Some non-traditional premeds are figuring out how to draw from their savings to finance their medical school dreams. Some premeds leave industries they’ve working in for years. Others are ready to pursue their dreams of becoming a physician after taking a needed gap year or two.

Contrary to popular belief, medical school isn’t just for 23-year-old students who are fresh out of undergrad. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, close to a quarter of matriculating students have participated in a post-baccalaureate program before entering medical school.

And while twenty-somethings may have the upper hand when it comes to being willing to pull all nighters while studying, non-traditional students bring substantial advantages: significant and deep experiences gained from years in between graduating from college and applying to medical school. Plus, some non-traditional students are more disciplined and are taking a big risk in pursuing such a huge goal at a later point in their lives.

The financial commitment can be an overwhelming thought and the amount of work involved in going to medical school is quite substantial. But for most practicing medicine may actually bring a level of fulfillment that can’t be had any other way. And despite the ups and downs that can come with not only preparing for admission to medical school but also successfully completing the journey, most non-traditional students say that it is the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done and that they were glad they took the leap needed to push forward.

The thing about non-traditional applicants is that they tend to truly know that medicine is what they want to do, as opposed to some traditional premeds who are not entirely certain that they want to practice medicine. Many of these non-traditional students could continue on in their careers or whatever life they made for themselves, but they still make the decision to pursue a path of medicine.

Many non-traditional students find that work experiences help them immensely in medical school. Candidates who have taken time to do other things whether its raising a family or working in a completely different industry have presumably accomplished a few things over the span of their time in between graduating undergrad and applying to medical school. Their resumes are more robust, and with those more robust resumes come more stories and a clearer vision of not only what they like and dislike but also what they can and cannot do.

The thing about premeds who apply to medical school straight out of undergrad is that they are still trying to figure out who they are, and that in itself fuels their passion to pursue what they believe they know about how they want to spend the rest of their lives. And although they have committed to reaching for and moving forward in their goal of practicing medicine, they are still on a journey of discovering who they are and what they want to do with the rest of their lives. The problem, however, is that when they are accepted into medical school, they will be continuing to figure out what they don’t enjoy doing a, or what they’re not good at. On the other hand, medical students who are older have already had these experiences in their lives, and most likely know themselves a little bit better.

Another piece of the puzzle that is commonly understated is that non-traditional students tend to have more sources of emotional support, which is a great asset when it comes to getting through medical school. Non-traditional students tend to have more significant support, both via their social circle and their family unit, that will ultimately give them resilience needed to get through the trying times that often come a long with the medical school process. For many students, strong family and social support systems provide a separate world outside of medical school or the pre-med community, and can become a consistent, reliable source for rest, comfort, and a safe place to get away from the relentless pressures of applying to and getting through medical school.

An increasing number of people don’t take the first step towards applying to medical school until years after competing their undergraduate degree. Some people don’t even thing about becoming a doctor until they are well into an entirely different field and have years of experience in a completely different industry.

When it comes down to it, while the perks of being a non-traditional pre-med student may not be tangible items, there are plenty of benefits that come with applying “outside of the box.” Time spent doing other things just builds on the story and the narrative that come together to ultimately paint a picture of your unique story and your individual reasons for wanting to pursue medicine. The passion for pursuing medicine has had time to grow and mature.

Age or time away from the pursue of becoming a physician should certainly not be a limiting factor when it comes to applying to medical school, but unfortunately, many people tend to think of these things as going against the norm. So the question becomes, when is the right age to apply to medical school? The answer is right now. Whether you’re 23 or 40, you can, and should, pursue your dream of becoming a doctor. While there certainly will be some disadvantages to being beyond the typical age, there are a many advantages. As a 23-year-old, students have the energy and passion that may be harder to tap into later on in life. As a 35-year old, students have a bit more life experiences and knowledge that was nonexistent when they were just graduating college.