You’ve completed an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree or higher, and your dietetic internship … Now you’re ready to clear that last hurdle before being able to legally offer your sage wisdom to clients and help them get on track to eating to live… It’s time to gear up and get prepared to take the Registration Examination for Dieticians, the last step to earning the Registered Dietician (RD) credential.
Why Passing the CDR Exam is So Important to Your Career in Dietetics
Passing this exam is your gateway to a successful career in dietetics. It is your ticket to national certification from the exam’s sponsor, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). It’s the only way you can earn the CDR’s national credential, the esteemed Registered Dietician (RD), also referred to as Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN).
RD and RDN Credentials and Passing the CDR
RD and RDN are just different names for the exact same credential. The CDR allows you to use either one so you can tailor your professional title towards the populations you serve.
Right now passing the Registration Examination for Dieticians and earning the national RD credential will qualify you for licensure or certification in 45 states.
Passing this examination is mandatory in all states that require you to have the national RD credential to be eligible for state-issued licensure or certification.
Salary and Job Growth
Becoming an RD will help you fulfill your state’s licensure requirements and position you for higher pay. As of May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that registered dietitians earned an average salary of $65,620, while dietetic technicians earned an average salary of $31,180.*
The BLS also revealed that job growth among registered dietitians is expected to outpace job growth among dietetic technicians in the coming years. Between 2020 and 2030, the number of dietitian jobs is projected to increase by 11 percent, while the number of dietetic technician jobs is projected to increase by 7 percent.*
The following bachelors and Master’s programs offer career-focused instruction delivered by trained nutritionists with experience in the field. Find out more what each individual course of study offers through the locations below.
Purdue Global's Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Program is an approved holistic nutrition education program through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
American University offers two different programs focused on Nutrition and Health. Their Online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond. Or Earn your Master of Science in Health Promotion Management from AU’s award-winning program in just 20 months with $10K available in scholarships upon enrollment (qualifier is a 3.0 GPA).
UNC's MPH Nutrition concentration prepares students to provide, evaluate and communicate nutritional and dietary guidance that improves individual and population-wide health outcomes. In addition to developing their knowledge of nutrition science, students will explore behavior change, communication, counseling and the effects of dietary culture on individuals and communities.
Bay Path University's health and wellness certificates build the knowledge, skills, and experience you need to upskill your abilities in your profession or to provide a robust concentration to your degree program for a specific role. Learn more about the Certificate in Food Science and Safety certificate.
If you want to work in fitness and nutrition, take the first step toward a new career with one of Penn Foster's accredited, online fitness and training programs. These affordable programs are all offered online, and can be taken at your own pace.
Grand Canyon University offers an M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics.
Winthrop University offers an Online Master of Science in Human Nutrition and an Online Master of Science in Sport and Fitness Administration
Which States Require You to Pass the Registration Examination for Dietitians?
With the exception of California and Virginia, all states license or certify dieticians and require the RD credential as part of the licensing process.
States that Require the National RD Credential for a State-Issued License or Certification
Since the national RD credential is required for licensure in the following 36 states, you must pass the RD examination and earn the credential before applying for state-level licensure.
These states use the term “certification” instead of “license” for granting the right and authority to practice dietetics indecently. In this context the terms have the same meaning:
States with Multiple Licensure Routes
Two states (plus DC) offer multiple routes to qualify for state/territorial licensure as a dietician. Passing the exam and earning the RD credential is one possible route to becoming licensed in these locations:
- District of Columbia
Non-Licensing States that Require the RD Credential to Practice
These two states don’t have a state licensure or certification process, however if you want to practice as a dietician in these states, you must still earn the RD credential according to state law:
- California – California Business and Professional Code, Division 2, Chapter 5.65 details that it is a misdemeanor for anyone who has not passed the exam and earned the RD credential from the CDR to call themselves a dietitian, registered dietitian, or registered dietitian nutritionist.
- Virginia – Virginia Code § 54.1-2731 details that no person may advertise themselves as a dietitian or nutritionist unless they have passed the Registration Examination for Dietitians and earned the RD credential from the CDR.
States that Currently Do Not Require the RD Credential
These five states do not presently require passing the exam or earning the credential. However you can still consider earning a registered dietician credential to boost your résumé, not to mention that future state legislation may very well make it a requirement at some point:
- New Jersey
Registration and Taking the Examination for Dieticians
CDR Exam Eligibility
Anyone is eligible to take this exam once they have completed an ACEND-accredited educational program and dietetic internship. The fact that any qualified candidate anywhere in the country can earn this title is important to highlight.
As you get close to graduating from your dietetics program, your school will submit your name for examination eligibility to the CDR’s testing vendor Pearson VUE.
CDR Exam Registration
Once you complete your dietetic internship, Pearson VUE will send you an email with instructions and links for registering to take the exam (note: formerly the testing vendor was ACT, Inc and it was proctored at PSI Exam centers. Now everything is through Pearson VUE).
From the time you’re eligible, you have one year to take the exam. The Registration Examination for Dietitians Handbook for Candidates explains the application and registration process in detail.
Date and Location of CDR Exam
Once you submit payment for the exam online, you will receive an email about scheduling the date and location of your test. Pearson VUE has testing centers throughout the nation. You will be required to bring a copy of your eligibility to test email and a driver’s license or state photo identification card with you to the testing center on the day of the exam.
CDR Exam Content
Exams are taken on a computer. Each exam is unique and comprised of 125-145 randomized questions from a central database. For this reason, your exam’s time limit varies. The content of your exam evaluates four key areas:
Nutrition care for individuals and groups – 40%
- Assessment and screening
- Evaluation and monitoring
- Intervention and planning
Principles of dietetics – 25%
- Research applications
- Communication, education, and technology
- Nutrient composition of foods
- Food science
- Nutrition and related sciences
Management of food and nutrition programs and services – 21%
- Quality management and improvement
- Human resources
- Management functions
- Financial management
- Public relations and marketing
Foodservice systems – 14%
- Safety and sanitation
- Facility planning and equipment
- Menu development
- Distribution, service, production, and procurement
What to Do After Completing and Passing the RD Exam
Once you complete the exam, you’ll get a printed score report. A scaled score of 25 or higher is required to pass the exam. Because it is a scaled score, the number of questions you must answer correctly varies slightly.
When you pass the exam Pearson VUE sends you an email with information on how to maintain your RD credential. This involves paying an annual maintenance fee and completing continuing education as part of a professional development portfolio (PDP) on a five-year cycle.
If you fail the exam, or if your test eligibility expires, contact the CDR. You must wait 45 days before retaking the exam and you have the right to appeal your exam outcome.
*2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for dietitians and nutritionists and dietetic technicians reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2022.