Capstone Courses: What and Why

Abby Schad

Reviewed and edited by Tyson Schritter : 28 March, 2024.

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:

  • Improves confidence and self-perception: Your capstone will not only help your professors see how much you’ve learned and accomplished—it will also prove your potential to yourself.
    Looking back upon a project that took you months of hard work and dedication is rewarding, and will help you realize how much you are capable of.
  • Increases rigor of senior year: Some colleges use a capstone course to increase the rigor of the final year. Some students are able to finish their difficult classes by their junior year, bringing a cloud of senioritis and laziness in that final year.
    A capstone increases the stakes, helping students focus their energy towards a final project and the continuation of learning.
  • Hones skills: As you apply skills and knowledge to a self-driven project, you are able to learn what you don’t know and ask questions before entering the professional world. The capstone is a safe, guided space to finish learning.
  • Builds your résumé: Your degree is a stamp of approval from the college that you’re knowledgeable in a certain area of study, and your internships show professionalism and real-world experience. But your capstone shows motivation, drive, planning, and application of knowledge and skills. A capstone on your résumé is proof to future employers that you have the skills you say that you do.
  • Demonstrates learning and knowledge: Most people have a moment during their careers when they are asked a question and think, “I took a class on that, but I have no idea what the answer is.” Just because you go to class doesn’t mean you learned something.
    A capstone allows you to apply the knowledge you have gained through college, so you’ll be able to answer those tough questions in the real world.

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!