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How old is too old to earn a degree in nursing? The only age limit on learning is self-imposed. That’s what Cristina Nunez learned when she found herself a widow and empty nester. The 52-year-old housewife enrolled in an associate nursing program at ACI in search of a new career and a sense of purpose.
Anyone going back to school later in life might feel insecure or out of place. But choosing to change your career path or get an advanced degree later in life is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, older learners bring something that many of their peers lack: experience. Work and life experience can make you a more knowledgeable student and compassionate future nurse.
After Cristina’s husband died of cancer, she made up her mind to obtain a nursing degree with the aim of helping others like him as an oncology nurse. Despite never having worked as a nurse or pursued higher education, she benefits from her experience with the medical staff who helped her husband manage his illness.
“In some ways, middle age is the perfect time to pursue an education because it’s a time when you actually know what you want,” says Cristina.
Older students don’t have the distractions or career uncertainty that often plague young learners. Sometimes college students get a degree only because they feel they’re expected to, and their performance reflects this. Older students, on the other hand, benefit from having clearer goals and a greater commitment to their studies. Those going back to school later in life are more likely to take their studies seriously, devote enough time to their education, and be committed to professional growth. So being the oldest person in your nursing cohort might just mean that you’re the most driven.
It’s easy to focus on what you don’t have as an older learner; perhaps your focus or memory is not what it used to be. However, learning difficulties are not specific to old age and overcoming them often just takes effort, but it’s never impossible. Our minds are extraordinarily malleable. We’re able to accommodate a tremendous amount of information and even slow cognitive decline through perseverance and practice.
Learning can be a lifelong practice for those who choose it. Studies have shown that the more you learn, the more effective you become at learning. Individuals as old as 90 see improved cognitive abilities when they learn a challenging task. When we underestimate the power of the mind, we limit ourselves and our ability to succeed.
For Cristina, becoming a nursing student has proven to be a welcome challenge. In addition to finding a new purpose in life, she’s better able to relate with her college-aged daughters.