Becoming a Dietitian is no SIMPLE or CHEAP task. To become a Dietitian, it is required to have: 1) a 4 year Bachelor’s degree, 2) a 6 month to 2 YEAR (usually unpaid) internship, 3) everyone after 2024 must have a MASTERS degree also. The return on investment compared to salary for an entry level dietitian isn’t there if federal & private loans are solely funding the education.
When I graduated in 2013, I had several federal loans and several Wells Fargo private loans with up to 12% interest rates! I was hardly paying the principle down at all since the interest rates were so high. I refinanced both my federal and private loans for a total of $62,000 to a local bank with a 5.75% interest rate.
7 strategies to become a Dietitian and avoid debt
- If your high school offers a dual credit option, GO FOR IT. Take ALL the courses that you can and ask to take more, it never hurts to ask. I did take advantage of this and I ended up graduating high school with 21 college credit hours.
- Know what major you’re going for and DON’T veer off the path. I switched my major from pre-vet to Dietetics and then from Dietetics to nursing and back to Dietetics.
BOTTOM LINE: If I would’ve chosen nutrition/dietetics first and stuck with it, I would’ve cut one year off of my college career, saved at least 14k in tuition for that year and would’ve potentially made in that year what I made my first year out of college which was 56K.
*It’s a hard thing to do to know exactly what you want to do going into college so I recommend working in the field that you want to go to college for to make absolutely certain that is where you would like to start.
- APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS. Scholarships are FREE money that you just have to apply for. There are several sites that offer scholarships, start here.
- Go to a Community College or take online courses with OnlineDegrees.com. Looking back, I would have saved 7K by going to a community college for at least one more year. Now know that, I did make some friends at ISU that I am still friends with today. Was it fun? Yes. However, I probably could have had just as much fun and met different people in my own community and SAVED TONS OF MONEY.
- Work or side hustle while you’re in college. Unless you’re one of the “lucky” ones who gets their college paid for, it is definitely a good idea to work while you’re in college. Work to pay off your loans or pay for your next year.
- Create a budget. Budgets might seem annoying, however, it is necessary to see where your money is going and can really help reduce your spending on unnecessary expenses.
- Think about what kind of Dietitian you want to be and WHERE you want to live and practice. I live in a rural area and finding a FULL-TIME Dietitian position is DIFFICULT. There are all kinds of jobs for Dietitians such as: retail (grocery stores), acute care (hospitals), dialysis centers, private practice (entrepreneurship), long term care (usually as an independent consultant or work for a consulting company), Women Infants & Children (a federal supplemental food program), or as a food service director/manager..
My career path as a Dietitian
My first job as a Dietitian was in retail at Hy-Vee grocery store (largely popular in the Midwest). After my maternity leave, I re-evaluated my position there. I felt mostly like a salesperson, hated the 1-hour commute one-way, and wanted more flexibility for my new baby.
I wanted to use my clinical expertise and counseling skills more, so I took several part-time gigs with WIC and two long-term consulting companies and let me tell you, SALARIES VARY. At WIC, in Burlington, IA, I make $20.50/hr. The other 3 days I work for two long-term care dietitian consulting companies. The difference between the two is that I am an independent consultant for one, which means I have to file taxes as a sole proprietor because they do not take any taxes out.
The benefits of being an independent consultant
I save money back in a high APY savings account and make sure I have it to pay in at the end of the year if I need to. The tax benefits of being and independent consultant are great. I can deduct part of my phone, auto insurance, electric bill (if I work from home which I do about half of the time), as well as, any training that I do related to being a dietitian and all of my annual dues for keeping my license up.
Downfalls of being an independent consultant
I don’t receive health insurance. For me, that isn’t really a problem because my husband carries the health insurance for us. I also have to purchase my own life insurance, long-term disability, short term disability, etc.
Why juggle multiple part-time gigs?
You might ask why I would continue working for a $20/hr job when I know I can make $35/hr at the other one. My reasoning is simple, I like working at WIC because they paid for my Certified Lactation Consultant training and now I can better help moms be able to feed their babies. I also feel like I need a break during the week from working in long-term care. Long-term care can be a depressing place to work. People are sick and dying, a lot of them don’t have money to pay for the care or operations that they need, some don’t have family to come and see them.
My future career as a dietitian
I would love to have my own private practice and specialize in treating Eating Disorders, helping people achieve peace with food through intuitive eating, and see new moms and babies or moms of older babies and children that want help with breastfeeding. Unfortunately, right now, I can’t afford to quit my day job and pursue this dream, however, I’m working my way towards that goal.
DO i have regrets?
I believe everything happens for a reason so I try not to dwell on what could have happened or what I “should” have done. I worked in a corporate job as management in a factory for 4 years prior to becoming a Dietitian. When I left there, I was making more than I am now and had built up my 401K. Sometimes I regret leaving that job because I had so many opportunities there, however, I value working with positive people and most of the people I worked with were negative about working there. I also value continually educating myself and having goals for the future which isn’t something I felt was prospering there.
If I hadn’t followed this path, maybe I wouldn’t have found my husband, had my son, or even have found this FIRE community and I truly would not want anything about those parts of my life to change.