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BSN Honors Options

General Information

What is University of Pittsburgh Nursing Honors Program?

While the traditional BSN program provides a rigorous didactic and clinical curriculum to help students meet the essential BSN competencies, the Nursing Honors program is designed to enrich this experience and provide more applied training and immersive experiential learning in translating evidence into nursing practice. This program introduces students to competencies beyond the BSN level—opening doors for additional career opportunities beyond direct clinical care (e.g., graduate school, leadership roles, etc.). By completing the Honors Program, students earn a dual degree from the School of Nursing and the University Honors College, designated as a BSN-H degree.

Why enroll in the Nursing Honors program?

As a nursing honors student, you will learn how to become a lifelong learner and detective, possessing a toolkit necessary to advance the nursing discipline and impact patient outcomes through the creation and application of scientific knowledge and evidence-based practice. You will also develop a competitive career portfolio for employers and for admission to top-tier graduate schools. 

How does the Nursing Honors Program differ from the URMP program?

The Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program (URMP) provides a venue for undergraduate students to work with faculty nurse researchers on the researcher’s active research studies. In this program, URMP students work 5-20 hours / week and are paid hourly for their effort (per diem). In the Nursing Honors Program, however, students work with nurse researchers on their very own project idea (mentored-research experience). Many Nursing Honors students work with their mentors as URMP students as well, but duties for each experience are mutually exclusive.

Is the Nursing Honors Program right for me?

Completing the Nursing Honors Program can be a very rewarding and mutually-beneficial experience for both the student and faculty mentor. The Nursing Honors program is designed to equip students with essential skills that will help them become future leaders who will foster impactful change in nursing discipline. Many students participating in the URMP program are already on track to complete most the requirements of the Nursing Honors Program, and thus would benefit from enrolling in the Nursing Honors program. You can learn more by listening to these testimonies by former Nursing Honors students.

Heather Rose describes her experiences with the Honors Program, and what she's gained by doing advanced courses.

Eleanor Turi, BSN '16, discusses what she learned from participating in honors work, and the research experience she gained at Pitt Nursing.

What are the two pathways of the Nursing Honors Program?

Currently, we have two levels of engagement through which students can earn the BSN-H degree. You can either complete an enriched Honors Curriculum option, or you can complete an Honors Thesis option (see chart below). The curriculum option is designed for students interested in translating existing evidence into practice to drive change at the bedside. The thesis option is designed for students interested in scientific discoveries and in generating new knowledge to address unmet clinical needs at the bedside. The latter is usually referred to as Bachelor of Philosophy (i.e., BPhil). Each option requires a separate application to University Honors College. The curriculum option is mapped across the 4-year BSN curriculum and requires students to apply while in their freshman year or early sophomore year. The thesis option is self-paced and, thus, students can still apply as late as their end of junior year. You can start in one option and switch to the other, but this will require a new application to the University Honors College.

What are the admission requirements for the Honors curriculum option?

For the curriculum option, prospective students may apply to Nursing Honors through the regular initial University of Pittsburgh application process. If you choose to apply, you will be asked to answer the following essay question: (1) If you could change anything in the world, what would it be? (2) Explain why and how you would change it. Responses should be stated in 500 words or fewer. These essays will be reviewed by University Admissions Office who make admission decisions at this point. If you are already a freshman or sophomore in the BSN program and you are interested in the Honors curriculum option, the University Honors College still admits a limited number of upperclassmen into its degree program. Interested upperclassmen must have a minimum GPA of 3.50, and must have completed a minimum of 2 semesters (24 credits). Students are required to complete the same essay prompts above and submit a letter of recommendation from an instructor or academic advisor. Applications for upperclassmen students are reviewed once a year with an application deadline of May 31.

What are the admission requirements for the Honors thesis option?

Students interested in the thesis option can apply directly to University Honors College at any time during their BSN curriculum. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.50 and are required to identify a research mentor and submit a brief research proposal and plan of study to the University Honors College in collaboration with the mentor. More details are provided below and you can learn more here.

How competitive is the admission to the Nursing Honors program?

Our nursing students are top-notch, and with enough passion and dedication, any student could successfully complete an Honors thesis (the highest undergraduate distinction). However, typically 2¬ to 5 nursing students complete a BPhil (Honors thesis) every year. You will find a list of recently completed undergraduate honors theses here. The Nursing Honors curriculum option is a fairly new pathway, and the Class of 2023 will be the first cohort. Based on number and quality of applications, the University Honors College admitted around 14 to 18 nursing students in this option annually in the last 2 years.

When and how to apply for the Nursing Honors Program - curriculum option?

Prospective students may apply to Nursing Honors curriculum option through the regular University of Pittsburgh application process. If you choose to apply, you will be asked to answer one additional essay question during the application process. The application cycle for upperclassmen interested in the curriculum option usually opens in January (see here for details). It is recommended for upperclassmen to apply to the Honors curriculum option no later than the end of their sophomore year to ensure they have ample time to complete the program requirements. 

When and how to apply for the Nursing Honors Program - thesis option?

For those interested in the Honors thesis option, there is no specific deadline to apply. As soon as a student identifies a mentor and they mutually agree on a thesis idea, the student can apply to University Honors College by completing the admission application found here. Students should email completed BPhil applications to the Director of the Nursing Honors Program (Dr. Salah Al-Zaiti, ssa33@pitt.edu) who will forward to University Honors College. Applications are reviewed on rolling basis and students and their mentors are notified of admission status within 2 weeks or so. Most students interested in this option apply in their sophomore or junior year to allow ample time for completing and defending their thesis.

FAQ about Nursing Honors Curriculum Option

What is Nursing Honors curriculum option?

This is one of two University Honors College’s approved pathways to earn your BSN-H. Typically, freshman students admitted directly into the Honors College will participate in a structured program of study that entails completing honors-designated coursework, a capstone project, and approved out-of-classroom curriculum. Sophomore students with minimum GPA of 3.5 can still apply to this pathway given that they have a strong recommendation letter from an instructor or academic advisor and write two competitive essays.

What are the requirements for the Honors curriculum option?

Students in the Honors curriculum option must complete 18 credits of University Honors College designated courses, 6 credits of research practicum, and an out-of-classroom curriculum (OCC). For the 18 credits of honors designated courses, students will enroll in the honors section of courses already required for the traditional BSN program (no extra courses). For the 6 credits of research practicum, students will complete a capstone project and have the opportunity to take a graduate-level course and / or a study abroad program. These 6 credits are required in addition to fulfilling the traditional program credits. The total number of credits needed to meet the requirements of the Honors curriculum option is ≥130 as outlined in the attached curriculum plan. The OCC entails 10 goal areas: Leadership Development, Career Preparation, Communication Skills, Global/Cultural Awareness, Pitt Pride, Service to Others, Sense of Self, Wellness, Appreciation of the Arts, Initiative and Drive. The OCC is monitored by University Honors College. You will learn more about the OCC here

What is Honors Capstone?

The Honors Capstone is specifically designed for those pursuing a Nursing Honors designation. The traditional BSN curriculum covers the basic nursing research core essentials of American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Nursing Honors students participate in additional, hands-on training in research design, conduct, and dissemination. Nursing Honors Capstone I (NUR 1091) provides a mentored research experience to make students well-positioned to complete their project. Nursing Honors Capstone II (NUR 1092) provides an opportunity for the construction and implementation of a research practicum plan in alignment with the mentor’s and student’s research interests. The main deliverable of the Honors Capstone is the completion and dissemination of an evidence-based quality improvement (QI) project. Students are expected to complete their Capstone project in their junior and senior years.

How to select a mentor for my Honors Capstone?

Students in the Honors program take Honors Freshman Seminar (NUR 0005) in their first semester at the School of Nursing. In this seminar, students are oriented to the active research projects underway at the school, as well as the various research hubs in the School of Nursing. With the guidance of the seminar instructor and the various guest speakers, students are matched with potential mentors who can guide them through their journey in the program.

Do I need IRB approval for my Honors Capstone?

Most evidence-based quality improvement (QI) projects are exempt by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). However, the mentor can help the student determine if an IRB application is needed on case-by-case basis. If uncertain, students and mentors can consult with IRB staff at askirb@pitt.edu

Is there an oral defense for my Honors Capstone?

No, you are not required to do an oral defense of your Capstone project. However, it is expected that you will display and share your work through local and regional research or practice-based conferences or events. Students can display their work at various UPMC training clinical sites (e.g., nursing transitions). Local dissemination opportunities include Sigma Theta Tau (STT) Eta Chapter Scholars Night, SON Annual Scholarly Presentation Symposium, and other University of Pittsburgh research symposiums. 

What is the timeline for my Honors Capstone completion?

Nursing Research (NUR 0067) and Introduction to Statistics (NUR 0088) are pre-requisites for the Honors Capstone. Thus, it is expected that students can enroll in Nursing Honors Capstone I (NUR 1091) in junior year and Nursing Honors Capstone II (NUR 1092) in senior year.

Am I expected to write an ETD for my Honors Capstone?

No, an ETD (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation) is not required for the Honors Capstone. However, students are encouraged to develop a manuscript or brief communication on their evidence-based QI project for potential publication in a peer-reviewed journal under the discretion of their mentor.

What happens if I am enrolled in the Honors Curriculum option but do not complete the program requirements? Does this affect my ability to graduate?

No, this will not affect your ability to graduate. Once you finish the requirements of the traditional BSN program, you will earn your BSN diploma. Completing the Honors curriculum, however, will allow you to earn a dual degree from the School of Nursing and the University Honors College designated as BSN-H diploma.

FAQ about the Honors Thesis Option

What is an Honors Thesis?

This is one of two University Honors College’s approved pathways to earn your BSN-H. It is usually referred to as BPhil and is considered the highest undergraduate distinction. Only offered at a few universities worldwide, the prestigious BPhil enhances your BSN degree with an independent research thesis. 

How does an Honors Thesis differ from the Honors Curriculum Option?

From a scientific standpoint, the curriculum option trains students to become smart consumers of research by polishing their ability to translate existing evidence into practice to drive change at the bedside. The thesis option trains students to become junior scientists who can generate new knowledge to solve challenges or address unmet clinical needs at the bedside. While students are generally admitted into the curriculum option in their first year of study, BSN students can apply to enroll in the thesis option at any time during their study. The Honors Thesis option does not involve any required coursework, but students are encouraged to enroll in Honors Capstone I and Honors Capstone II for more structured mentored-research experience. It is worth noting that admission into the Honors Thesis option (BPhil) requires a separate application to University Honors College, even if the student is already admitted to the Honors curriculum option.

How long does it take to complete an Honors Thesis?

Completing the research project itself takes at least one year (i.e., ethical approval, data collection and analysis, ETD write up and oral defense). However, planning the thesis also takes up to one year as well (i.e., selecting a mentor, identifying a research idea, literature review, etc.). Thus, it is highly recommended that students start planning for their thesis and apply to University Honors College no later than their junior year.

I am interested in completing an Honors Thesis, where do I start from?

If you are not already in touch with a research mentor, the first step is to identify one and get involved in his/her active research project. The best way to do so is to apply for the Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program (URMP). You can indicate on the intake form that you are interested in working with that specific mentor. Next, reach out to the Director of the Nursing Honors Program (Dr. Salah Al-Zaiti, ssa33@pitt.edu) to discuss your interests in completing the BPhil option. The Director will introduce you to potential research mentor(s). Once you find a suitable mentor who agrees to serve as your thesis advisor, work with him/her to identify a feasible research project that you can complete as your own thesis. Many students identify an original research idea that aligns with the mentor’s active study or perform a secondary analysis of the mentor’s existing data. Once you have a mature and well-articulated idea, work with the Director of the Nursing Honors Program to submit the BPhil application. Admission decisions are usually made within two weeks. You and your mentor will receive a formal letter welcoming you in the Honors program.

Are there any sample BPhil applications that I can follow (Honors thesis option)?

The BPhil application is composed of three parts: (1) Biographical Information Form, (2) Plan of Studies Form, and (3) Thesis Prospectus Form. Here is a sample BPhil application for Parts 2 and 3.

Once I am admitted to the University Honors College, what are the degree requirements?

University Honors College divides the progress of a thesis into the three stages: development of the project; conducting the research and writing of the thesis; and final presentation and examination of the completed thesis (i.e., oral defense). While the progress on the thesis is self-paced, all three stages must be completed by NOON on the LAST WEEKDAY OF CLASSES of the term in which you will graduate. Specifically, this means that you must have successfully defended your thesis before your committee, incorporated and received approval for any revisions required by your committee from your defense, and uploaded the final, edited copy of the thesis in proper Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) format to the D-Scholarship@Pitt website by this deadline. Refer to the following Guide for Thesis Advisors for more details on the process.

Do I need an IRB approval for my thesis?

University Honors College requests a copy of the IRB to be on file for every thesis. If you are using existing data from your mentor’s study, then an IRB copy of the parent study would suffice. If you are performing an original investigation with independent data collection, then you need to consult with your mentor and the University IRB (askirb@pitt.edu) to comply with all required human protection regulations. 

Are there any funding opportunities for my Honors Thesis?

When pursuing intensive research for the BPhil degree, you can apply for funding to support your thesis work. University Honors College has a mechanism for requesting funds described here. The School of Nursing also has a competitive research award for BPhil students—the Reva Rubin Memorial Undergraduate Research Fund. The amount of this award is $500 and is given annually to 1 or 2 deserving candidates. A call for proposals is usually emailed in the spring term. In addition, if you are selected to present your research in a national conference, the School of Nursing will reimburse you for travel and accommodation up to $1,500. You can learn more about conference travel awards by emailing the Student Affairs and Alumni Relations.

What do I need to know before planning for the final writing and examination of the thesis?

Once you collect and analyze your data, and before finalizing the thesis document, the student and advisor should begin to choose an examining committee. The committee will be composed of four faculty members: the thesis advisor (committee chair), two University of Pittsburgh examiners, and an additional examiner from another institution within the United States (the external examiner must also be a US citizen). For the University of Pittsburgh examiners, it is recommended that the student and mentor select one nursing faculty with complimentary expertise on the topic and a statistician from our School’s Center for Research and Evaluation. Once you identify your examination committee, select a date and time suitable for your defense and inform the Honors College by completing the BPhil Defense Info Form. You also need to inform the Director of the Nursing Honors Program (Dr. Salah Al-Zaiti, ssa33@pitt.edu) who helps you reserve a room and announce the final defense.

Who is the external examiner and how do I select one for my thesis?

Work with your thesis advisor to identify and invite an external examiner who is an expert on the topic of your thesis. If there are no active travel restrictions (e.g., due to a pandemic), then external examiners need to be present on campus for the thesis defense; otherwise special permissions will be given to allow participation in the defense via electronic means, such as Zoom. As a result, external examiners also constitute a visiting faculty program for you and your department. The University Honors College provides for the travel expenses and lodging of the outside examiner as well as the honorarium. The outside examiner, as a distinguished visitor to the University, should be available to present a lecture to the appropriate department. Thesis advisors have previously invited collaborators from regional institutions (e.g., UPMC, CMU, Duquesne University, etc.) or collaborators from national institutions (e.g., UNC, Duke, UCSF, etc.) to serve as external examiners.

How and when to write the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD)?

Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) are theses or dissertations prepared as text-based PDF files. The University has resources for writing and formatting the ETD, including templates to get started and staff support to help students adhere to formatting requirements. It is recommended to organize the ETD as a manuscript for journal submission. The length is typically ~30 double-spaced pages with 20-30 references. Students need to draft the ETD and email to committee members approximately two weeks prior to the final defense for review. Here are few examples of previously completed Honors theses in the School of Nursing:

What occurs during the oral defense of my thesis?

The format of the oral presentation and examination is similar to that of a master’s or doctoral defense. The student publicly presents an oral overview of his or her work to the examining committee and guests in attendance. Following the presentation, the public may ask questions, while the committee examines the candidate privately. The chair of the committee is responsible for dismissing the public and for convening and ending the examination. Additionally, the chair passes the student's ETD Approval Form for committee members’ signatures. Here is a template to help you get started with your thesis presentation, as well as two examples of thesis defense presentations from former BPhil students:

When is the final ETD due?

After the oral defense, students must incorporate committee feedback into the ETD and prepare the final documents as per the University formatting guidelines. Once finalized, you must submit the following to University Honors College no later than NOON on the LAST WEEKDAY OF CLASSES of the TERM IN WHICH YOU WILL GRADUATE:

  • ETD Approval Form completed in its entirety, with all required signatures on pages 1 and 2 (see ETD website); if required, please submit all copyright permissions with the form. Remember to include one copy of your Title Page and TWO copies of your Abstract (BOTH copies of the Abstract initialed by your thesis advisor in the upper right corner); this is outlined on Page Four of the ETD Approval Form.
  • Uploaded ETD file to the D-Scholarship@Pitt website, formatted correctly with all appropriate bookmarks and hyperlinks (IMPORTANT: When uploading, choose "University Honors College" in the "Schools and Programs" section, not the major within your primary academic center).

Do not pay the processing fee required of graduate theses and dissertations (the University Honors College pays the processing fee on your behalf). For more details you can check this page.

Is there a final checklist to make sure I completed all requirements for my BSN-H?

Yes, the University Honors College posts an updated BPhil checklist every term. You can find the most recent checklist on this page.

What happens if I am enrolled in the Honors Thesis option but do not complete the program requirements? Does this affect my ability to graduate?

No, this will not affect your ability to graduate. Once you finish the requirements of the traditional BSN program, you will earn your BSN diploma. Completing the Honors thesis, however, will allow you to earn a dual degree from the School of Nursing and the University Honors College designated as BSN-H diploma.

Do I need to submit my thesis for publication?

No, you are not required to submit a manuscript for publication. However, you are highly encouraged to do so. The motive behind the thesis is to generate new knowledge to improve health. One of the best ways to share this knowledge is to disseminate your work in a peer-reviewed journal.

Are there any opportunities to present my thesis in national forums?

Yes, students are encouraged to submit their work to the National Council for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). The school circulates a call for this conference in the fall and can help students in the submission process. We usually have ~20 nursing students presenting at NCUR every year and the School of Nursing covers registration, travel, and accommodation costs. Students have also presented their work at other national forums and educational conferences such as the Eastern Nursing Research Society, the American Heart Association, etc.