So I get a LOT of emails from RD students or those who are thinking of going into the dietetics profession asking about the financial aspect of becoming an RD. The most common questions I get are:
how I paid for school and
how I supported myself during my internship.
I thought I’d do a comprehensive post about the entire process, including what I wish I had done differently and what I recommend for future dietitians (aka #rd2be ). I’m not too sure about putting all of my biz-ness out there, but I’m hoping that this post will be helpful to someone out there. And that someone will be moved to start a GoFundMe to pay off my student loans.
Okay, so here we go…
Paying for My Education
Undergrad: I took out student loans to pay for my tuition in undergrad and worked 1-2 jobs throughout school to pay for living expenses and to have spending money. I lived with 3 roommates so after splitting bills 4 ways, my rent + utilities were pretty cheap! I didn’t really love living with so many roommates (4 girls + our dogs, friends, boyfriends, study groups, etc = kinda crazy) but it worked at the time.
Grad school: I qualified for a state grant for my grad school, which paid for 1/2 of my tuition. For the other half, I paid some as I went along and I took out more student loans for the rest. I was working full-time and taking classes part-time, so my living expenses were covered.
Didactic Program in Dietetics: You may remember that I had to take some extra classes (only about 12 since I already had my BS in nutrition) to be eligible to complete my dietetic internship and I did this through the University of Alabama’s distance education program (which is an accredited DPD program). I continued to work full-time and took classes part-time online.
Dietetic Internship: I knew over a year in advance that I would be taking a leave of absence from work to complete my dietetic internship (which is unpaid), so I saved money like CRAZY in order to be able to afford this. I knew my future expenses would be:
- Living expenses while not working
- The match process (~$100 per school applied to)
- Private health insurance
- Travel/lodging expenses to and from internship orientation
- At least 2 semesters of tuition
I ended up saving enough to be able to pay for everything myself except for the 2nd semester of tuition, which I took out a student loan for.
In a nutshell: I took out student loans, paid for what I could as I went along and tried to make smart financial decisions and sacrifice a little so that I didn’t have to take out more loans than necessary.
My Advice to Future RD Students
I know the path I took is not uncommon, because half of the people in my internship had done almost exactly the same thing. It’s really hard when you’re only 18 or 19 in college to have a clear picture of your future career.
However, I definitely wish I had done things differently because now I’m stuck with a pretty hefty student loan payment (4 years of undergrad, 2 years of grad school, 1 DPD program and 1 internship… the math isn’t too pretty).
So here is the advice I typically give when I’m emailed:
-If you think you want to work in the field of nutrition, don’t skirt around the fact that you need to become a registered dietitian: You might as well complete a DPD or CPD when you get your bachelor’s so you don’t have to go back and take classes later.
This was my #1 mistake in school because I thought I could just be a nutritionist somewhere without my RD. This was true only to an extent because I was severely limited with my job options. It was only until AFTER I completed grad school that I realized every job I was interested in required an RD.
I’m planning to do a whole separate post about this but I don’t recommend working in the nutrition field without becoming an RD.
You should be an RD if you want to have a nutrition-related job. Wait, did I say that already?
-Look for a coordinated program instead of a didactic program + internship. A coordinated program combines the dietetic coursework with the internship so that when you graduate with your degree, you are eligible to sit for the RD exam.
This is cheaper in many ways. You are essentially shaving off 1 year of your education by not having to do a separate internship. You don’t have the expenses of going through the match process or any of the added expenses of moving or traveling for your internship. Your tuition could also end up being cheaper than if you did the two separately (depending on the program).
-Look for distance education programs. There are a few online dietetics programs out there that have been through the dietetics accreditation process and, after completion, will allow you to enter the dietetic internship match process. The benefit to this is that you can still work while completing your classes.
I’m throwing this option out there because I know there are lots of people who can’t afford to quit their day job but want to work towards becoming an RD. However, after having done this for my DPD program, I *really* don’t recommend it. Here’s why…
These programs are so limited that they are competitive. I experienced issues getting into the classes I needed because of that. The program took so much more initiative on my part compared to taking classes in person. Oh, and I also had to find my own exam proctor (which I had to pay for) and that was a pain. Overall, I would have had a better experience had I not gone the distance education route… although I’m grateful it was an option so that I could still work full-time.
-Keep your living expenses to a minimum while in school. This is huge. You will only be a student temporarily, so do whatever you can to free up cash to either pay for tuition or make it so you don’t have to work as much.
Some ways to do this:
- live with roommates or with family
- cut out things you can temporarily live without (cable, vacations, etc)
- drive a cheaper car with no car payment
- don’t get a pet while you’re in school
-Prepare yourself financially for the internship: My dietetic internship was much more intense than I anticipated. You are essentially working (interning) 40 hours per week PLUS doing a full-time course load on top of that. It was exhausting and there is no way I could have worked full-time while doing that.
– Be smart about taking out student loans: Understand that you will have to pay back every dollar that you borrow with interest. Get educated about your loans, like learning the difference between subsidized vs. unsubsidized and understanding what happens to your loans while they are in forbearance.
***What I Wish I Had Done***
I wish that I had completed a graduate coordinated program in dietetics after undergrad. This would have combined my dietetics coursework + internship + master’s degree into one batch of schooling.
What prevented me from doing this was the thought of quitting my job and/or moving and/or paying out of state tuition (because coordinated programs are kind of limited) but ultimately, that would have been cheaper, quicker and easier than going the route I did.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Regardless of all of this, the route that I took ultimately took me where I needed to be and I’m happy and thankful that I am where I am today… being a registered dietitian with a job that makes me feel fulfilled