One Nursing Student’s Experience Returning to School

Real nursing student Julie Festa shares her experience going back to school for an Associate Degree in Nursing.

sheila cain

Written and reported by:

Sheila Cain

ASD Writer/Editor

smiling nurse named julie
smiling nurse named julie

You have a career. You have a family. But you’ve always wondered: What would it be like to go back to school? You’re not alone.

Julie Festa, 30, was a research manager in a clinic when she decided to return to school for her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). She’s juggling family life, full-time work, and pandemic-related setbacks, but looks forward to celebrating her graduation in May 2021.

Maybe you can see yourself going back to school to pursue your nursing dreams too?

Julie Festa, 30

Nursing student
Pursuing: Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Where are you studying?

St. Vincent’s College at Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut

Where are you currently working and what is your job title/position?

I stopped working in January 2021 to focus on my last few semesters of nursing school full time. Prior to that, I worked in a clinic that specializes in clinical research for patients that have Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. I was a clinical research manager there for about seven years and oversaw a team of clinical research coordinators managing a 300-plus participant Parkinson’s disease clinical trial. 

What were your main considerations when choosing an ADN?  

I wanted to find a school that was close to my home and had a nursing program in which I could finish the degree as quickly as possible.

Tell us about your family life.

I am married to my wonderful husband of three years who is a police officer. I am a fur mom to my black lab named Lambeau and tabby cat named Chowder. Between my school schedule and my husband’s work schedule, it can be really hectic at times. We try to prioritize spending time together when we can, especially during my breaks from school. We love to travel together!

What challenges did you face going back to school as an adult and how did you address them?

One of the hardest parts was parting ways with my job that I absolutely loved in order to pursue nursing school full time. It has also been challenging financially, because while I’ve been in school I’ve only worked part time or not at all.

I would never have been able to do this degree without the help of my supportive husband. Even though it can be tough at times, he’s always my biggest cheerleader and pushes me to keep going.

How did you find and decide on your school? What was the process like?

I had met a few people that had completed the program at my school, so I decided to apply there and to a few accelerated second-degree programs. I ultimately chose the program I am in because I was projected to finish the fastest based on the prerequisites and nursing classes required. The application process was fairly simple. I sent in an application, fee, and resume. Once I was accepted, I had to also complete an interview.

When did you start and when do you expect to graduate?  

I started at my school in 2019 because I had to complete a few prerequisite classes before starting the nursing intensive classes. I was projected to graduate in May 2021, but due to COVID-19 and the in-person clinical hours requirements in Connecticut, my class was pushed back almost an entire year. I will now graduate in May 2021—fingers crossed!

Why did you decide to pursue nursing?

While working as a clinical research coordinator and manager I gained a lot of experience with patient care. I absolutely loved working with patients and learning from their experiences. After some time, I essentially hit a glass ceiling in clinical research, (limiting) how far I could grow without medical licensure. I’m the type of person that thrives on continuous growth and learning, so I knew I needed to continue my education if I wanted a career with more opportunities.

What do you love about nursing school in general? 

Nursing school is tough and nearly all-consuming, but I do love our clinical experiences. I love getting to meet new patients and help them to feel better, even if that is just by helping them get cleaned up in the morning. My favorite clinical experience so far has been in labor and delivery. I got to see and assist with a birth, which was amazing.

How is school going so far?

School is going well. I’ve been able to maintain my 3.9 GPA thus far, which has been challenging and required a lot of hours spent studying instead of doing fun activities with my friends and family. I just try to remember why I started and keep in mind that nursing school is temporary, so hopefully all my hard work will pay off.

What is your dream job after school? 

I’m still not 100% sure what I want to do after graduation. If I had to decide right now, I’d say either working as a labor and delivery or postpartum nurse or working on a neurology floor.

What have been some of the unexpected experiences and joys of going back to school as an adult?

Returning to school as an adult has really helped me to realize how far I have come as an individual. I could have never completed this program when I was younger and in college the first time; I was just too immature at the time. Now that I have returned older with more life experience, I am focused and recognize how doing well in school affects your outcomes once you finish.

What advice do you have for other adults who want to go back to school but are uncertain if they should?

If you are an adult considering going back for nursing or any career, my advice would be just do it! Stop waiting and pushing it off because really there will never be a “good time” to start. If this career is something you know wholeheartedly you want to pursue, find a way to make it happen. No, it is not going to be easy, but try to focus on all the benefits you’ll gain once you’ve accomplished your goal.