Am I Too Old For Nursing School In The USA?

By ShiftMed Team//Nursing Profession
Happy nurse at an older age in the hospital

Becoming a nurse is a dream for many. And while some people might feel that becoming a nurse later in life isn’t possible, that’s simply not true. 

Thanks to a variety of diverse nursing programs, it’s 100% possible to follow your heart and become a nurse at any age. In fact, it's even easier if you already have a bachelor’s degree.

Whether you want to kickstart your career after having a family, or quit a job that doesn’t truly satisfy you, nursing is an option. The world needs more nurses, and your age doesn’t have to stop you from pursuing your dreams.

Can you become a nurse later in life?

Nursing is a fantastic career, no matter what age you are. When you think of nursing school, you likely envision young people 18–24, but there are actually many nurses who don’t get their RNs until their 30s, 40s, or 50s!

You’re not too old just because you’re older than the average student. In fact, there are a lot of benefits to becoming a nurse later in life.

The Benefits of Becoming a Nurse Later in Life

You may only think about your age and automatically count yourself out of the game. Don’t! There are a lot of benefits to becoming a nurse later in life. You have unique strengths that can benefit your future patients.

1) You Know Yourself

What does it mean to really “know yourself”? While we always uncover new aspects of who we are, older adults have a stronger sense of identity than younger people. They also have more set values, which help guide them to make more informed decisions. 

Being an older adult helps you enter nursing with greater certainty. You may be new to nursing, but you have life experience that can give you confidence. 

There are plenty of other challenges you’ve overcome. You’ve gleaned a lot of wisdom from your life lessons, which will shine through in the way you handle yourself as a student nurse.

2) You Have a Clear Vision for Your Career

Many younger nurses may enter school without even fully committing to their career. They might wonder if nursing really is the right choice, and some even drop out. While plenty of younger students go on to be lifelong nurses, the truth is that it won’t work out for everybody. 

As an adult learner, however, you’ve chosen nursing after many years of deliberation. You’re choosing to do this out of passion, and that passion fuels your purpose. Having a clear vision makes you more motivated, so you’re going to bring your best to the classroom and to your students from day one.

3) You Have Social Skills

A lot of adults under 25 are going through major life changes on top of nursing school. So they have to learn as they go, which can create a lot of stress and anxiety in the interim. But as an older nurse, you’ll have a lot of social skills to draw from.

You know how to listen without being defensive, ask for and receive feedback, and negotiate and compromise. These are vital skills that will serve you well in nursing.

4)You Know Your Strength

You have overcome challenges in life before, and you remain undefeated. Think about everything you’ve come through and achieved thus far in life. Even if you’ve never had a full-time career, there are plenty of things you’ve had to do to make it to this point.

Nursing school allows you to draw upon your strengths and apply them in new ways. You’ll also have the ability to identify troubles and find solutions more easily than younger students. It pays to have life experience!

5) You Genuinely Want to Be in the Classroom

This benefit of being an older nursing student can’t be overstated. A lot of younger students just want to get into clinicals and get their license. They often see lectures, note taking, and homework as a grind, but you are excited to do these things. 

Don’t Worry About Being “Too Old” to Become a Nurse

What age is too old in your mind to enter nursing? 45? 55? The truth is that many adults enter nursing in their 40s and beyond. Many do so as a second career because they want to pursue their passion for medicine and enjoy greater financial security.

Many people work in healthcare for years before becoming a nurse, and even more decide to enter the field after years of dreaming of working as an RN.

Whatever your case may be, whether you’ve raised a family or worked in another field, nursing is open to you.

The Nursing Demand Is Higher Than Ever

Age is truly just a number. Qualified nurses, regardless of age, are wanted throughout the United States due to the nationwide staffing shortage. 

Many nurses who worked through the pandemic’s first wave are exhausted and left the field. This event has created a significant gap that hospitals and clinics struggle to fill. What does this mean for students?

You’ll have plenty of options when it comes to job opportunity, and likely offers for a higher starting salary. Explore nursing jobs near you now to get a feel for what’s out there. And if you’re feeling bold, you may even be open to relocating.

States with higher nursing shortages will pay even more for passionate RNs. 

Consider comparing nursing salaries by state to assess your future earnings, depending on where you live.

What do I need to go to nursing school?

To start nursing school, you don’t need any prior nursing experience or healthcare education. All you need is a high school diploma or GED. Once you are accepted, your journey to RN begins! You can become an RN in 2 to 4 years by studying for an associate’s degree (ASN) or bachelor’s degree (BSN).

What’s the difference between an ASN and BSN? 

A BSN is a higher degree than an ASN, but both allow you to take the NCLEX, the certifying nursing exam. The biggest difference between the BSN and ASN is the amount of time it takes to complete each program.

Bachelor’s degree in nursing takes four years to complete, while an associate’s in nursing takes two years. 

You’ll also find that the BSN program focuses on advanced topics like nurse leadership and case management. This allows RNs to get promotions more quickly and later become charge nurses or nurse managers.

ADNs focus more on practical nursing skills. So, while you’ll still study the same subjects as BSN students, you will spend more time on clinicals and skill development than theory and management. 

If you are eager to jump into nursing, a great option is earning your ADN, passing the NCLEX, and working as a nurse while you further your degree. In addition, you can complete many RN to BSN programs online while you work. 

What to Expect as an Older Student in Nursing School

The first thing you’ll notice is that yes, there are a lot of young students. The average nursing student is 25 or younger, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other nursing students who are older, too. 

You’ll also find that nursing school is physically demanding. You’ll spend 30 to 40 hours a week doing clinical rotations. These are job shadowing hours in a hospital or other healthcare facility. Many nursing students start off in geriatrics, assisting RNs in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Being a nursing student is time-consuming, so you won’t be able to commit to a full-time job while you study. Clinicals are demanding, and they’re the most important part of your education So, you’ll need to plan ahead for the rigors of nursing school, including balancing your family life and other obligations. 

What if I don’t have the stamina to work in a hospital?

You don’t need to work in a hospital full-time to be an RN or make a difference in people’s lives. Nurses are needed in every aspect of healthcare. Instead of working long shifts in a hospital, you could work in a family health practice, clinic, or even at a school.

Acute care and emergency nursing are fast-paced and stressful and won’t suit every nurse’s preference. That’s okay. You can still find a specialization of nursing that you love. 

Maybe you decide to work in home care, treating patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or adults with special needs. For example, you could work in a nursing home, or treat children and adults at a family healthcare facility.

There are also plenty of jobs in doctors’ offices in various fields you can work in. These offer a more routine 9-to-5 experience with patients who do not require acute or urgent care.

There are also jobs in telehealth nursing and nursing informatics you may enjoy if you’re interested in technology. Furthering your education with a master’s can qualify you to work in nursing administration.

Challenges You Might Face as an Older Learner in Nursing School

While there are plenty of benefits and reasons to become a nurse later in life, you will face unique obstacles, too. These don’t apply to every student, but it’s a good idea to address them early on. 

Time and Money Constraints

As an adult with a family, bills, and budget, paying for nursing school can be difficult. You will also have to scale back hours in your day job if you’re working to attend classes and do clinicals. 

Having less free time can also affect your family. Make sure you openly discuss nursing school’s impact on your schedule with a partner or relatives. Allow them to assist you, and make sure you use your free time to recoup and reconnect with your loved ones!

If you’re wondering whether you can become a nurse as a mom, the answer is yes! You can either study online for part of your degree, or rely on your family or other caregivers to help balance parenting and nursing. 

It is a challenge, but many nurses love the schedule they can have after graduating. Typical RNs in hospitals work 3 to 4 12-hour shifts a week. Having 3 to 4 consecutive days off allows them to be even more present in their children’s lives. 

Working While in Nursing School

For a lot of students, quitting their job to study full-time simply isn’t an option. Instead, they need the income from their current job until they start earning as a nurse. In addition, nursing school is more physically demanding than other jobs, so you will likely need to limit your hours to 20 or 30 weekly during clinicals.

Managing work and school is easier at the start of your degree because you have more classroom instruction than clinical work. But as your degree progresses, you’ll need to work more shifts in healthcare to develop your nursing skills. 

In general, depending on your school, expect to spend between 20 to 25 hours a week in lecture classes and 20 to 40 hours a week in clinicals. 

You’ll also have homework, projects, and studying to do, so managing a full-time job throughout your degree wouldn’t likely be possible. 

If paying for bills while in school is a problem, look into student loans. Both federal and private options can help you make up for any lost income you have as a student. And paying them back will be easier with a stable nursing job that pays $70,000 and higher annually.

Feeling Out of Place as an Adult Learner

In some cases, you’ll study under nurses who are half your age. You may have decades on the nurses you’re shadowing during clinicals. It’s a fact of entering school later, but not something that should prevent you from going after your dream job.

Nursing is a diverse field, and there’s no wrong age to commit to your passion. But expect to feel like the “old one” in the class. It’s natural; every nurse who enters the field 30 and beyond feels this way at some point or another. 

Don’t assume that other students will see you as a less capable nurse because you’re older. On the contrary, many will admire your commitment and even look to you for guidance because you have more life experience. 

Can I specialize in a field while in nursing school?

You may have a clear, detailed vision of what you want your career in nursing to look like. Go for it! There are a lot of options to work toward specializations as a student. 

Clinicals require you to work in different healthcare environments and medical disciplines. These include:

  • Emergency care

  • Psychiatry

  • Labor and delivery

  • Surgery 

  • Pediatrics

  • Geriatrics

  • Critical care

Working in various specialties allows you to discover what type of nursing you truly love. If you already have that in mind, then you can work toward your specialization by interning and externing in these departments.

For example, an aspiring trauma nurse can extern at a trauma center during their third and fourth year. This time will help them gain the knowledge and experience they need to become a TCRN (Trauma Certified Registered Nurse) after the NCLEX.

You can also explore other medical specialties and subspecialties to find out what you enjoy the most. Then, you can look for medical centers with specialized departments for nursing jobs in your target field. These may include:

  • Allergy and immunology

  • Cardiology

  • Dermatology

  • Family medicine

  • Internal medicine

  • Neurology

  • Oncology

  • Plastic surgery

The Future Is Yours!

Don’t let age or anything else stop you from becoming a nurse! You were drawn to this field for a reason. Remember your “why,” and always push toward your goal. Your future patients are waiting for you, and they will be so grateful you had the courage to believe in yourself and become the best nurse they could ever ask for.