If you're a high school student who has always wanted to be a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) someday, look no further! This profession is one of the most sought-after careers in the healthcare industry because it is flexible enough for students to balance their studies and any other part-time jobs while still allowing students to earn money and gain hands-on experience. This career could be your stepping stone for your career in the medical field. This article will give you advice on how to become a CNA in high school. We cover the ins and outs of what it takes to get started with your training.
What is a CNA?
CNAs, also known as Certified Nursing Assistants or Certified Nurse Aides, are an essential part of the medical field. They work under the supervision of registered nurses in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. Their mission is to provide basic care to patients and assist with activities of daily living such as dressing/undressing, bathing, feeding, and more.
Is a high school diploma required to be a CNA?
A high school diploma is recommended but isn’t required to be a CNA. Many private schools require only proof of 8th-grade graduation, or you can take a 8th grade reading and math test to demonstrate proficiency.
How old do you have to be in order to be a CNA?
Age restrictions depend on your state. Some states require you be at least 18 years of age. Some other states allow 16 and 17-year-old students to take CNA classes, with parental consent. For example, California allows 16 year olds to be CNAs.
However, many employers (especially hospitals) will only hire CNAs who are at least 18 years old. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health agencies are most likely to be willing to hire a minor.
Pass a criminal background check
Be in good physical health
Where can I look for CNA programs?
As a high school student you have a few different ways to start CNA classes. You just have to know where to ask and ask the right questions.
Your high school. The first place you should look for CNA classes is at your own high school! Tell your guidance counselor that you’re interested in taking CNA classes. Your school or county likely also has a CTE (Career Technical Education) contact, who oversees vocational education for high school students. You may be able to reach out directly to them, or your guidance counselor can connect you.
Depending on your school system, your school may have a partnership with a local CNA school or may even offer its own CNA class that you can take. Great reasons to take your CNA class through your high school:
It will likely be free (or at least heavily subsidized)! If your school offers to class, it will be free. If your school system partners with a local CNA training program, they typically have a deal in place where the school system will pay for students to attend the class.
You will likely get class credit - CNA classes are a lot of work, so you want to make sure you’re not overwhelmed with all of your other coursework. Getting class credit allows you to focus on excelling in the classes you’re taking.
The class is designed to fit into the needs of high school students. 3rd party CNA classes may be in the morning or otherwise during school. If your school offers a CNA class, your school has designed the program so that you don’t miss any of your other classes. It might even be during the school day in place of one of your classes. Or, if it’s after school, your school may provide transportation since your classmates will be taking it as well.
Community colleges. Most high schools have partnerships with community colleges so you can enroll in both at the same time at no cost to you (and you can get class credit). It’s best to check with your guidance counselor to see if your high school has a partnership with a community college. You may need to get a signed letter of recommendation from your school principal and/or the school counselor or career specialist.
The next step is to contact the program that you are interested in attending and ask them what documentation they require. If they say there’s a cost, it’s important that you ask if they offer any scholarships or financial aid to find out if it is free!
Note that CNA classes in community colleges often fill up fast and may not accommodate your schedule well.
Trade School. It’s possible to become a CNA by attending a private training program as well. These vocational schools offer programs that you can complete in a few weeks. They’re short programs, which are perfect for taking them during summer or winter break. Many also over evening or weekend classes that can accommodate your high school schedule.
There are two different ways that you can pay for a private trade school: local workforce grant, or paying out of pocket.
To get a grant, contact or visit your local career center to ask about training grants. This process might take a few months and these organizations usually have limited funding available, so you may not be given a grant. However, if you receive one, all costs should be covered.
Paying out of pocket is expensive, but is the best way to enroll in a CNA class quickly and with no additional obligations. Most schools offer payment plans to make the payment process easier. You can view payment options offered by your local schools on Dreambound.
Nursing homes. Enrolling in a local nursing home’s training program is another way for you to start your career as a CNA. These programs are free! As a result, the nursing homes are often choosy about who they choose to go through their training program. Doing volunteer work for the community will boost your chance to get accepted into their program while you are still in high school. You can ask if they have volunteer opportunities, where you can spend time with the residents during your free hours and provide any help they might need.
You should know that most nursing homes will only allow you to take their CNA class if you commit to working for them for a certain amount of time. The required amount of time you need to work with the company varies per facility, but we generally see 3-12 months requirement. Don’t forget to ask questions about the duration of work you need to work with them and check the contract bullet by bullet.
Why become a CNA in high school?
It may seem like there are a lot of hoops to jump through to become a CNA. But, it's definitely worth it! The courses you take will prepare you for a career in healthcare and give you valuable experience that will be helpful in your future job search. We’ve written before on 6 reasons to become a CNA, but and here are some more reasons to become a CNA in high school:
Flexible schedule. If you are looking for a job that allows you to work around your school schedule, becoming a CNA is an excellent choice. You can choose between part-time positions with set schedules or working on-call.
Gain hands-on healthcare experience. It’s hard to know what you want to do in the future for your career before trying it out. High school is the perfect time to experiment with different work environments before you pick a college major or enter the workforce. You might find that you love caring for people, or you might find that it’s not for you. You might even see another non-CNA job that you’d like to do!
Help with future college or job applications. Colleges and jobs like to see previous work experience. Being able to show that you have worked consistently can go a long way. You can also tell a compelling story about how working as a CNA convinced you to apply for a certain college, major, or job. You can even get a letter of recommendation from your CNA supervisor.
Affordable tuition. If getting a degree in the medical field isn't in your budget, and all you want is to just start helping people now, then why not try a vocational training program at an accredited community college or technical school today? You can get the basic education you need to start helping right away, without spending thousands of dollars on student loans.
A recent study from the Federal Reserve System found that over 4 in 10 adults who attended college have student loan debt. Starting off in a vocational training program will save you time, money, and trauma from making the huge mistake of taking out large loans for a career you later find that you don’t want to do.
CNA training only costs $600 to $3000 depending on which school you attend (you can find the cost of your local school on Dreambound). You also have the option to apply for financial aid, training grants, or employer-run training! This is a very affordable course, with great job opportunities and future opportunities.
Doorway to other healthcare careers. Starting off in a vocational training program will equip you with the basic knowledge and skills to start your career in the medical field. This can mean becoming a registered nurse aide, Administrator, medication aide, or countless other opportunities. Working as a CNA opens the door for other opportunities down the line. You can draw from your experience as a CNA as you climb the career ladder. And, your employer may even pay for you to go through additional training or otherwise invest in your career development.
Hope we have helped you make a decision in taking a leap of faith and starting your CNA journey! Don't forget to check out our program too. If you’re interested, visit us at Dreambound.
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Mary Joy Rumbaoa is a student support representative at Dreambound and an author. She has assisted hundreds of students in locating a suitable trade school where they can complete their training as CNAs and Phlebotomists, allowing them to obtain licenses to work in the medical field.