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What is a Capstone Project? All You Need to Know

The capstone project can go by different names at many schools, but ultimately, it is a culminating project that helps showcase and tie together all that you have learned through your college experience. Some colleges refer to it as a capstone experience, a senior project, or senior exhibition. But regardless of the name, it is a highly involved project that results in a lot of challenge and growth.

This project may take place in the form of a final paper, a long test, a presentation, or a research project. It could even be an art project or a musical composition. Depending on what you study, your capstone project will vary greatly in form. But each capstone typically involves a synthesis of the information you have gathered throughout your college years.

How to approach the capstone project

You should approach your capstone project as your “last hurrah” in college. It’s a great way to show yourself, your peers, your teachers, and your family what you’ve learned. For music majors, this may be a composition where they employ all of the techniques they’ve learned. For anthropologists, it could be an exercise in combining their new research skills with their theoretical knowledge. Mathematics majors might take an extensive exam or present their own research project.

For papers and presentations

As you approach the project, you might feel overwhelmed; after all, it should be the most ambitious project you undertake. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, it can be a good idea to portion out your tasks. Impose limits on yourself and set approachable goals. Work with your adviser to create a comprehensive calendar of tasks. Set a date to determine your preliminary thesis. Then decide when you’d like to have your first round of research done. Choose a date to start writing, and when to finish a first draft.

Make sure to check back in with your adviser often to discuss your progress. Remember that your thesis does not need to remain consistent throughout the entire process. In fact, it can actually be a good sign that your thesis changes! It shows that you are reacting to the new information that you are learning. If your thesis changes throughout the process, it’s a sign that you are creating a dynamic project.

For exams

If you’re studying for a long exam, you should learn what’s going to be on the exam, and set dates to review each topic. You can form a study group with your peers to help get the wheels turning. It can be a good idea to start by going over your notes and converting them into a study guide. Work with your classmates to sift through the immense body of material that you’ve covered. This will help you determine what to prioritize.

Throughout the entire process, you should be in communication with your professors and advisers. They are there to help. Though they probably won’t be able to give you all the details on the exam, they can give advice. If you don’t know whether to prioritize a certain subject matter, they can probably offer some counseling.

Related: How to email your professor (with examples)

Talk to recent grads

Regardless of the nature of your capstone project, it’s always a great idea to talk to recent grads. Talking to someone who recently completed a similar project or test is invaluable. They can tell you what was valued most by your department. They can also share what worked and what didn’t work for them as they prepared. Speaking to someone who just went through the task you are approaching can never hurt.

Leveraging your capstone project for grad school

Your capstone project is not only a great opportunity to grow and reflect on what you’ve learned. It’s also an opportunity to appeal to graduate schools. Capstone projects can be an impressive achievement to include in grad school applications. Especially for students who write papers, it is a concrete example of what you are capable of.

You can also use your capstone project as an opportunity to zero in on a specific area of study that interests you. If you manage to write a 30-page paper about the Mongolian empire for your capstone, perhaps you’d be interested in going on to study more about Genghis Khan in grad school. Grad school is all about going in-depth on specific topics. So, they’ll love to see that you succeeded when completing your capstone project.

See also: The GRE: Everything you need to know

Balancing your capstone project with your other courses

Because capstone projects are so immersive, it may be difficult to balance the workload with your other courses. You should be cautious about neglecting your other schoolwork for your capstone, and vice versa. For this reason, it can be a good idea to try to sign up for an easier courseload for the semester that you complete your capstone. Try to get your other harder courses out of the way during junior year. If it’s too late for that, try to spend one semester of your senior year with easier courses. You can use this semester to focus on your capstone.

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What is a capstone course?

At some colleges, capstone projects are synonymous with a capstone course. Students enroll in a course that walks them through their project or prepares them for an exam. These courses are highly useful, as they help bring structure to this difficult project. If you have multiple options for a capstone course, try to enroll in one with a professor you like. You’ll be working very closely together. So, if you have similar interests or good communication skills, you will see great results.

Deciding on a subject for your capstone project

When it comes time to decide on a subject for your capstone project, you’ll be faced with many choices. You can start by thinking back to other major papers you’ve written in college. If you have a desire to continue with any of the topics, you can do that. But in some cases, the subject will be determined by the capstone course you enroll in.

You should think of the subject of your capstone project as a fluid idea. Once you have an idea, talk it over with your friends over lunch. Try to figure out what you are interested in, but don’t latch on to an idea too quickly. Once you have an idea you are into, keep thinking about it and allow it to change as you do more research.

See also: Top scholarships for graduate students

Earning distinction on your capstone project

Some colleges offer an opportunity for select students to receive distinction on their capstone project. This can be a great honor, and it can look good to grad schools. You may be shooting for distinction as you start your project. But don’t allow the prospect of distinction to paralyze you as you work on your project. To complete an effective capstone project, you’ll have to make mistakes and change it as you go. 

Your best shot to earn distinction would be to start early and not be off-put by errors or changes you have to make. If you finish your project early, you’ll have more time to show it to professors and advisers. This gives you more time to refine it and iron out the kinks. If you finish a messy first draft early, you’ll have plenty of time to perfect your project.

Next Steps

Next Steps

  • If your capstone will be in the form of an exam, start taking notes in class with your exam in mind
  • At the end of each semester, write out the most important concepts that you learned and put them into a master study guide
  • If you’ll be completing a capstone project, remember the papers you write that are most interesting
  • Remember to save your sources, and you’ll be saving yourself time later on as you delve back into the subject
Next Steps