Programs that offer a master’s degree with the DI can typically last 2-3 years. Tuition and fees are charged to attend these programs; the total costs vary between programs.

Pass the national board examination for registration

Similar to other health care professions, RDNs must take and pass a national board registration examination to earn the RDN certification. The RDN exam is a computer-based exam that covers the content in the three major areas of dietetics: clinical, community, and food service.

The registration examination is updated every five years to reflect the information that entry-level dietitians should master after completing a DPD and DI program.

  • The Penn State DPD program has an excellent first-time and one-year pass rate for the RDN exam. Over a 5-year period:

  • 92% of Penn State Dietetics option students pass the RDN exam the first time they take the exam.

  • 99% of Penn State Dietetics option students pass the RDN exam within one year of completing their dietetic internship.

Related Links

More Information

For more valuable information about available internship positions, ways to improve your chances for getting into an internship, and the computer matching process, visit the ACEND Computer Matching and Procedures website.

All questions regarding the Penn State DPD Program should be directed to:

Mary Dean Coleman-Kelly, PhD, RD
DPD Director
814-865-2138
mdc15@psu.edu