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What Is a Capstone Course?

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capstone course

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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what is a capstone course in college

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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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what is a capstone course in college

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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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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what is a capstone course in college

what is a capstone course in college

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 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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Thomas Edison University

Donald Cucuzzella

What’s a Capstone Project? And Why Do I Have to Take It?

Over the years, I’ve frequently heard students grumble about taking a capstone course or project, that one last step before graduation as outlined by their degree requirements.

“Why do I have to take it?” “Do I really have to take this?” “What is the point of all this!”

This final course may seem daunting or frustrating, but once it’s completed, the Capstone often becomes one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences in a student’s college career.

The capstone course is the last class in a program of study. It’s called a capstone because it represents a crowning achievement as a capstone does in architecture. For some degree programs, a capstone course may require a project and subsequent presentation; for others, it may include an assessment exam to test interdisciplinary skills (like math, writing, critical thinking, etc.). A capstone may also involve a final research paper exploring a topic of interest, emerging from a student’s individualized program of study. Ultimately, a capstone project represents new work and ideas, and gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and skills you have gained during your college career.

Not only does a capstone course allow us to substantiate if students are learning the necessary skills needed to continue onto success after graduation (and we’ve made changes to courses and degree requirements to better assist students in this manner), but the completion of a capstone project can be used for an employment portfolio. By integrating theory and practical experience, your project can set you apart from graduates of other institutions. Imagine walking into a potential employer’s office with an applied research project exploring solutions to an issue or problem the organization, or industry as a whole, has been grappling with?

A Capstone’s Purpose: Career Advancement

In the field of technology for example, one of the challenges is how rapidly it changes. Jordan Goldberg, mentor and developer of our APS-295 Associate Capstone  course, said it helps ensure students are prepared to handle these changes as they start their careers. “Today, it’s important to understand the trends early on in the process, and the tools available to develop and deploy new technology,” he says. “The Capstone course uniquely brings together students from all majors within the school [of Applied Science and Technology] in an interactive and collaborative fashion to discuss and examine opportunities, challenges and issues related to technology.”

Here, students are able to look at real world examples and situations, exchange their points of view based on experiences and discuss potential solutions to problems. “The concept of the capstone course is to provide the essential information to be able to ask the right questions and critically look at nontechnical issues that have the potential to negatively impact the deployment of a new emerging technology or application,” says Goldberg. “Ultimately, this will prepare the student for a technical leadership role in their area of study as they complete their degree.”

Thomas Edison State University offers Capstone courses in several of our degrees:  LIB-495 Liberal Arts Capstone is required for a Bachelor of Arts degree, and APS-401 Current Trends and Applications  is required for our Bachelor of Science in Applied Science and Technology degree. Our newest course is the APS-295 Associate Capstone, required for the Associate in Applied Science and our Associate in Science in Applied Science and Technology degree programs. These courses have engaged students to pursue intriguing projects, indicative of their career pursuits, including:

On Your Own Terms

In any college degree, there are courses you have to take to fulfill the general education requirements for your degree or area of study. And a capstone project, while relative to your major, allows you to choose your own subject in that discipline. When I was a graduate student studying American History, my capstone project afforded me the opportunity to research a topic that I never solely focused on in any of my courses, but was fascinated by all my life, Abraham Lincoln. 

I delved into an intense study of how the narrative of President Lincoln’s life had changed throughout the course of history, depending on when and who was writing the biography. This was the most fun I’d ever had taking a college course because I was able to read and write about a topic I was passionate about. Meanwhile, I was able to show off the skills I’d gained during my years in college.

So if you are required to take a capstone course, I understand if you want to grumble about it a little while. But when it’s all done, get ready for the most exhilarating feeling ever. I promise.  

Are you currently working on a capstone project? Share your experience and advice in the comments below!

Written by Donald Cucuzzella

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High Impact Practices (HIPs)

"Whether they're called 'senior capstones' or some other name, culminating experiences require students nearing the end of their college years to create a project of some sort that integrates and applies what they've learned. The project might be a research paper, a performance, a portfolio of 'best work,' or an exhibit of artwork. Capstones are offered both in departmental programs and, increasingly, in general education as well ." -- George D. Kuh

Want to know if your Capstone is High Impact? Compare your Capstone Project to the Eight Elements of HIPs .

If you are teaching a Capstone course, use the HIPS rubric and Student Survey to measure students’ learning and experiences.

Contact your academic department about teaching a Capstone course in your discipline.

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  1. What Is a Capstone Course?

    So, what is a capstone course in college? Well, in a general sense, a capstone course is a degree requirement that allows students to

  2. What Is A Capstone Course? Everything You Need To Know

    A capstone course allows college students to demonstrate expertise in their major or area of study. This course is typically required for

  3. What is a Capstone Project in College?

    The capstone project in college is the apogee, or completion marker, of a student's coursework leading to the culmination of their program

  4. Capstone Courses: What and Why

    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

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

    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.

  6. Capstone course

    Some universities and colleges award a Capstone Award or Capstone Prize based on merit in the capstone course. The term derives from the final decorative coping

  7. What's a Capstone Project? And Why Do I Have to Take It?

    The capstone course is the last class in a program of study. It's called a capstone because it represents a crowning achievement as a capstone

  8. Why Do I Have to Take a Capstone Course?

    While the format of capstone courses varies greatly among colleges and universities, the purpose is the same. The name of the course comes from the term

  9. Capstone Courses in Higher Education

    In higher education, capstone courses, also known as senior seminars, offer undergraduate students nearing graduation the opportunity to summarize

  10. Capstone Courses and Projects

    "Whether they're called 'senior capstones' or some other name, culminating experiences require students nearing the end of their college