What Is a Capstone Project? All You Need to Know on College Capstones

What is a capstone? Learn all about what capstone projects are and how these important assignments play a major role during your studies.

You’re almost done. 3.7 million students graduated from high school in 2019, moving onto college and professional lives. But there’s one last stone they had to step on. 

The capstone project is many student’s worst nightmares. In both high school and college, you may very well have to make one.

But don’t panic. 

What is a capstone? How do a high school’s capstone projects and courses compare to a college’s? What are some capstone project ideas, and how should you go about developing your capstone? 

Answer these questions and you can graduate from school with a project you can be proud of. Here is your comprehensive guide. 


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What Is a Capstone Project? 

Literally speaking, a capstone is a stone that goes on the top of an arch. It supports the arch and provides a decoration as a crowning jewel.

A capstone project accordingly is the crowning jewel of a student’s high school or college career. It encapsulates what they have learned while acknowledging their core interests. 

Most capstone projects are long papers. On the high school or collegiate level, a student may write a paper dozens of pages in length. But some students may make a film, deliver an oral presentation, or create an art piece in lieu of a paper. 

Capstone projects require weeks of research. Many teachers specify that students have to use a certain number of sources in their work. They may need to prepare a proposal for their project and an outline of the points they want to hit. 

The principles of a high school capstone project are the same as a college capstone project. The main differences between the two are length and sophistication. A college student is expected to prepare more material on a more nuanced level than a high school student. 

Related Read: What Should I Major In? The Complete Guide on How to Choose a Major

What Is a Capstone Course? 

Many schools help students prepare for their projects through capstone courses. Each capstone course is different, but there are some things you can look for on the high school and college levels. 

High School 

Most high schools do not have separate capstone courses. Toward the end of a student’s senior year of high school, their teacher presents them with a capstone project. 

A student may have to perform a capstone project for each subject they take. But teachers communicate with each other so a student does not feel overwhelmed by the work they have to perform. 

The capstone projects of honors courses tend to be longer and more detailed than those of other courses. Some schools may allow students to prepare an “honors project.” They may work alongside a teacher to generate a longer paper. 

College

Most colleges do have separate capstone courses. College seniors sign up for them during their last semester, after they have declared their majors. Their courses are within their majors, and they do not take capstones for other subjects. 

College capstone courses tend to be in small groups with one professor. The professor listens to the students’ ideas and provides some texts for them to consider. They may teach their students how to write a good thesis statement. 

But most of the course is student-directed. They may pair up to workshop each other’s papers and compare ideas. They may give verbal presentations to the room about what they are learning. 

Courses may take place once or twice a week. They may take place at night, later than other courses on a student’s schedule. 

Homework for the course comprises preparing for the capstone project. A teacher may ask students to find sources or write segments of their papers. By the end of the course, they have their entire projects done. 

Related Read: 6 College Essay Tips to Help You Write & Ace Your Next University Paper

Starting Your Capstone 

Do not worry about your capstone until your senior year. Enjoy your high school and college years, and create a good work-life balance for yourself. 

Once you make it to your senior year, you can start thinking about your project. Think about the overall themes and subjects that you have dealt with in school. If a particular subject has been interesting to you over the last three years, consider writing about it. 

Read over the instructions from your teacher very carefully. Nearly all instructions give you broad latitude for your subject, but you may need to meet some additional requirements. You should expect to use a certain number of credible sources. 

All rules for academic research apply to your capstone project. Under no circumstances should you plagiarize or have someone else write your paper for you. It is okay to go to others for help, but your project is your responsibility. 

Developing Your Project

The course your project takes largely depends on your subject. Each subject has its own perimeters for academic writing, and you may be expected to do different things in your paper. 

English Language Arts

English capstone projects are writing-heavy. You will write a paper, though you may need to give a presentation at some point. 

You should pick a particular book or author you want to focus on. Picking a book is good if you want to engage in explication, but it may be hard to find academic literature on it. Picking an author lets you talk a little more about the sociopolitical context for individual works. 

Once you have a book, you need to spend a lot of time reading it. Read it through once without taking notes so you can get a feel for its overall themes. Then read it through multiple times, taking notes while following good note-taking tips

You should then go to academic sources. You should find materials about the book you are analyzing, the author, and the author’s sociopolitical environment. 

Your capstone project should describe what a book is trying to say, how the author uses literary techniques, and how the book applies to important ideas. You should address a question common amongst scholars of your author. 

You may be able to pursue a creative project instead of an academic paper. You will need to ask for permission from your teacher, and you may need to participate in some research for your project.

Related Read: Common Types of College Degrees & How to Choose Among Them

Social Studies 

The category of social studies includes history, political science, and philosophy. On the high school level, these subjects are often grouped together, though there are individual AP courses in each one. On the college level, a student may major in one particular subject. 

Social studies capstone papers tend to answer questions in a given subject. A paper answers one precise question that the student comes up with, but their question must impact scholars in the subject. “How did William Jennings Bryan campaign?” is not a good question, but “How did William Jennings Bryan’s methods of campaigning for office impact future presidential campaigns?” is. 

Research is an essential component of social studies capstone projects. A student often must break down the individual details of their question. A student answering the above question needs to look into who William Jennings Bryan was, how he campaigned, and how others adopted his methods. 

The student then develops a thesis statement that answers all aspects of their question. This thesis statement may be controversial, so they have to address contrasting opinions in their paper. They can do so toward the end of the paper after they present most of their findings. 

Science

On the high school level, different branches of sciences are grouped together in one class. A student may explore physics, engineering, and biology in one year. On the college level, each subject is its own major. 

In general, capstone papers in the sciences focus on experiments. A student is expected to create an experiment that answers a question in their field. This experiment must conform to the scientific method, and the student must detail how their experiment does so in their paper. 

Scientific papers do require extensive research. Most have a literature review toward the beginning, which describes the consensus of scholars.

A student may need to relate the findings of their experiment with the findings of other scholars. If a student disagrees with others, they must articulate why their argument deserves respect. 

Scientific papers can have interdisciplinary components. It may be relevant for a student to talk about the history or philosophy of science. The student may need to talk with their teacher about incorporating other disciplines. 

Related Read: 10+ Best College Tips & Advice to Improve Your University Experience

So What Is a Capstone? 

Many students are nervous about their capstones, which are, essentially, the culmination of your academic achievements in school. 

A capstone course is a class that helps you prepare for your project, and your professor or teacher gives you instructions on what to do. 

How should you prepare for a capstone? Read your teacher’s instructions, then figure out a subject you want to pursue. Spend plenty of time researching and generate a good research question and thesis statement. 

For more great college advice, check out the rest of our articles on navigating university!

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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