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Graduation Requirements

A student is graduated upon successful completion of the curriculum as outlined in this handbook.  A student must have 40.5 course units of earned, transferred, or challenged credit.  Twenty course units must be earned at the University of Pennsylvania.  If a required course is failed (F), it must be re-taken for a passing grade.  All Incompletes (I), No Reports (NR), and No Grade Records (GR) must be completed or cleared by graduation day, or the student’s name will be removed from that term’s graduation list.  A cumulative GPA of 2.0 is required, and all University financial balances must be paid in full.

Students who have completed a minimum of 20 course units at the University are eligible for honors at graduation.  Graduation honors are noted on both the student’s transcript and diploma.  Graduation honors are as follows:

Cum Laude                          GPA of 3.40 or above

Magna Cum Laude            GPA of 3.60 or above

Summa Cum Laude           GPA of 3.80 or above

A student who has received a sanction of probation or greater for a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity, the Code of Student Conduct, or the Sexual Violence, Relationship Violence, and Stalking Policy is not eligible for Graduation Honors.* Notation of Graduation Honors will be removed from the transcript if the finding occurs after this honor has been posted.

*The level of sanction rendering a student ineligible was revised effective April 26, 2016. Sanctions imposed prior to that date are evaluated based on the policy in effect at that time. 

The School of Nursing holds one graduation ceremony in May.  All students graduating in December or August are encouraged to attend the University and the School of Nursing May Commencement exercises. 

A student who has not completed all degree requirements may participate in commencement exercises if s/he:

  • Is in good academic standing
  • Has completed NURS 390
  • Has no more than two free elective/sector requirements or one non-clinical course remaining
  • Has received approval from the Associate Dean for Academic Programs to march in the ceremony

Dean’s List

Academic honors are awarded annually to any student who, during a particular academic year from September to May, achieves an academic average of 3.70 or higher, provided s/he has completed six or more courses for letter grades, has received no incompletes during those two semesters, and has not been subject to disciplinary action.  Students receiving this honor are placed on the Dean’s List, with a special notation made on their transcripts approximately three weeks after the close of the semester.  Internal transfer students are also eligible for Dean’s List honors.

University Honors Programs

The University of Pennsylvania offers opportunities for advanced scholarship and research with some of the institution’s top scholars.  All programs are prestigious and competitive; Nursing students are welcome and encouraged to apply.

Benjamin Franklin Scholars Program - Nursing (BFS-N)

Benjamin Franklin Scholars are undergraduates committed to performing at the highest level of intellectualism.  By participating in BFS and pursuing research projects of their own creation, BFS, with the help of an advising team, plan and participate in a total education that is both exceptionally challenging and rewarding.

By taking control of their education, BFS are able to expand their learning in those areas in which they are most keenly interested.  The exploration-based education of the BFS program naturally positions students to win prestigious grants for independent study and some of the nation’s most recognizable fellowships like the Rhodes, Mellon, Truman, and Fulbright.

Students can be admitted as incoming freshmen, but may also apply to the program after one semester at Penn.  For more information about the Program and application process, please visit: and the Benjamin Franklin Scholars - Nursing website.


  • BFS-N Scholars need to complete a minimum of 5 honors courses
  • BFS-N Scholars may not take honors courses pass/fail. 
  • BFS-N Scholars are expected to meet the BFS minimum GPA requirements (first year=3.1; second year=3.2; third year=3.3; fourth year=3.4),
  • BFS-N Scholars are expected to adhere to the School of Nursing and University policies regarding academic integrity and professional conduct.  Violations of academic integrity and/or professional comportment will be reviewed by the BFS-N directors and the Assistant Dean for Admissions and Academic Affairs, and may result in dismissal from BFS-N.


University Scholars Program

The University Scholars program provides an unusual academic environment for intellectually dynamic students who have already demonstrated their commitment and dedication to research.  Through mentoring, research funding and scholarly events, the program encourages and supports students to make the most of their undergraduate years, not only with in-depth research, but also by making an early start in graduate and professional courses, ranging widely, or in some cases focusing narrowly, on their curricular choices.

Each University Scholar has a special mentor from the distinguished faculty who serve on the Council of University Scholars.  With the help of this mentor, University Scholars become members of an intellectual network of individuals who help the students explore tailor-made education programs that permit them to progress at their own rate.  Council mentors play a supporting role in finding appropriate opportunities with which the Scholars may begin their independent research work.

The focus of the University Scholars program is undergraduate research.  In order to aid students in doing creative and in-depth research, the University Scholars has a fund with which to help students defray research expenses. Funding is meant to cover the expense of the research itself; this most often pertains to room and board costs over the summer months.  Occasionally, students’ research will take them away from Penn.  In those instances, the University Scholars program may be able to fund travel expenses as well.

The University Scholars meet weekly for lunches at which they present and discuss their research.  Because University Scholars attend all four undergraduate schools, the presentations come from a range of disciplines, and they illustrate a variety of research techniques.  University Scholars learn how to approach and conduct effective research projects by participating in the greater community of researchers.

Students can apply to the University Scholars program from the end of their first year through the first semester of their junior year.  For more information please see:

Honor Societies

Sigma Theta Tau

Membership in Sigma Theta Tau implies outstanding leadership and achievement in nursing.  Some of the purposes of this society include the fostering of high professional standards, encouraging creative work, promoting the maximum development of the individual, and developing interest in the advancement of nursing.  In accomplishing these goals, Sigma Theta Tau increases one’s capacity to serve the profession and, through it, society.  Membership in the University of Pennsylvania’s XI Chapter is by invitation from the chapter.
For more information, please visit:

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa is a prestigious university honor society honoring exceptional students in the liberal arts and sciences.  Those juniors with a 3.85 GPA or higher and seniors with a 3.7 GPA or higher by the end of the fall semester are automatically considered and their transcripts are evaluated by the Board, which also solicits letters of recommendation for eligible students.  Students may not apply for Phi Beta Kappa.  In addition to grades, the committee looks for independent research, participation in honors programs, advanced work in the major and in cognate disciplines, and evidence of intellectual rigor in an undergraduate program.
For more information, please visit:

School of Nursing Awards

The following charts outline major awards within the School of Nursing and the University community, along with competitive post-graduate study abroad fellowships.  Students are urged to nominate themselves or others for these awards and to seek information from their advisor, the Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships (CURF), or the Office of International Programs.  More information about award nominations is disseminated to students during the academic year.



Eligible Nominees

Jeanne Frances Hopkins


Undergraduate or Graduate nursing student who has achieved academic excellence while embarking on a uniquely Penn curricular opportunity. May include a strong secondary interest evidenced by elective course work and related extracurricular activities, Penn athletics, a coherent cluster or minor, or a dual degree. BSN/MSN is excluded as a dual degree.


Undergraduate or Graduate Student


Henry O. Thompson Prize in Ethics


Master’s or doctoral student - student essay focused on ethical thinking and action


MSN or PhD Graduates


Ann Wolbert Burgess Endowed Student Award


Honoring demonstrated excellence and leadership in nursing, with a preference for psychiatric or mental health nursing, as evidenced by a doctoral dissertation that holds significant promise as a contribution to nursing knowledge.  The student must have successfully defended the dissertation proposal at the time of nomination and have either graduated or be scheduled to graduate in May or August of that year.  The student’s chair needs to include a letter indicating this anticipated completion date.


PhD Graduates


Claire M. Fagin Award


A high level of leadership within the School, University, or larger community (one award will be given)


BSN, MSN, or PhD Graduates


Dean’s Award


Epitomize the philosophy of the School of Nursing. [Student leadership, citizenship, social activism.] (one award to be given)


BSN, MSN, or PhD Graduates


Ellen D. Baer Award


Excellence and leadership in nursing as evidenced within Hillman Program.


Undergraduate or Masters Hillman Scholar


Theresa I. Lynch Award


Consistent contribution to the advancement of the School of Nursing. [Criteria similar to that used in selecting the Dean’s Award recipient may be implemented in the selection of this award recipient. In addition, Dean’s Award nominations may alternately be considered for this award.] (one award will be given)


BSN, MSN, or PhD Graduates


Norma Lang Award


Undergraduate or master’s graduate who has demonstrated excellence in academic/scholarly practice. Preference will be given to graduates that have demonstrated excellence in Penn Nursing Network practices as well as activities with clinician educators in their practice settings.  Specific contributions can include: leadership, innovative practice models, student led research, and/or commitment to a specific community/patient population.  Students may be nominated from someone in the practice setting or they may self-nominate (one award will be given).


BSN and MSN Graduates


Mary D. Naylor UG Research Award


Contributions to advancing nursing knowledge through research activities. Specific criteria to be included: initiative, creativity, intelligence, and persistence.


BSN Students


Wealtha McGurn Research Award


Graduate demonstrating excellence in research with a particular focus on pediatric primary care or adult health. 


MSN and PhD Graduates


Teaching Assistant Award


Cognitive Competence includes: constructs course assignments; interprets abstract theories/ideas clearly; utilizes new or unexpected situations to show relationship to subject under study. Professional competence includes: sets achievable goals for students; demonstrates technical skill in nursing activities; shows interest in making contribution to the improvement of nursing; participates w/standing faculty in SON activities. Interpersonal competence includes: respects confidentiality of student relationships; demonstrates confidence in the student; allows expression of diverse points of view; follows through on commitments; gives constructive evaluation without humiliating student; establishes environment conducive to discussion. Research Assistants and Course Assistants are not eligible.


Teaching Assistants


Joyce E. Thompson Award in Women’s Health


Leadership and excellence in maternal and child health. The nomination in the form of a one-page essay, if student is self-nominating, or a one-page letter, if clinical faculty member/instructor is nominating, must address how the nominee demonstrated these qualities.

MSN Graduates


Dorothy Mereness Award


Exceptional ability in scholarly writing. [Could include, but is not limited to, scholarly writing for a research project.]  A writing sample or paper must be submitted along with the nomination (one award will be given).


BSN, MSN, or PhD Graduates


Marion R. Gregory Award


Distinguished doctoral dissertation. Dissertations are to be considered by doctorally-prepared faculty. A copy of the proposal to be submitted with the nomination.  The student must have successfully defended the dissertation proposal at the time of nomination and have either graduated or be scheduled to graduate in May or August of that year.  The student’s chair needs to include a letter indicating this anticipated completion date.


Doctoral Graduates


Sigma Theta Tau Award


Academic achievement and leadership.


BSN, MSN & PhD Graduates


Penn Nursing Alumni Student Award


Given to BSN, MSN, or PhD graduate graduating in the current year who contributes to the achievement of the Alumni Society goals by fostering loyalty to the school and university, maintaining the professional and social bond among their classmates and promoting professional development during their student experience at Penn. May be individual or group.


BSN, MSN, or PhD Graduates


Ralston Center Award for Gerontology Nursing Excellence


The purpose of the award is to recognize an outstanding graduate nursing student specializing in geriatric nursing.  To be eligible, students must have completed at least one-third of the course requirements toward their graduate nursing program in gerontology, with a cumulative grade point average of 3.50 or higher.  At least one letter of nomination must be from a clinical instructor or academic advisor.  The award recipient will be asked to speak on his/her interest and experience in gerontological nursing at the June meeting of the Ralston Center Board of Managers, at which time the recipient will receive the monetary award.


MSN students in gerontology who have completed at least one-third of their program requirements and who have at least a 3.50 cumulative GPA


University of Pennsylvania Awards

The University of Pennsylvania grants numerous undergraduate awards to outstanding graduating seniors, in addition to some sophomores and juniors.