Hoorah! You’ve made the decision to go back to school to become a Registered Dietitian. Congratulations! All that is left is finding the program that is right for you. After two rounds of application cycles and almost two years of research, informational interviews, and more, I’ve learned a lot of valuable tips about the application process. If you’re getting ready to apply for nutrition graduate programs starting in fall 2016, here are some tips to help you succeed as you prepare your applications:
Know your programs
If I could only give one piece of advice to prospective students, it would be this: know your programs and make sure they know you. Nutrition is a very hot field right now and there are a lot of people applying for a limited number of spots. The best way to stand out is to show the admissions staff why their program is of particular interest to you. Make sure you tailor your essay to highlight the unique aspects of their program that attract you. Maybe there is a certain professor that you really hope to work with, or a research study that you would enjoy assisting with. Also, reach out to the program staff and ask them questions (avoiding the questions that you could have easily answered yourself with just a little more research.) And if possible, (I highly recommended this, not only to strengthen your application, but also so you can get an idea of the school feels right) visit the school and meet with the faculty and current students.
Nutrition-related experience is a must
Having nutrition-related experience is a must. If any admissions committee tells you that it’s not necessary, don’t listen! 🙂 From personal experience, I highly recommend it because it will only strengthen your application. I would not recommend using your blog as nutrition ‘experience.’ That’s not to say that blogging isn’t a great resource for sharing nutrition-related information, it’s just that the majority of the people you are competing against also have food blogs.
As someone who worked fulltime in an unrelated field, while also taking classes at night, I understand how difficult it can also be to squeeze in nutrition-related experience. Here are a few strategies:
- Volunteer with a food bank
- Reach out to Registered Dietitians in your area and ask to take them out to coffee for an informational interview. If you connect, it might be possible to set up a few days of shadowing
- Reach out to a WIC in your area to see if they need volunteer help
- Is there a certain aspect of nutrition that you are particularly passionate about and can bring to your work environment? Organizing a food drive, bringing in a guest speaker to talk to the workplace about healthy eating habits, etc.?
- Is there a community afterschool program you can help with? Some programs in the DC area include Brainfood, Cooking Matters, DC Central Kitchen
Don’t rush your prerequisite classes
If you are working fulltime while taking prerequisite classes, I highly recommend taking only one at a time. The classes are difficult – biochemistry, organic chemistry – these are classes that take up a lot of time, and as motivated as you may be, it’s really hard to come home after a long day of work and open your textbook for another two hours. Give yourself the chance to also enjoy your life while you’re taking the prerequisite classes! And don’t feel bad if you have to wait another year to apply to programs. It’s okay! In the next ten years, all that will matter is that you followed your heart and ended up where you really wanted to be.
Expand on ‘why nutrition?’
In your admission essay, you will want to delve deeper into the question of, ‘why nutrition?’ While answers such as, ‘because I want to help people’ or ‘because I’m interested in healthy living’ are wonderful reasons to study nutrition, it’s important to go in to more depth. I recommend talking about how your nutrition-related experience motivated you to become a nutrition expert.
I plan on writing about my personal nutrition interests and motivations for going back to school in a post soon, but to summarize: I decided to study nutrition because I am interested in community nutrition, specifically working with vulnerable and underprivileged populations (hence, the MPH!) When I graduate, I hope to design and implement community nutrition education programs that give participants the chance to make educated decisions about their personal health.
Don’t compare yourself to others
It’s easy to look at someone else’s experience or education and think, ‘wow, there is no way I can get into the same program as them’ but I am telling you right now DON’T DO IT! There are so many factors that contribute to admissions decisions and you are selling yourself short if you go into the process thinking negatively. Also, a program that is the perfect fit for someone else may not be the perfect program for you.
The best example I can give is that I was SET on going to UNC. It was UNC, or nothing. However, after I visited both UNC and UW last fall, I was more impressed by how I was treated at UW and less impressed with UNC. UW went out of their way to arrange a full day on campus for me. They put me in touch with current students, arranged meetings between me and the program coordinator/three faculty members of my choice, and arranged for me to sit in on a class. I wish I had originally opened up to programs other than UNC because ultimately, I found a program that is a great fit for my personality and aspirations!
Essays: start early, be concise
Your essay is one of the most important parts, if not the most important part, of your application. I recommend starting your essay at least 2-3 months in advance and revising it little by little. My best admissions essay went to Colorado State University, mostly because it was the 5th school I applied to (and the 20th version of my essay!) I also recommend making your essay no more than 2 pages and if you can get it to 1.5 pages, even better. Every word – and I mean every word – needs to count. Imagine reading over 120 essays…the more concise you are, the better.
Letters of recommendation: who knows you the best?
While an academic letter of reference is ideal, it’s completely acceptable to use professional recommendations if you’ve been out in the working world for a few years. My best piece of advice: ask someone who knows you really well. A great letter of reference from someone in an unrelated field is better than a generic letter from a professor or nutrition expert who doesn’t know you.
Being on the ‘waiting list’ is not a bad thing
When I first heard from the University of Minnesota, I was #8 on the waiting list. Disappointed and frustrated, I thought to myself, ‘there is no chance I will get in.’ By the time April 10th rolled around, I was #2 on the waiting list (I ultimately took myself off when I accepted at UW.) I was also on the waiting list at UW…and pretty soon I’ll be starting there!
As always, feel free to contact me with any questions. Happy to help other aspiring RD’s!
To all the other aspiring RD’s out there – what are you tips? Please share in the comments below!
Other posts of interest: