How AP Capstone Works

Offer ap capstone at your school.

AP Capstone™ is a diploma program based on two yearlong AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. These courses are designed to complement other AP courses that the AP Capstone student may take.

Instead of teaching specific subject knowledge, AP Seminar and AP Research use an interdisciplinary approach to develop the critical thinking, research, collaboration, time management, and presentation skills students need for college-level work.

College Board developed the AP Capstone Diploma program at the request of higher education professionals, who saw a need for a systematic way for high school students to begin mastering these skills before college. 

Higher education professionals: Learn about developing AP Capstone credit and placement policies .

Program Details

Students typically take AP Seminar in grade 10 or 11, followed by AP Research. Each course is yearlong, and AP Seminar is a prerequisite for AP Research.

In both courses, students investigate a variety of topics in multiple disciplines. Students may choose to explore topics related to other AP courses they’re taking.

Both courses guide students through completing a research project, writing an academic paper, and making a presentation on their project.

Over the course of the two-year program, students are required to:

Visit the AP Seminar and AP Research course pages to learn more.

Send your students to the AP Seminar and AP Research pages on our AP Students site to explore the courses.

AP scores for both courses are based on teacher assessment of student presentation components and College Board scoring of student-written components plus an end-of-course exam (for AP Seminar only).

Visit the AP Seminar Exam page and the AP Research Exam page to learn more about the assessment of student work in AP Capstone courses.

Students who earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research and on four additional AP Exams of their choosing receive the AP Capstone Diploma™. Students who earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research but not on four additional AP Exams receive the AP Seminar and Research Certificate™.

Chart showing that  Students who earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research but not on four additional AP Exams receive the AP Seminar and Research Certificate™.

Students who earn these awards can view and print their diploma or certificate online. The award is also acknowledged on any AP score report that is sent to colleges after the award has been conferred.

Note: the AP Capstone Diploma and AP Seminar and Research Certificate are reported to colleges and universities as AP Scholar Awards and appear in Scholar Roster reports.

Summary Data

To see how many AP Capstone awards were granted in the latest AP Exam administration, visit our Research site .

AP Capstone gives students the following pedagogical foundation, called the QUEST framework, to develop, practice, and hone their critical and creative thinking skills as they make connections between various issues and their own lives:

A diagram showing the instructional foundation of AP Capstone

Professional Learning

Because of the unique format of the AP Capstone courses, all AP Seminar and AP Research teachers must take part in training prior to their first year teaching the course.

Find out more about the required professional learning.


What is a capstone project? And why is it important?


By Stephanie L

What is a capstone project? And why is it important?

Sponsored by York University

What is a capstone project?

The capstone project has become an integral part of the university degree curriculum. It can take many various forms, but its purpose remains the same. The capstone project is a unique opportunity to carry out independent group research in order to devise an innovative solution for a real-world problem. While a project of this scope and scale can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding.

The capstone project is usually the final assignment and plays a vital role in preparing students for the world of work thanks to its practical applications and ability to help hone students’ professional knowledge and skills.

At York University in Toronto, Canada, things are a little different. In 2019, the university revised the traditional capstone project and created C4: Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom . While it still possesses the fundamentals of the traditional capstone project, C4 is a new, year-long initiative that brings students together from various degree programmes to work in interdisciplinary teams with faculty and project partners on real-world challenges pitched by non-profit organisations, start-ups and businesses to create social impact. 

TopUniversities spoke to Megan Tran and Javeria Mirza, two students at York University, to find out about their capstone project and why they feel it has played an important role in not just their academic development, but their professional development as well.

What is the Purpose of a Capstone Project?

1. it prepares you for the working world.

The capstone project is designed to consolidate final-year students’ learning with valuable hands-on experience to help develop them into well-prepared and well-rounded graduates.

Students work together in small groups to come up with innovative solutions for real-life problems, all while gaining valuable insights into the demands and responsibilities of the working world. This gives students a chance to bring their leadership and management skills alive and understand the consequences of their decisions in a ‘safe space’.

C4 gives students an insight into global affairs, international relations as well as social corporate responsibility and sustainability. 

Final-year bachelor’s in international studies student Megan and master’s in political science student Javeria were two of the eight interdisciplinary students, from the Faculty of Environmental Studies, the Lassonde School of Engineering, Glendon College, and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University who worked together on the ‘Solar Floatie’ project.

“As a group, we were all interested in using technology and design-thinking for good. Our collective passion for social impact brought us together as a team. CooperLab at York University led by Professor Thomas Cooper was already spearheading the idea of an inflatable solar collector,” said Javeria.

“But how we went about developing the technology and what we wanted to use it for was up to us,” added Megan.

“ The Solar Floatie was born when the engineering side of the solar collector project was merged with the anthropology side and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework to propose a sustainable implementation model,” explained Javeria.

2. It helps build your CV and help you stand out as a candidate 

Undertaking a capstone project demonstrates to prospective employers that you’re more than just a potential candidate with the necessary academic qualifications. It shows your dedication to an issue which demands time and effort, as well as strict professionalism, work ethic and experience working in a practical, hands-on setting.

3. It offers valuable practical experience – something many graduates do not have

As a graduate, the reality of securing a job can be difficult as many roles demand practical experience. Many graduates are conceptually strong and suitable candidates, but a lack of applied knowledge in practical settings can make it challenging to demonstrate such experience and skills on their CV or in an interview.

The capstone project is a great solution and is something which both Megan and Javeria felt helped bridge that critical gap and has given them a competitive advantage as young professionals.

“It gave me an opportunity to learn outside a traditional academic setting and allowed me to explore my interest in sustainability and passion for social impact,” said Megan. “Since being a part of this project, I’ve been involved with a variety of organisations carrying out work that align with these passions.”

Javeria echoes Megan’s sentiments.

She said: “Bridging the lessons learnt during the capstone project such as the value of continuously learning, taking initiative, and working effectively with people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds has been invaluable in both my UN work and my graduate studies.”

4. It hones on specific skills that are highly valued by employers

The capstone project encompasses a real-life working culture which aims to instil a set of specific skills that are both highly valued by employers and will ultimately serve students well into their careers.

York University’s C4 focuses on the development of a wide range of skills, including creative, critical, and strategic thinking, effective communication, teamwork, problem solving and research analysis through diverse learning approaches and perspectives. Students deepen their sense of social and ethical responsibilities as they learn to mobilise their knowledge across disciplines and work effectively in interdisciplinary teams while engaging professionally with their peers and professors.

Lead image: Solar Floatie project team members work on assembling the solar energy collector, under Professor Thomas Cooper’s direction. Credit: York University

This article was originally published in March 2021 . It was last updated in December 2022

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As the Head of Sponsored Content for and (until September 2021), Stephanie created and published a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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Advanced Placement (AP)


Have you heard about the AP program's new diploma program, AP Capstone? Is this just an IB clone or something more interesting? And will completing AP Capstone get you into college? We'll explore those questions here. Read on for a complete guide to AP Capstone!

What Is AP Capstone?

AP Capstone is the AP program's new diploma program. A diploma program is a program that signifies you completed a certain set of requirements in high school to earn an advanced diploma . (This is in addition to your basic high school diploma.) Probably the most well-known advanced diploma program is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Perhaps to compete with IB, the AP program launched its own diploma program, AP Capstone, in fall 2014. While the regular AP program allows students to choose whichever AP classes they want to take and doesn't have any overarching structure, AP Capstone requires you take a certain number of AP classes and meet certain requirements to earn the AP Capstone advanced diploma. You have to take skills-based and subject-based AP classes to earn the Capstone diploma.

Specifically, AP Capstone includes two foundation courses—AP Seminar and AP Research—to enhance four subject-specific AP courses (in any subject) for a total of six AP courses .


Diagram via College Board .

College Board says of the program: "[AP Capstone] cultivates curious, independent, and collaborative scholars and prepares them to make logical, evidence-based decisions." In other words, AP Capstone is working to bring some thematic unity to the AP program.

Typically, students will choose AP classes that are interesting to them and treat them as totally separate entities. They don't have to make connections between their AP classes or the skills they require. By including AP Seminar and AP Research, the Capstone program aims to make AP a more cohesive high school program.

AP Capstone also includes a 5,000 word research paper, which is quite similar to IB's extended essay. Additionally, some of the curriculum aligns with new common core standards—a bid to make AP Capstone competitive and desirable to schools in today's changing education world.

How AP Capstone Works

To get the AP Capstone diploma, you take two special AP courses. You'll take AP Seminar in 10 th or 11 th grade, followed by AP Research in the 11 th or 12 th grade. (You can't take both in the same grade; AP Seminar has to come before AP Research!)

In addition to AP Seminar and AP Research, you have to take four AP classes of your choosing at any point in high school. This means you could simply take one AP course each year (freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior) or pack them into your last two years of high school. If you receive a 3 or higher on all these exams, you will receive the AP Capstone Diploma.

(Of course, there is nothing preventing you from taking more than four AP classes if that's what you want to do. You just need a minimum of four to get the AP Capstone diploma.)

If you receive scores of 3 or higher in AP Research and AP Seminar, but don't take four other AP classes or don't get high enough AP scores in them, you'll get the AP Seminar and Research Certificate, which shows you gained college-level academic and research skills.

The Two Capstone Courses—AP Seminar and AP Research


Both AP Seminar and AP Research aim to create a college-like academic experience right in your high school classroom.

The AP Seminar and AP Research classes are the main distinguishing features of AP Capstone. These courses give students additional skills to use in other AP classes and college, but aren't based in specific subjects (e.g. math, language arts, science, or social studies).

They aim to help students do the following:

Let's take a look at each class to learn more.

AP Seminar Overview

In Seminar, you'll develop analytic and inquiry skills, exploring two to four issues chosen by you or your teacher, depending on how your teacher runs the class.

The class focuses on themes based on student interests, local and/or civic issues, global or international topics, and concepts from other AP courses. For example, you might explore the question of whether national security is more important than a citizen's right to privacy; or whether genetic engineering is a benefit to society . Both topics would draw from multiple subjects (social studies, science, ethics) and allow you to look at issues through many different lenses.

During the course, you also complete a team project, an individual paper and presentation, and take a final AP exam. The AP Seminar Exam score is based on all three components and is reported on the standard 1–5 AP scoring scale .

AP Research Overview

You have to take AP Seminar before you can take AP Research. While Seminar introduces you to discussion, research, and presentation skills, AP Research allows you to design, plan, and conduct a year-long research-based investigation on a topic that interests you.

You'll build on skills from AP Seminar by learning about research methodology, using ethical research practices, and analyzing the information you find to write and defend your argument.


Get ready to spend a lot of time in the library!

For your research paper, you can dig into a topic you already studied in a different AP course, or come up with your own topic that combines different subjects.

At the end of the research investigation, you'll write a paper of about 5,000 words, then present and defend it. The AP Research Exam score is based on the paper, presentation, and defense, and is reported on the standard 1–5 AP scoring scale. So note that, unlike AP Seminar, there is not a formal AP Research exam. Your paper and presentation will be the exam!

How Popular Is AP Capstone?

The AP Capstone program is quite new, as it only debuted in 2014. Currently, about 300 American schools, 15 Canadian schools, and 30 other international schools have the program. Considering 894 schools in the US alone have IB , AP Capstone is pretty small in comparison. That said, the program will likely grow and expand quite a bit in the next few years as more schools choose to implement it.

Some states don't have any AP Capstone schools yet. several (like Missouri and Utah) have just one participating school, while others have quite a few. (Florida has almost 100!) It will be interesting to see if the state representation evens out in the coming years or if Capstone becomes very popular in certain states and rare in others.

How Capstone Differs From "Regular AP"


The basic AP program is more flexible than AP Capstone.

The regular AP program is an "a la carte" program—you can choose which AP classes to take and how intense you want your schedule to be. Some students might just take 1 or 2 AP classes in high school, others could take over 10. It all depends on how much you want to challenge yourself, how many AP courses your school offers, and which subjects you're interested in.

The success of a student is judged by how they do on each exam— students aren't expected to take a certain number of AP classes or get a certain average score . In short, the basic AP program is quite flexible and can fit the needs of many students.

In contrast, AP Capstone is a diploma program with stricter requirements. If you don't take the right AP classes or get high enough AP exam scores, you won't earn the Capstone diploma.

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How Similar Is AP Capstone to the IB Program?

You may be wondering how similar AP Capstone is to the IB program, since they are both advanced diploma programs. We'll run through some of the main similarities and differences since many students considering IB might also consider AP Capstone, and vice-versa.


Both programs function pretty similarly. Students take advanced classes in high school (marked as either AP or IB), and then take an exam for each class at the end of the year. For both AP Capstone and IB, you have to obtain a minimum score on your exams to earn the diploma. For IB you have to earn at least 24 points total on your exams (IB exams are scored from 1 to 7), for Capstone you need a 3 or higher on each exam.

Each program also requires a long piece of writing, though AP Capstone's 5,000 word research paper is longer than IB's 4,000 word extended essay .

Finally, both programs include subject-based and skills-based courses—though IB has one skills-based course, Theory of Knowledge, while AP Capstone has two—Seminar and Research.


The IB program requires some of your courses be more difficult, while there's no distinction between standard level and higher level courses in AP Capstone. To earn an IB diploma, 3 of your 6 courses have to be designated "higher level," while three can be "standard level." For the AP Capstone diploma, you can choose the four additional AP courses you want to take, even if they are known as easier exams .

Also, AP Capstone does not have any extracurricular requirements whereas IB has the Creativity, Action, Service program, which essentially requires extracurricular activities.

Another major difference between the programs is that AP Capstone has no requirements as to the four additional AP classes you take, whereas in IB you need to take courses from six specific subject areas . So while you could get the AP Capstone diploma with all humanities or all sciences classes if you wanted, IB requires courses taken from across the board. For this reason, the IB Diploma is arguably more comprehensive.


Finally, the IB program is more established, since it's a much older program. While many colleges are likely familiar with IB, you may have to explain AP Capstone a bit more on your applications so colleges know what it is and how it's different from regular AP.

Should You Take AP Capstone?

So now, the big question: if your school (or a school nearby) is offering AP Capstone, should you take it?

Before deciding, consider the cost—you're committing to taking at least 6 exams to earn the diploma. At $91 per exam, that's significant! Whereas by taking regular AP classes you can decide each year how many AP classes to take and whether you can afford them, for AP Capstone you're committing to a set number.

Speaking of which, are you up for six classes? With regular AP you can drop out of any one class at any point, but with Capstone you need 6 courses to finish the diploma. Think hard about whether that's a commitment you're willing to take on.

Also, who at your school is teaching AP Research and/or AP Seminar? Those courses are a big part of the Capstone experience, so if the teacher isn't great you might want to skip Capstone and just take regular AP courses.

Since this is a new program, expect some kinks and growing pains in the first few years. Be especially cautious if you're a current sophomore or junior looking to jump into AP Capstone. Talk to your guidance counselor and the Seminar and/or Research teachers to get a sense of what AP Capstone will be like at your school and if you want to do it. If you're a freshman or younger, you have more time to wait and see how well the program does at your school and at the national level.

Will Colleges Care?

Similar to IB, since AP Capstone is only offered at a select few schools, colleges won't be specifically looking for AP Capstone or favoring it, since not all students have access to it.

Still, if you take Capstone, aspects of the program—especially the long research paper—will likely look desirable to most colleges. The independent research AP Capstone requires could be the topic of a college essay or at least something substantial to talk about in an interview. However, like we mentioned earlier, since AP Capstone is new, make sure you explain what it is on your college applications, so colleges realize that you undertook an advanced diploma program. Odds are, that will look pretty good to them!

Also, remember that colleges will look at your schedule in the context of your school, so as long as your schedule is as challenging as possible—whether you're in Capstone or not—you are setting yourself up for success. It may be that taking AP Capstone will push you to take more AP classes, making your schedule look more challenging in the context of your school.

If your school does have Capstone and you opt to not take it, make sure you are taking a challenging mix of AP and honors courses so it doesn't look like you slacked off.

What's Next?

If you decide to take AP Capstone, you'll have to choose 4 AP courses on your own. Read about the hardest and easiest AP classes to help you decide on your schedule.

Learn about another popular diploma program— the IB program , and whether or not you should take it or AP .

If you're applying to top colleges, you also need to think about your SAT/ACT score. Come up with a target SAT score based on your dream schools ( ACT version here ).

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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What is a Capstone Project in College?

Student studying on laptop with text What is A Capstone Course?

The capstone project in college is the apogee, or completion marker, of a student’s coursework leading to the culmination of their program with a degree in their chosen field of study.

The original definition of a capstone focuses on the actual stone placed at the top of a wall or building, marking the successful completion of the structure. It is a significant and celebrated piece of architecture, considered to be the most important of an entire construction project.

Similarly, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Associate Dean of Criminal Justice and Social Sciences Dr. Jeff Czarnec called the academic capstone project, whether in an undergraduate or graduate program, “the apex of all a student’s work done throughout their college career.”

There is an expectation that they have all the necessary skills and knowledge coming into the capstone course to be successful. “At this point, students have managed to pass all their course work leading up to the capstone,” said Dr. Thomas MacCarty , associate dean of social sciences programs  at SNHU. “It is the culmination of everything that has happened to them as students.”

Students have the opportunity to pick a research topic that is of interest to them and run with it. “After having to write research papers in all of their courses prior to [the capstone], the task is not one to dread, but to enjoy. It is their time to shine as students and to enjoy the journey,” MacCarty said.

The capstone is much more important than a requirement and three credits. It can serve as an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge mastery and creative thinking, which may help a graduate stand out from others vying for the same job.

What is Involved in a Capstone Project?

Dr. Jeff Czarnec with text Dr. Jeff Czarnec

“Students are expected to be ready to enter the world as professionals in their field upon completion of the capstone course,” said MacCarty.

As in many other university courses, the capstone is research-based; the difference being that the student chooses the topic early on, allowing them more freedom to conduct research on their own, unlike in other courses which are more guided. Capstone topics align with the specific discipline of program study. In the social sciences realm, “our focus is on human behavior and cognition, which may be different from a capstone course in business or STEM,” MacCarty said.  

In a nutshell, a rough outline of a capstone, according to Czarnec, looks something like this:

Are Capstone Projects Difficult?

“Not necessarily,” said Czarnec. “It does force you to be efficient and very specific to topic. No fluff. Straight forward. Razor sharp. The capstone is more of an opportunity to catch your breath, retrace and pull up what you have learned in a more stress-free environment. It helps validate students as learners.”

Depending upon the major and course requirements, there may be opportunities to match students with outside contacts, not only to assist with the capstone project research and problem statement, but to also provide a networking community.

“Not every research project is, nor should they be, the same,” Czarnec said. “Everyone has a different approach.”

What is the Difference Between a Thesis and a Capstone Project?

Dr. Thomas MacCarty with text Dr. Thomas MacCarty

A capstone is similar to a thesis in that the starting point involves strengths that one needs for a thesis or dissertation work. A student needs to think about the skeletal structure of research and form their theory, hypothesis, and problem statement.

“While a capstone is certainly a scholarly piece of work and does share some aspects of a thesis,” said MacCarty. “The time and detail that is required of a master’s thesis is greater.”

A capstone paper may be 25 pages, where a thesis could be 100 or more, and is a more demanding research paper. If an undergraduate student chooses to further their education and enter into a doctoral program, the capstone project could be an invaluable tool in preparing for a thesis.

It’s All About Student Success

According to Czarnec, capstones of all programs are leading students to the end game. The goal is to develop well-rounded thinkers who can pull their work together in a coherent, articulate, well-organized fashion, while considering the demands of the profession or vocation in which they are interested.

The focus and intent of a capstone should be to create an effective device to assess and measure all that the students have learned throughout their program in an aggregate fashion so they can demonstrate their life-long vocational skills in a nice, neat package. “My goal is for students to leave the program confident about their skills and abilities,” said Czarnec.

According to MacCarty, capstone courses should be structured to support student success in fulfilling program requirements and allow them the opportunity to showcase their academic abilities and skills gained throughout their degree program.

Laurie Smith '14   is a writer, editor and communications specialist. Connect with her on LinkedIn .

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Capstone program

Capstone program

Capstone Courses: What and Why

After four (or five, or six) years of work towards a college degree, most students are very anxious to walk across the stage, grab their diploma, and be on their way into the working world. But many students must complete one final thing before walking that stage: the capstone course.

What Is a Capstone Course?

A capstone course can have a variety of names, depending on where you go to school. A capstone might be called a culmination project, senior thesis, or a final exhibition. Don’t be confused—under any name, the capstone is just a final assignment to help you synthesize and demonstrate what you’ve learned through your studies.

Capstone courses vary in form  depending on your major . If you’re an English major, you may have to write a long paper interpreting multiple pieces of literature. If you’re a design major, you may have to put together a show exhibiting theoretical magazines. If you’re an engineering major, you may be asked to put together a project to illustrate how a certain building or bridge could be built in a structurally sound way. The capstone course is intended to apply all of the knowledge and skills you’ve gained over a college career in one assignment.

A capstone course is not always a paper, though a paper is often a piece of it. Art students may put on exhibitions of their work, while other students will have to pass an oral examination, defend their thesis to a group of professors, or complete a book. A capstone is often multifaceted, meaning there’s a presentation or performance, a paper, and research that all come together to make the complete project.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the scale of the projects described. Most students spend an entire semester putting together their capstone and completing the necessary research.

Why a Capstone Course?

You may be asking yourself, “Why is the capstone necessary? It sounds like a lot of work.” Though daunting, most students find that the capstone is the most rewarding college project. Here’s a few reasons why the capstone course is important:

Now that you’ve got a grasp on what a capstone course is, we want to hear your thoughts.  Do you have any other questions about capstones? Is there another way you would rather complete a culminating experience?  Feel free to comment below!

Tyson serves as COO for Abound as well as Colleges of Distinction. As a member of the Colleges of Distinction qualification team, he’s been visiting campuses across the country and interviewing their staff for a solid eight years, experience that shows through in the resource articles he writes at Colleges of Distinction. Tyson has worked in outreach and communications for several nonprofits in Washington, D.C. His writing has appeared on Huffington Post, Higher Ed Revolution, and Campus News. Tyson earned a BS in Political Science from the University of Idaho.

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What Is A Capstone Course? Everything You Need To Know

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Updated: Jan 11, 2023, 11:22am

What Is A Capstone Course? Everything You Need To Know

College comes with so many requirements, it can be hard to keep track. For instance, if you’re applying to school or are currently in a degree program, you’ve probably heard the term “capstone course.”

Capstone courses are important and often required to complete a degree. But what is a capstone course? Read on to learn what it’s all about.

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What Is the Difference Between a Capstone Course and a Capstone Project?

A capstone course allows college students to demonstrate expertise in their major or area of study. This course is typically required for graduation. Details can vary depending on the major, program and school. Capstone courses typically last at least a semester and sometimes include internships or volunteering.

A capstone course typically involves a project such as a final paper, a portfolio, a performance, an investigation, a film or a multimedia presentation. Some programs use the term “capstone project” instead of capstone course.

Details regarding your capstone project depend on your major. Journalism majors might complete long-term investigation projects, for example, and architecture students may design a building or bridge.

Is a Capstone Course Required?

Not all colleges require capstone courses, and some might only require capstone courses for certain majors or programs. For instance, UCLA’s humanities department offers 71 undergraduate majors that include a capstone course or project.

Reach out to an advisor at your current or prospective school to find out if a capstone course is required for the program you’re interested in.

Benefits of a Capstone Course

Increases confidence.

Taking on a big, longer-term academic or professional project can be very challenging. So when you complete a capstone project, it can provide a confidence boost by demonstrating to yourself, your peers and your professors what you’re capable of accomplishing in your field of study.

Develops Skills

Since capstone projects are hands-on, they allow you to hone existing skills in your field and develop some new ones. Some capstone projects require you to work in a group, which adds another layer of collaborative soft skills for you to fall back on in your professional and personal life.

Prepares You for Graduation

Learning by doing, as they say, is the best way to find out if something is right for you. Since a capstone project involves using skills from your field to create a product that mimics the professional version of what you’d like to do after school, this prepares you for the workforce in a practical way.

On the other hand, a capstone course can also be a good way to decide that a career isn’t the right fit for you. If you don’t enjoy the process of the capstone project, you might not like the corresponding career after graduation, either.

Builds Your Resume

Since most capstone courses culminate with a project, you can expect your capstone to give you an example of your work to show to potential employers when you start job hunting. Some capstone courses even distribute awards to the creators of the best capstone projects, which could translate to another accolade to add to your resume.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Capstone Courses

What does a capstone course consist of.

A capstone course can include lectures and feedback from a professor, plus time to work on a final paper, project, film or performance. A capstone project may be independent or a group project.

Why is it called a capstone course?

The term comes from the final “capstone” used to finish a monument or building. The word has been used in higher education since post-World War II. As in architecture, a capstone in education can be thought of as the crown jewel of your educational accomplishments.

Can you fail a capstone course?

Yes, you can fail a capstone course. However, failing a capstone course at some universities could disqualify you from graduating from that particular major or program. Other schools could require you to revise your capstone project until it’s approved or you receive a passing grade.

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Updated on July 18th, 2022

As your student gets ready to wrap up their college experience, there’s often one requirement they’ll have to handle during their final semester: the capstone course. While the idea of tackling it may be intimidating, it can be an exceptional experience for soon-to-be graduates.

However, many students aren’t entirely sure what a capstone course is, leaving them anxious about taking one on. If you want to learn more about what’s involved, here’s an overview.

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Capstone program

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So, what is a capstone course in college? Well, in a general sense, a capstone course is a degree requirement that allows students to demonstrate their cumulative knowledge in their major. The concept can go by different names, including senior thesis, final exhibition, culmination project, capstone experience, and more. However, what it involves is generally similar.

The definition of a capstone course can vary depending on the school your student attends and their major. Some focus on students completing a final paper that showcases their understanding. Others may require the creation of a portfolio or a presentation that your student will have to give in order to graduate. In some instances, capstone courses involve internships, volunteer hours, or other kinds of work experience.

However, every method concentrates on a central idea: giving students a chance to demonstrate their expertise and skills in a subject. Since knowledge in different majors may have to be expressed in different ways, that leads to the variation in the definition.

For example, photography majors might have to curate a personal exhibit, while history majors might need to write a report. For scientific or healthcare-related disciplines, volunteering or internships may be more common, as the approach allows them to showcase their skills in a practical way.

As you wrap up your college experience, you may have to tackle a capstone course. If you aren't sure what it is or how it works, here's an overview.

What Is a Capstone Project? Is It Different from a Capstone Course?

Generally, the terms capstone project and capstone course are interchangeable. They both involve students completing an in-depth assignment of some kind to demonstrate their knowledge in their major. However, some may view a capstone project as the assignment itself, and the capstone course as the requirement, in general, or as the classroom time involved.

Are Capstone Assignments Individual or Group Projects?

Some schools require students to complete their capstone assignments on their own. They focus on students highlighting their personal knowledge without a significant amount of input from others.

Others go the group route, requiring a specific number of students to work together on a single paper, exhibit, or project. This option may be more common in disciplines where teamwork is critical or when the assignment type makes working with others necessary.

The road your student has to take is usually outlined in the capstone course description or any instructions given by the overseeing professor.

definition of capstone course

Is a Capstone Course an Actual Class?

Some colleges use a formal class-based approach for their capstone requirements. Students may need to report to a classroom at a particular time, just as they would with other courses. Additionally, it may be worth a certain number of credit hours toward their degree.

It’s important to note that, even when heading to a classroom at a set time is required, the purpose isn’t necessarily direct instruction. Instead, it may simply serve as an opportunity for students to get feedback from the overseeing professor or get together with group members on a regular basis.

However, other schools use the independent learning model for the capstone requirement. Students simply have to complete the project before a cutoff date. They end up working on the assignment on their own time and have to coordinate with others – if it’s a group project – to ensure everyone stays on target.

Typically, when this is the case, if students need guidance from the overseeing professor, they have to schedule an appointment or stop by during the professor’s office hours. Precisely how this is handled may be outlined in a syllabus or course description.

capstone class

Where Does the Term Capstone Come From?

A capstone is an architectural feature. It’s the final stone that’s usually placed atop a wall or building, usually at the highest point. In a way, it’s the culmination of a building project, like a crowning jewel.

Since the project is usually the last step a student needs to take to graduate, it became known as a capstone experience. It marks the end of the student’s educational journey, at least as it pertains to that particular degree.

What Are the Benefits of Capstone Courses?

Many students wonder if they have much to gain from the capstone experience. This is especially true as it can take a lot of time and effort to handle the project, and is often a source of stress for students.

However, there are benefits to participating in a capstone course. They aren’t only chances for students to showcase how much they’ve learned during their time in school, but also an opportunity to prove it to themselves. This can be a major confidence booster.

Often, a capstone experience can also elevate a student’s resume. Your student may end up with a portfolio that they can submit with their applications, or an internship, volunteer, or work experience they can list, for example.

Finally, a capstone course might allow your student to put their skills to work in a practical way. As a result, they hone their capabilities, making them stronger in areas that may help them professionally.

what is a capstone course in college

Do I Have to Do a Capstone Class?

Whether your student has to take a capstone course depends on the school they attend and their degree requirements. If completing a capstone project is a mandatory part of the plan, then students have to participate if they want to leave with a degree. Failing to do so means they don’t meet all of the graduation requirements.

Is a Capstone Course Required at All Colleges?

No, not all colleges require capstone projects. Additionally, some schools may only make them mandatory in certain instances, such as specific degree levels or majors.

Generally, a thesis or similar experience is more common for graduate degrees than undergraduate degrees. However, some colleges make it mandatory for Bachelor’s programs, too.

If your student is trying to choose a school , whether or not a capstone course is part of the degree plan may be something to examine. It may cause one college to stand out from another, in their eyes.

Typically, if a capstone project is a must-do, it’ll be listed somewhere in the program requirements. It may be listed as an actual capstone class or an independent project that has to be finished and reviewed. As a result, your student should review the plan carefully, ensuring they know what they’ll need to do to earn their degree.

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Capstone program

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Capstone Project

Also called a capstone experience , culminating project , or  senior exhibition , among many other terms, a capstone project is a multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students, typically during their final year of high school or middle school, or at the end of an academic program or learning-pathway experience . While similar in some ways to a college thesis, capstone projects may take a wide variety of forms, but most are long-term investigative projects that culminate in a final product, presentation, or performance. For example, students may be asked to select a topic, profession, or social problem that interests them, conduct research on the subject, maintain a portfolio of findings or results, create a final product demonstrating their learning acquisition or conclusions (a paper, short film, or multimedia presentation, for example), and give an oral presentation on the project to a panel of teachers, experts, and community members who collectively evaluate its quality.

Capstone projects are generally designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop skills such as oral communication, public speaking, research skills, media literacy, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency, or goal setting—i.e., skills that will help prepare them for college, modern careers, and adult life. In most cases, the projects are also interdisciplinary, in the sense that they require students to apply skills or investigate issues across many different subject areas or domains of knowledge. Capstone projects also tend to encourage students to connect their projects to community issues or problems, and to integrate outside-of-school learning experiences, including activities such as interviews, scientific observations, or internships.

While capstone projects can take a wide variety of forms from school to school, a few examples will help to illustrate both the concept and the general educational intentions:

For related discussions, see authentic learning , portfolio ,  relevance , and 21st century skills .

As a school-reform strategy, capstone projects are often an extension of more systemic school-improvement models or certain teaching philosophies or strategies, such as 21st century skills, community-based learning , proficiency-based learning , project-based learning , or student-centered learning , to name just a few.

The following are a few representative educational goals of capstone projects:

In recent years, the capstone-project concept has also entered the domain of state policy. In Rhode Island, for example, the state’s high school graduation requirements stipulate that seniors must complete two out of three assessment options, one of which can be a capstone project. Several other states require students to complete some form of senior project, while in other states such projects may be optional, and students who complete a capstone project may receive special honors or diploma recognition.

Most criticism of or debate about capstone projects is not focused on the strategy itself, or its intrinsic or potential educational value, but rather on the quality of its execution—i.e., capstone projects tend to be criticized when they are poorly designed or reflect low academic standards, or when students are allowed to complete relatively superficial projects of low educational value. In addition, if teachers and students consider capstone projects to be a formality, lower-quality products typically result. And if the projects reflect consistently low standards, quality, and educational value year after year, educators, students, parents, and community members may come to view capstone projects as a waste of time or resources.

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