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Am I Too Old to go Back to School? In Pursuit of the RN to BSN

Many nurses are torn. Should they complete that degree -- or let it slide? Sometimes it’s not a matter of not wanting to go back to school, but of doubting the feasibility. Many RNs worry that they’re too old to complete their degree. Will they end up sitting in classrooms with students who are decades younger than themselves? And will they be successful in completing their degree, or has education -- and technology -- changed too much?

Thankfully, nurses are often pleasantly surprised. They may find, first off, that their classmates aren’t so much younger. Nursing students are, as a group, older than the typical college student, averaging late 20’s in BSN programs and early 30’s in ADN programs. In tracks that are designed specifically for RNs, the average age of BSN candidates is higher still. One recent study published in AORN found an average age between 38 and 39. A separate study at another school reported an average between 36 and 37. Some schools do release extensive demographic information about their students, including the typical age.

Even the averages can be misleading, as they mask a surprising amount of diversity. It is not uncommon to return to school in one’s 50’s. Nontraditional students are often more appreciative of their educational opportunities and more serious about them. Nursing instructors appreciate their attitude, and students in turn appreciate each other’s experiences.

If you do feel self-conscious about your age, you’ll want to choose you program carefully. In Transitions Theory: Middle-Range and Situation-Specific Theories in Nursing, author Alaf Meleis describes the experiences of a group of RN to BSN students. When their classmates were much younger, the nurses tended to have a rockier transition. Those who had peers for cohorts were more likely to experience a smoother re-entry.

Many nurses cite the relationships forged with other cohort members as being among the most positive experiences of the program. But things can go awry. If you select a track where all your fellow students are RNs, chances are good that they’ll be close to you in age and have more similar life experiences. If you opt for advanced placement in a traditional BSN program, you are more likely to be conscious of your age or feel that you stand apart from the group. This could well influence your satisfaction with the program.

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Baccalaureate Completion: Academic Concerns

Another concern of nurses who have been out in the field for a number of years: Will they be successful academically? If this is you, remember that RN to BSN programs are often managed by the adult learning department -- one of the goals of the school is to accommodate you, and people like you. Tutoring is sometimes included as a part of the package, even in an online program. You may want to read "The Successful RN to BSN Student: Skills for Success Going Back to School".

Academic anxiety can include concerns about technology. Is online education just for the tech-savvy younger generation? Computer skills do matter, but the level of skill required will vary. In some cases, it’s the basics: You will need to be familiar with the internet, for example, and know how to upload and download attachments. Remember that you won’t be the only one in class who didn’t grow up surfing the internet or making PowerPoint presentations in class. Schools often include computer skills in their orientation. Again do some research, and make sure you feel comfortable with the particular program.

If you are feeling uncertain about your readiness, you might want to start with a light schedule. Many programs allow you to take just one class at a time. Check out the article "From RN to BSN: New Skill Sets" to gain a better understanding of the program and what to expect.

Additional Information:

Nursing Career Paths

Second Degree Nursing Options

Outlook for the BSN Graduate

The BSN and Career Mobility

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