March 31, 2023

What is a Capstone Project and Why Are They Required By Most Master’s Programs?

capstone project

While researching potential graduate degree programs, students may become acquainted with the concept of a capstone experience and may wonder, “what is a capstone project, and why are they required by most master’s programs?” These projects are sometimes called a culminating project or capstone experience. Other programs call their projects senior exhibitions or senior projects. Most graduate school programs require students to write a thesis or complete a Capstone Project. Capstone projects vary from program to program and often are a requirement to provide students the opportunity to use what they have learned and apply it to a specific area of professional practice.

Related resource: Top 20 Health Administration and Healthcare Management Degree Programs Based on Overall Quality Measures

What Exactly is a Capstone Project?

A capstone project or capstone experience involves the identification of an existing problem in a real-world setting and the application of learned skills and methods to develop a solution that addresses the problem directly. In some cases, a capstone project will be geared toward research, while others are more oriented toward problem-solving. Solutions are usually interactive, meaning they can be implemented and used.

What Are the Goals of a Capstone Project?

Typically there are several goals for a capstone and they often include:

  • Defining an information problem or opportunity
  • Decide what techniques are required in order to master this information problem or opportunity
  • Include all aspects of the information problem – using people, technology and information
  • Make a positive difference for the community whether it is a business, school, library, hospital, or other organization
  • Choose a topic or focus area the students are enthusiastic about

Who helps me to decide what Capstone is appropriate to select?

Most students will have an advisor who is a faculty member in their program who will help them select a capstone that is most relevant to their career goals. In some degree programs, the student may need to submit a proposal for their capstone and then wait for approval from their faculty advisor. Other programs may provide a static list of capstone topics or projects, and students will choose the option that aligns best with their personal interests. While researching potential graduate degree programs, students may find it beneficial to investigate the parameters of the capstone experience at their chosen school.

Are There Specific Types of Master’s Programs That Generally Require Capstone Projects?

Most master’s degree programs in public administration, social services, public administration, mass communications, and liberal arts require graduate students to complete a capstone project. This can vary from program to program and usually will be listed in general requirements to complete their masters’ degree. Capstone projects are geared towards working professionals to give students the ability to take knowledge and theory they have learned and apply in a real-world setting. Here are some examples of what programs might require a capstone project:

  • Master of Public Health programs often require a Capstone because it provides an opportunity for students to work on public health practice projects that areas of Public Health that are of specific interest to them. A capstone allows the student an opportunity to synthesize, integrate, and apply the skills and competencies acquired to a public health problem.
  • Master of Science and Master of Arts in Public Health programs often require either a Capstone or a Culminating Experience.
  • Some Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs require student’s completion of a capstone and can be a long-term research project that addresses a specific business problem or opportunity.
  • Many of the Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) programs require Capstone projects, which allows students the chance to apply their coursework in organizational settings of their choice that might include hospitals, community health agencies, local, state, and federal public health agencies, non-profit organizations, research and health policy organizations.

Are There Generally Prerequisites Required For a Capstone Project?

Before choosing a capstone project, students (undergraduate or graduate) will be required to take courses providing them with the theory and skills-based knowledge needed to formulate an idea for a capstone proposal. These classes will be in areas such as research statistics, ethics, program theory, and leadership; they will be relevant courses based on the master’s program curriculum.

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How Long Does a Capstone Project Usually Take to Complete?

This will vary from program to program and can be as few as 10 weeks to as many as two semesters depending on the requirements of the program. It is most common for graduate programs to require a capstone project course that lasts for one semester.


What are the Benefits of Capstone Projects?

Capstone projects often fulfill several goals in modern education and are a welcome alternative for many students to the traditional thesis-based degree program. Capstone experiences often increase the rigor of the program by requiring extensive work conducted outside the classroom during internship experiences or time spent in scientific inquiry. The personal nature of a capstone project may also prove beneficial to students who have chosen a project that is particularly important to them. For example, according to an article on Newport Rhode Island, a high school student was recently inspired to complete a capstone experience relating to cancer after being inspired by her mother’s cancer fight.

Another benefit of a culminating experience is that it can offer a student a firm example of their experience and talents that they can offer to a prospective employer. A college degree is an excellent way to secure employment, but a capstone experience may offer the best example of a student’s talents and knowledge on a particular subject. Students who complete a capstone may also feel a sense of self-satisfaction at having finished a complex project on their own.

What Are Some Examples of Capstone Projects?

Capstone projects vary according to the subject matter of the student’s program and often require building something, designing a plan, or conducting a scientific study. Here are a few examples of capstone experiences in graduate programs.

Master of Business Administration: Participate in an internship at a local business where the student will experience real-life business practices and write a comprehensive essay on the experience.

Master of Agricultural Science: Conduct a scientific experiment that measures some facet of farming and determine the effects of a certain agricultural practice.

Master of Computer Science: Design and create a fully-functional computer application that demonstrates a computer science graduate student’s ability to apply the knowledge and concepts they’ve acquired in school.

Master of Theater Arts: Write and direct a stage play that will be performed by fellow students at the conclusion of the student’s final semester in the graduate program.

Master of Electrical Engineering: Complete a project that showcases the student’s ability to conceptualize, develop, design, manufacture, and test an idea, as well as create documentation for the project.

One of the deciding factors in choosing a graduate degree program might be the curriculum or overall format of the curriculum. Some students may pursue programs with thesis projects because they are most comfortable writing about what they’ve learned.

Other students may gravitate toward schools that offer capstone experiences because they have an interest in fieldwork or the creation of a project that may benefit them on their resume. Understanding what a capstone project is and why they are required by most master’s programs can help students make a final decision on their graduate degree program.