What is a Capstone?

Capstones are final courses that draw upon your entire ALM scholarly training to produce a faculty- or student-directed academic research project worthy of a Harvard degree.

Student-directed capstones require you to come up with a topic and make a case to your research advisor as to why the topic is worthy of investigation. The project represents your academic passion and professional interest. Once the topic is approved, you craft a capstone proposal--a research plan--where you outline the topic, share the background reading you've done to understand the topic, and state the research design and methods.

Faculty-directed capstones are semester-long academic seminars lead by an instructor, who brings together all the key learning outcomes of the field of study in a structured syllabus. The instructor may present a list of topics from which you can choose or you may work on the same project as other students. You could work in a team or on your own.

Prework. Most capstones require you to participate in either a noncredit capstone proposal tutorial or a 4-credit, graded precapstone course the semester right before capstone registration (no earlier). The guided prework in either the tutorial or course sets the foundation for academically strong capstones.

The following ALM fields require student-directed capstones:

* All fields require the Capstone Proposal Tutorial, except Journalism.

How do I choose between a thesis and a capstone?

Some programs have the option to pursue either the Thesis or Capstone track.


A Thesis is the more appropriate choice if:

  • You want to earn a PhD or other advanced degree later on
  • You want the experience of writing for a publication
  • You want to work individually with a Research Advisor and Thesis Director
  • You are more self-directed, are good at managing projects with little supervision, and have a clear direction for your work
  • You have a project that requires more time (9-12 months) to pursue than can be done in a single class

The Capstone route is the more appropriate choice if:

  • You want to focus on a smaller-scale project that highlights your technical skills to a current or future employer
  • You want to work with a client or supervisor on a real-world project that can address a pressing business need
  • You want more input on your project from fellow students and other instructors; you prefer to work in a community instead of alone
  • You want more structure to your project, including more internal milestones and due dates


For more information about the ALM Thesis option in the various programs that offer it, please see the Thesis Process page on the Extension School Website.