I've been pursuing a graduate degree for several years now. One class at a time plus breaks for life's unexpected twists and turns have stretched, what could be completed in a year on a full time schedule, out to four years at present, with about another year or two to go, depending on class schedules and, well, life. Is there any benefit to stretching it out this long?
Many of my colleagues take on graduate course work begrudgingly... sometimes it wasn't Plan A, as you'll see below. Unfortunately, the field of dietetics doesn't offer much in the way of a pay bonus for having a graduate level education- a difference of about $1/hour, or $2-3k per year, 2013 Compensation and Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). So what in the world would prompt a dietetics grad/intern/RD to pick up the tab for grad school?
Your Packet Isn't Competitive Enough
Internship competition is fierce. Having some grad school under your belt can show continued learning and commitment to your chosen career path. It shows more educational maturity than a bachelor's degree alone, because lets face it-- Grad school takes a lot more independent learning than most bachelor's programs.
If your grades for your bachelor's degree weren't stellar, either going back and retaking classes or continuing your education with grad school can give it a boost it needs. The key to having grad school classes help your case is showing an improved graduate GPA compared to your bachelor's GPA. It also means that as an interns you'll have more education under your belt compared to your peers.
Beware though. Although I took one graduate level class to boost my internship application after being unmatched on my first attempt, my experience in that first pre-internship grad level class was all but enriching. My personal opinion, which is shared by several of my peers, is that graduate school is far more valuable after an internship. When we're talking value in this context it is not referring to the value of that MS or MA on your application and what that could mean to your acceptance into an internship, but rather the value of what you get from that education. Having an internship or at least a good amount of work experience provides a foundation for the application of that new knowledge as what you learn at the graduate level is typically meant for professionals. I gained so much more from my classes after my internship, and especially those I took while working.
There is Fierce Competition for Jobs In Your Area
Although a master's degree doesn't guarantee a job or a higher pay, it has potential to give an applicant more ranking in the job market. Higher education could provide you with more expertise relevant to that particular position and utilizing the examples of that knowledge in an interview or on your resume could help with a call back, and this could especially be true in entry level positions. New entry level RD applications run the risk of looking similar, having something to make yours stand out is key. Other ways to make your job application stand out without a graduate degree could include special projects, volunteer work, or awards.
You Want to Go Into the Education Sector
Professor positions generally require a graduate level degree, with some positions requiring a doctorate. From my own research, it seems a master's thesis is preferred for acceptance into a doctoral program, though sometimes not required. Some master's programs require a thesis while others provide options such as an in depth paper rather than a thesis. With many dietitians in the field being uncomfortable with research, my advice is to go for the thesis. This not only keeps your options open for a doctoral degree, but it also gives you a leg up on much of the rest of professionals in the field who many not have conducted formal research.
You Want to Join the Military
Acceptance into the military as a dietitian, without completion of the military internship programs, is extremely competitive. Although not required to be eligible, most military dietitians and recruiters recommend not applying unless the applicant holds a master's degree. Since the military internships are coordinated master's programs it is no surprise they would also look for other dietitians with graduate level degrees from the direct commission route.
You Really Like School
Obtaining a graduate degree for not other reason than to reach your career goals in knowledge and professionalism is a perfectly respectable and reasonable justification for the cost and effort. Personally, I enjoy school. I enjoy the structure of learning with an educational institution, I welcome the feedback of my professors, and I enjoy the networking with my peers. These reasons prompted me to continue my graduate level education in pursuit of a higher level of practice for myself and my reputation.
The Future of Dietetics
ACEND is looking to require a Master's degree for the RD credential in the future. It does not appear the final decision has been made, nor has the policy gone into effect at this time, however this is something to consider as newer year groups of dietitians come up through the ranks. Current RDs will be grandfathered in, however it will change the competition in the field as the change over takes place, and the years following. Dietitians earning their credential around the time of the change over may want to consider other ways to stay competitive before the new wave of RDs with master's degrees hits!