Courses & Registration

Transfer Credit and Course Waiver

A student may transfer courses completed at other graduate schools of the University with the recommendation of the Graduate Group Chair and approval of the Graduate Dean. No work done as an undergraduate, whether done at this institution or at any other, will be counted toward a higher degree. (Graduate courses completed by undergraduates as part of submatriculation in a graduate group count as graduate courses and, therefore, may be counted toward graduate degree requirements).

Source: Academic Rules for PhDs .

PhD Degree

If eligible, PhD credit may be awarded for up to two course units of post-master’s coursework taken at Penn or another institution.  In unusual circumstances, if post-master’s courses were taken at Penn or another institution and contribute to the scientific training of the student, an additional two PhD course units may be awarded for a total of four course units.

Courses approved for transfer credit are not required to be replaced by more advanced courses, but the student may choose to take additional courses for her/his scientific training.

No work done as an undergraduate, whether at this institution or at any other, will be counted toward the degree with the exception of graduate courses completed by undergraduates as submatriculants in a graduate group.

Waiver from Core Courses

A student who provides concrete evidence of meeting course competencies may be eligible for a waiver from particular core courses.  The most obvious evidence is to provide a transcript showing the grade and a course description, syllabus, and sample assignment (if possible). A minimum course grade of B is required.  A waived course is documented on the student’s transcript and is not awarded course unit credit (0.0 CU posted on transcript).  A student granted a waiver for an eligible course must take another course, and preferably a more advanced course, in its place. The student should consult her/his faculty advisors for course suggestions.

A waiver may be requested for: No waivers will be considered for:
  • Statistics courses
  • NURS 813: Qualitative Paradigm Empirical Nursing Research
  • NURS 754: Quantitative Research Design and Methods
  • NURS 800: Dissertation Seminar
  • NURS 750: Inquiry and Nursing
  • NURS 753: Evolving Nursing Science
  • NURS 890: Teaching Residency
  • NURS 897: Research Residency


Procedure to request transfer credit or waiver

The student should initiate the process for transfer of credit or waiver post-admission, but before the start of classes. 

An official transcript of the course must be on file in the Office of Student Information at the time of application. The official transcript must be received before the credit can be posted to the student’s transcript.

To request transfer credit or waiver:

  1. The student completes the PhD Transfer Credit or Waiver  form for each course to be approved for transfer credit or a waiver, a brief written rationale for the course to be transferred or waived, the course description, syllabus, and a sample assignment or other evidence (if possible) to the faculty advisor. 
  2. The faculty advisor signifies approval by signing the form and the student submits all materials to the Office of Student Services for processing.
  3. The Grad Group Chair consults with at least one faculty member who has either taught the course or has expertise in course content. S/he might also consult with the advisor(s) and with the Chair-Elect if needed. If the Grad Group Chair is the advisor of record, s/he will consult with the Chair-Elect to maintain the integrity of the process. All consultations are documented on the “PhD Transfer Credit or Waiver” form.
  4. The Grad Group Chair approves or denies the request, and forwards paperwork to the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs for processing.  The decision is emailed to the student, with a copy to the advisor(s), course faculty and Chair-Elect.
  5. If approved, the Office of Student Information will post the transfer credit or waiver on the student’s transcript.

Concentration Course Requirements

Concentration courses are intended to support the dissertation. These courses may be in particular content areas (e.g. genetics, health disparities) that are related to the planned dissertation or methods courses teaching specific approaches (e.g. clinical trial design). Courses may be taken in nursing or a different discipline at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Concentration courses must be graduate level courses that are taught by doctorally-prepared faculty.

As noted in the degree requirements, one of the five concentration courses must have focus on health equity and/or social justice. A list of the approved courses can be found here. If a course of interest is not on the list, please submit a petition that will be reviewed by PhD Curriculum Committee.

Course Registration 

All Penn students must register for courses through Penn’s online registration system, Path@Penn

Students should register during the advance registration period each fall and spring semester for best course availability, and no later than two weeks before the start of classes. This is so that the Office of Student Services has adequate time to audit students’ course enrollments to ensure they are correctly registered for full- or part-time status.  Early registration of courses, submission of independent study forms, and requests for course permits is necessary to ensure that students are fully registered by the beginning of each semester.

Registration Hold

All PhD students, including those on dissertation status, will be placed on registration hold prior to each semester. In order to register for courses, students must request electronic sign-off each semester from their faculty advisor(s). This ensures regular communication between the advisor/chair and student, and enables the advisor(s) to help guide the student with course selection.

Course Load

PhD students are expected to take three or four course units (CUs) each fall and spring semester for timely completion of the program and to maintain full-time status.

A student who wishes to take more than four course units must request faculty advisor approval. If the student is in good academic standing and if the advisor agrees, the advisor should sent an approval email to the  in order for the Office of Student Services to raise the student’s max course load. Once the maximum load is raised, the student will be able to register for additional course(s).

Full-Time Status

Full-time status is defined as enrollment in a minimum of three course units (CUs) each fall and spring semester. Dissertation status (registration for NURS 995) carries full-time registration status.

Change of registration status to full- or part-time

A student who desires a registration status change to full or part-time (or vice versa) must submit a letter requesting the change to the Graduate Group Chair and Associate Dean for Academic Programs, with a copy to the Associate Director of Advising and Student Affairs six weeks before the date of the status change.  A full-time student who desires part-time registration is not guaranteed funding if a switch back to full-time registration status is desired.

Grade Type

Students must choose “normal grading” (letter grade) when registering for a course in Path@Penn if the course will be used to fulfill degree requirements.   A course may be taken “pass/fail” or by audit only if it is not needed to fulfill degree requirements.

A letter grade may be changed to pass/fail or the reverse within the first five weeks of class.

Independent Study Courses

Students may enroll, with the approval of the academic advisor and under the supervision of a faculty member with a doctoral degree, in an Independent Study for course credit. The purpose of such a course is to allow the student to pursue an area of special interest that may not be covered by an existing course. The student must design the Independent Study project with a faculty member, who approves the plan the semester before the study is to begin along with the academic advisor. 

There is no limit to the number of Independent Study courses a doctoral student may take.

Registering for Independent Study Courses
  1. Complete the Independent Study Form  and obtain required signatures. Due to faculty travel schedules, students should meet with faculty preceptors of Independent Studies prior to summer and winter breaks to formulate Independent Study courses for the upcoming semester. 
  2. Email the completed form to The form should be submitted two weeks before the start of classes, and must be submitted no later than the end of the Course Selection Period.
  3. The Nursing registrar will enroll the student in the Independent Study (NURS 900). 
  4. Grades for Independent Studies are submitted by the supervising faculty member upon completion of the work. Student and faculty evaluations of the Independent Study must be completed and copies of these evaluations should be submitted to the Office of Student Services.


If a course requires a permit for registration, the student should contact the relevant academic department to request the permit.  The student may need to contact the instructor of the course directly for permission to enroll.  Once the permit has been issued, the student must “claim” the permit in Penn in Touch to complete registration.

To enroll in an MBA class, it is necessary to wait for the “MBA Auction” period and contact the Wharton Graduate Division. 

Summer Courses

PhD students who take summer courses will be charged tuition and fees.

Registration of Extra Courses

Students who have fulfilled curricular requirements for the PhD degree in Nursing and wish to take extra courses for a letter grade, pass/fail grade, or audit above and beyond what is needed for the degree are eligible to do so if the student is in good academic standing, if it is within the funding period, and with faculty advisor approval.

School of Nursing funding cannot be used to support the cost of extra courses taken outside the School of Nursing that are not directly related to the area of research and part of an approved plan of study. Extra courses taken after the expiration of SON funding must be paid for by the student or the by student’s external funding source.

Dissertation Seminar

Students must complete the following courses before taking Dissertation Seminar: NURS 750, NURS 753, NURS 754, NURS 813, two semesters of Statistics, and all required concentration courses. Additionally, students must have successfully passed the Qualifying Exam and have identified a Dissertation Chair.

At the start of the course, it is a minimum requirement that students have completed a draft of their specific aims page. Additionally, it is recommended that students have a draft of the first chapter of their dissertation and an outline of subsequent chapters, or a clearly delineated plan for articles if they are using the 3-article format.

Dissertation Status

Typically, the semester after a student successfully completes Dissertation Seminar and completes all required courses, the Office of Student Information will register a student for NURS 995:  Dissertation Status. Dissertation Status carries full-time status. 

Students must complete all coursework required for the PhD in Nursing degree before entering Dissertation Status.  Students may take extra courses during Dissertation Status if eligible; refer to the Registration of Extra Courses policy.

Leave of Absence

Per the PennBook Academic Rules for PhDs  :

“Continuous registration as a graduate student is required unless a formal leave of absence is granted by the student’s school. A leave of absence will be granted for military duty, medical reasons, or family leave; this leave is typically for up to one year and “stops the clock” on time to completion. Personal leave for other reasons may be granted for up to one year with the approval of the Graduate Chair in consultation with the Graduate Dean (Associate Dean for Academic Programs at the School of Nursing) but it does not automatically change the time limit. Additional requirements for return may be imposed by the Graduate Dean. No degree examinations may be taken while a student is on leave of absence. A student without an approved leave of absence who fails to register each semester will be considered to have withdrawn from the program; approval by the Graduate Dean and recertification are required for reinstatement.”

A student who wishes a leave of absence must submit a written request . The granting of a leave of absence for personal reasons does not automatically change the time limit for completion of degree requirements.

For University policies regarding Childbirth/Adoption and Family Leave, see the specific sections in the Academic Rules for PhDs and Research Masters Degrees .