What Is A Capstone Project?

what is a capstone course

Graduate school is a challenging process which students choose to undertake. It takes time and effort to complete and on top of it, many students who are full time, miss out on employment opportunities during the years they are in grad school.

Besides the courses which are required to be taken during graduate school semesters, universities might also require students to complete a final project. This project encompasses all skills and knowledge which the student has gained during their years of studying. Universities have different names for this project, but they usually call it a capstone project.

The reason it is called a capstone is because it is the crowning project that marks the completion of all requirements to graduate with a Masters Degree.

This article will cover everything you need to know about this final project such as:

What Is A Capstone Project?

A capstone project is the final project before graduation from grad school. It is an in depth study of a topic selected by the student which showcases the students’ skills and knowledge. It indicates how much the student has gained during the years spent in grad school and how prepared they are to begin employment and apply those skills.

The capstone project is most often a one semester course which is called a capstone course. This course is focused on the development of the final project and all students who will graduate are required to enroll in it. Students usually take the capstone course in the final semester of their studies, but there are cases when they are allowed to take it earlier with permission from faculty members and administrators.

Capstone projects are required to be on a topic which relates to your field of study. For example, if you are studying economics, your capstone will be to research an economic phenomena or development which interests you; if you are studying business, you might be required to develop a new product or service idea; and if you are a fine arts major, you could research a concept or even have an exposition as a final project.

These final projects are mostly required for graduating with a Masters Degree. There are, however fields of study where students are given a choice of completing a capstone project, or enrolling in an additional course. Whichever they choose, they will still get the degree. There are also some universities which do not award degrees to those students who have not completed a thesis or capstone project, but only a postgraduate diploma.

Students are required to get passing grades on their capstone projects in order to graduate. What a passing grade is for capstone projects depends on the institution, but most often the grade has to be a B or above. In case students get a lower grade than that, they might be allowed to stay for another semester and redo their projects.

Redoing the capstone means that students will have to postpone graduation by one more semester and they will incur more financial debt since they will have to pay for the capstone course again.

Types Of Capstone Projects

Just like there are different fields of study, there are also a variety of types of capstone projects.

Based on the field of study, capstone projects can take on different forms such as:

  • In depth research projects
  • Product or service concepts
  • Performances or expositions
  • Designed experiments

Students are sometimes limited in the type of capstone project they can choose because their field of study might not allow them to, for example, do a performance, but in general they are free to approach it through their interests.

Another factor which can yield different types of capstone projects is how the project is completed. Typically, students can do a capstone project through two modes:

  • Individual capstone projects – where each student is responsible for their own project and has freedom to choose whichever topic they are mostly interested in. The students complete their projects individually from start to finish.
  • Group capstone projects – where students are required to form groups of 3 to 6 people and carry out a capstone project together. They might even have assigned group members and will have to work with others well. This type of capstone emphasizes teamwork and interaction as students have to develop ideas and complete the entire project together. They are also evaluated together at the end.

Finally, capstone projects could also take different forms based on how they are evaluated.

  • Projects and presentations – the most likely form of a capstone is where students complete a project individually or in a group and then present it for evaluation. The presentation is formal in front of a panel of professors, peers and industry experts. The professors evaluate the project based on the presentation and the final paper that students submit and then give the appropriate grade.
  • Exam to test skills – this is not a highly popular method of a capstone project. Students are given an exam to evaluate the knowledge and skills they have gained during their studies. It might be an interdisciplinary exam, which tests all important subjects of that particular field of study such as quantitative reasoning (math or statistics), research methodology, and others. Exams are not used much because they lack the practical application of skills which projects entail.

Which type of capstone project you do depends on the institution you are enrolled in and your field of study, but ultimately, its goal is for students to demonstrate that they have increased their knowledge and skills.

How To Complete A Capstone Project?

Projects such as the capstone could be completed using various methods and approaches. It is mostly up to the students and how they develop their ideas and plans to execute the project. However, we will give you a step by step guide on how you can go about completing your capstone project.

The capstone project could be divided into two phases and we will go over them in detail:

  • Planning Phase – where students plan their project and get an idea about how they will approach it
  • Execution Phase – where students develop detailed methods and complete the steps to submit their final project

Planning Phase

The planning phase entails several steps such as:

Enrolling the course

You cannot complete your project if you haven’t enrolled in the capstone course. The course is most likely mandatory, but you should consult your academic adviser for more details.

Sometimes the course has a different name and is not explicitly called a Capstone Course so you should inquire about the name too.

Brainstorm ideas

During class you will be given tips and examples on how and on what to do the project. But immediately after finding out that you will be required to do a capstone project, you should start brainstorming ideas about the specific topic.

Look for subjects in your field of study, which interest you, or questions you would like to answer through research.

Analyze feasibility of ideas

Through brainstorming you might get a ton of ideas, but you will notice that only a few of them are actually doable. So go through your ideas and evaluate their feasibility. Try to forecast how much effort, time, and resources each one takes, as well as how likely you are to get approval for them.

You might have great ideas, but maybe the university or your department will not approve it or they don’t have enough resources to devote to it. So after looking at how feasible each idea is you will start to narrow down the topics and it will be easier to select the final one.

Identify a mentor

For capstone projects, students are allowed to work with a faculty member who will be their mentor. Capstone mentors are there to guide you through the work, give you advice, go through your research plans, read and evaluate your preliminary process, and answer any questions you might have.

Because the mentor has such an important role in the capstone project, you should think carefully about who you ask. Look at your ideas and field of study and then at the biographies and expertise of faculty members in your department. Try to choose the person who best matches your research interests and send an email or arrange a meeting.

Most faculty members will accept to be capstone mentors as it is part of their job description, but if your first choice rejects your request with a valid reason, you can repeat the same process to identify your second best option.

Select final topic

Together with your mentor go through your ideas again and this time try to choose the final one. Your mentor will also help you by giving advice, but the final decision will be up to you. After you select the topic, you might be required to send it for approval to your department or capstone course professor.

Most topics are approved, but if your idea gets rejected, submit the second one that you would be interested in exploring more.

Develop a research plan

After you have explored what others have done and discussed with your mentor, you can try to develop a research plan.

The plan has to include these details:

  • Quantitative or qualitative models
  • Data collection methods
  • Tools to analyze data
  • Data validation methods
  • How you will interpret your findings

This plan can take different forms depending on your topic and field of study, but for a more data focused topic, these are the steps you will have to consider.

Submit your plan of research to your mentor, and if there are comments, you can go ahead and revise it. The research plan is immensely helpful as it provides you with a step by step guide on how you will complete the most important part of your project.

Make an outline

To make further progress on your project, you will have to make an outline. The outline will change depending on your mentor’s advice and what you find during research, but it is beneficial to have an initial idea of what your final project will look like.

The outline and in general the project, needs to have these parts:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Data collection plan
  • Sampling methodology
  • Data collection methodology
  • Data interpretation
  • Data validity
  • Main findings
  • Conclusion and recommendations

Execution Phase

After the initial planning phase and selecting your topic, you can go through these steps to complete your project.

Do a literature review

Based on your topic you can go through different resources and see what others have done in that particular subject. You will get a clearer idea about what is missing from their research and what approach others have taken.

In addition, your capstone project might require you to have a literature review section, so by exploring other’s research, you can also complete that section.

Collect, analyze, and interpret data

This will be the bulk of your project. Following your research plan, you can go through and collect your data. This can be in the form of surveys, interviews, focus groups and other methods. You will have to find a representative sample to conduct your research. Your mentor will play an important part in assisting and advising you in the sample selection.

After you collect the data, find the best tools to analyze it. If it is quantitative, your university will most likely provide you with different statistical and analytical software which you can use to numerically and visually analyze the data. If it is qualitative, you will have other methods through which you can complete this part.

Your analysis will yield different results which you have to interpret. Interpretation is highly important since you will need to give recommendations and next steps for that topic based on your findings.

Write a first draft

After completing the research part of the project, you can focus on compiling a first draft. Your first draft will be based on the outline you have made. Try to put as much effort on the draft as possible, since the better it is, the less changes you will have to make later on.

Revise and finalize the project

Send your first draft to multiple people for revision. Your mentor, the writing center, and even your friends can give you helpful tips on how to further improve your capstone project. They might not necessarily comment on your data collection methods, since you will have already approved and completed it, but in how you can improve your writing and organization.

It is up to you what comments on the revision you choose to take into account. Try to incorporate your mentor’s advice the most, since they are more experienced and have an idea on what you will be evaluated on. After you revise your project, give it a final look and you are ready for submission.

Prepare a presentation

If a presentation is required for your capstone project then you will have to prepare it. Take your final paper and try to include the most important information from each part in the presentation. Try to include keywords and short sentences, which will only prompt you to talk about a specific aspect of your research.

Do not overload your presentation with information which is irrelevant or which will confuse your audience and require them to read your presentation instead of listen to you. In addition, add nice visuals as this is important in how your presentation is perceived.

Complete the project

After you finalize the paper and presentation, you will have to submit it and present. Follow all the guidelines that you have gotten through your capstone course and you will not have any problems.

Practice your presentation and try to not be too nervous, it will only impact your presentation skills negatively. Dress and speak professionally, all the while concentrating on communicating the most important aspects of your research to the audience.

Benefits Of A Capstone Project

Capstone projects require in depth research of the chosen topic. They can be frustrating and seem like an unnecessary requirement, but they are beneficial for the student to develop skills. Students learn to become more inquisitive, develop research plans and carry out an entire project on their own.

Some of the benefits of capstone projects and courses include:

  • The opportunity to explore a topic of your interest
  • The chance to practically apply your skills and knowledge
  • You will get research experience in case you want to pursue more advanced degrees
  • You will increase your employability through the research experience
  • If you are required to work in a group, you will also improve your teamwork skills and will be better at managing people and deadlines

Capstone Project Examples

If you are struggling with completing your capstone project, you can find inspiration online, where universities publish their students’ capstones. Published capstones are most likely the ones who got the highest evaluations so you cannot go wrong by analyzing their methods and why not, even follow some of the steps and tips.

There are a ton of websites you can look for capstone projects, but some of them are: