Part One: My journey through school, up until my internship.
I’m not going to get into WHY I chose dietetics in this blog series; I can cover that in a future post. My hope is that this series can shed some light for anybody on or considering the RD path!
I graduated high school at the top of my class in May 2014. At the end of 2013, I had committed to Olivet College to play golf. Although I already knew I wanted to be a Registered Dietitian at this point, Olivet did not offer a dietetics degree. I was going to be an exercise science major, and I was told that I could take a ‘nutrition path’ with it. I didn’t know any better at the time (which is where a post like this probably would have been very helpful), but that wasn’t going to get me where I wanted. I took the one general nutrition class offered, the same class that just about every health-related major student takes. I excelled and truly loved the class. However, this was the end of that so-called ‘nutrition path’, and I realized this during that first semester at Olivet.
Your degree needs to be from an ACEND-accredited program.
This is something that you should clarify with an advisor to be sure that the degree you’re going for is going to make you eligible for a dietetic internship.
Ultimately, I decided to transfer that winter.
I transferred to Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan. Ironically, I had toured this campus and talked to the golf coach about playing for the team here when I was weighing my options in high school. It’s a shame that I didn’t choose to go here, because by going to Olivet first, I lost a TON of scholarship money. Like, all of it. I had a 4.0+ GPA in high school and was offered an extremely high merit scholarship from Madonna (not including whatever I could have received from golfing), but all of that was lost by transferring. I chose to give up golfing after Olivet too, so 2014 was the end of my competitive athletic career.
Madonna was just about an hour from my house, so I lived at home to save money on room and board. I could also take some of my classes online since Madonna is a very commuter-friendly school, so I didn’t have to drive to campus every single day.
Before I started classes in January 2015, I sat down with my advisor to plan out ALL of my classes up until graduation. DO THIS, no matter what. I wanted to finish in three years (3.5 years total with the semester at Olivet), and there’s no way I would have been able to do that if I didn’t have an intentional plan. Graduating a semester early would mean a December graduation, hoping for a January-start internship (I’ll get more into that in part two). It also meant summer classes, but I was determined.
Below is the core list of classes required for my dietetics degree, which doesn’t include any electives or general education requirements. It’s extremely science-based, so get your safety goggles ready. Organic chemistry is HARD, but I actually took it over the summer which meant a lighter class load during that time. I’d highly recommend doing that if it’s possible for you.
The “major elective” classes were extremely important and provided so much applicable knowledge. Some of the elective courses I took were Dietary Supplements, Becoming Vegetarian, Nutrition for the Aging, Nutrition Education and Counseling, Nutrition through the Life Cycle, Nutrition Assessment, and Community Nutrition. I’m going to insert my complete list of classes by semester below.
A few of the (MANY) big projects I did that stand out include:
In Nutrition Education and Counseling, we had to video tape ourselves doing a counseling session with a classmate. Each of us were given a patient role to play, and we carried out what would be like a real-life appointment with a dietitian. These sessions were analyzed and critiqued very thoughtfully.
We also had to do an interactive educational presentation in this class geared toward a specific target audience. I shared about eating healthy on a budget, and the class got to make trail mix!
In Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) I, we had to do a huge case study on a patient with a given disease. I was given chronic pancreatitis… definitely not a simple condition!
In Becoming Vegetarian, we had to collect a 24-hour food recall and food preferences from another individual. Then, we had to do a “diet makeover” creating a vegetarian meal plan that would be practical and meet the needs of this individual.
In Foodservice Management II, we had to create our own business complete with a mission statement, marketing plan, budget, business plan, kitchen design, menu, and more. I created a meal delivery service!
In Experimental Foods and Research (essentially Food Science II), we had to conduct our own food research and experiment with a legitimate sensory taste panel in class. I tested the replacement of oil in brownies with cauliflower puree, and although each of the tested replacement levels (0%, 25%, 50%, 75%) were ‘acceptable’, the brownie with no cauliflower puree was the most preferred.
We also did a food demo in Experimental Foods and Research, and I made some delicious dessert crepes!
Community Nutrition was actually a required summer class, because Madonna had a connection with a local center where we helped young kids grow and harvest a garden. It was really cool!
In Senior Seminar (which wasn’t actually taken as a senior), we learned about public policy and wrote a letter to the Legislator, presented on one of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position papers, and practiced writing a personal statement-- a HUGE part of the internship application process!
In Food Service Sanitation, we took the exam to become ServSafe certified. This will be necessary if you choose to go the foodservice route with your career, but it’s great to have in dietetics no matter what!
As I moved further along into intense nutrition material, online classes weren’t as much of an option. I was having to be on campus just about every day, so I ended up getting an apartment from April 2016-June 2017. During my last semester, I only had to be on campus about two days per week, so I moved back home for this period of time.
Another important part of college is getting relevant work and volunteer experience for dietetics. I worked two part-time jobs during my three years at Madonna, both of which had relevance to the field. The first was at The Vitamin Shoppe. This job was retail- and customer service-based, but I did learn a lot about different supplements and making individualized recommendations to customers. The second was in the best hospital around, Beaumont Health. I worked as a nutrition services attendant, mainly delivering meal trays to patients. I highly recommend getting a job like this if you can, because patient interaction is KEY on your internship resume. If not, try shadowing a dietitian in the area or volunteering somewhere that could offer this. However, don’t take on more than you can handle.
The extent of my volunteering and community service was pretty much limited to what I did during my Community Nutrition class and the couple of times I had worked at the local food pantry during high school. There were some different programs and opportunities through Madonna while I was in school, but I felt like anything more was going to stretch me so thin that I would break. I had to keep my schoolwork a top priority and give it the time that it needed, which meant forgoing some of these other opportunities that would have certainly looked good on a resume. I did have some “leadership” roles that I was able to include on my internship application, such as being a team captain in high school and assistant coaching a girls’ golf team during college. Ultimately, I still got an amazing internship, and that’s what matters.
Focus on keeping a good GPA and finding work experience with relevant knowledge and patient interaction… quality over quantity. If you have one or two extra little things on top of that, you’re doing really good.
I want to note that I only wanted (and needed) to get my Bachelor’s Degree before my internship. However, starting in 2024, a Master’s degree will be required to take the RD exam.
Beginning to look at internships adds a whole other realm of responsibility and time commitment to your plate. This process is done through an online portal called DICAS. If you’re looking to get your internship right after graduation, your DICAS application will be submitted during your last semester of college. Since I was graduating in December of 2017, I was working on my application from about May 2017 to the day it was due in September. I’ll talk much more about this in part two, but the internship process is tough and SUPER competitive, so prepare yourself ahead of time.
Fortunately, I matched to an internship my first round through DICAS. This meant that I graduated in December and started my internship in January… requiring a move across the country from Michigan to Oklahoma too! I was in for just about the most stressful and exhausting eight months of my life. But, completing your internship means you’re eligible to take the RD exam.