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What is a Capstone Project in High School?

What’s Covered:


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a capstone as a “high point: crowning achievement” which, in many ways, defines a capstone project for high schoolers. Capstone projects require students to use all of the skills they’ve built over the course of their schooling to complete a substantial project that highlights their educational and intellectual experience.  


What are Capstone Projects?


A high school capstone project is a way for students to demonstrate the culmination of skills and knowledge gained through their academic career by completing a long-term, multi-faceted project.


Typically performed at the end of a student’s high school career, students commonly choose a topic, profession, or social problem to explore and work with a mentor in that field of interest. The mentor guides the student through the project—sharing their knowledge of the field, teaching new skills, ensuring the student stays on task, and fostering a professional, real-world experience.


Over the course of the project, students conduct research, maintain a portfolio detailing the steps taken, and create a final paper, product, or presentation that demonstrates what they’ve learned. Often times, a final presentation is given to a panel of teachers, experts in the field, and community members.


How Do Capstone Projects Benefit High Schoolers?


One of the primary benefits of a capstone project to a high school student is that it highlights their educational accomplishments. Capstone projects provide students with the opportunity to exhibit their capacity for learning and allow them to show off the critical thinking skills they’ve built.


Colleges search for well-rounded students and the multi-faceted nature of a capstone project allows students to display a wide range of skills to prospective schools—writing, research, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency and public speaking are just a sampling of the many skills used by a student to complete such a rigorous project. Capstone projects are a great way to indicate to potential colleges that a student is prepared for the demands of higher education.


Capstone projects also benefit high school students by creating self-confidence and building a sense of preparedness for college. A student who has successfully completed a thorough study of a subject and collaborated with an older, experienced mentor is likely to feel ready to take the next step academically. Capstone projects can also add a sense of purpose to a time where interest in education often wanes—consider it a cure for senioritis.  


Lastly, capstone projects let students immerse themselves in a field of interest. For some students, it solidifies their interest in a field and clarifies a degree path; others may learn through their capstone project that the field they chose isn’t as interesting as they thought. Either way, it helps create a sense of certainty before taking expensive college courses.


Should My Child Complete a Capstone Project?


Though there are numerous benefits to undertaking a capstone project, the question remains: should your child complete one? The simple answer is yes. Completing a capstone project can be a feather in the cap of any prospective college student, so long as the project doesn’t interfere with any of the student’s other activities or interests that may be attractive to colleges and universities.


Colleges are always searching for students who maintain a high grade point average (GPA) while challenging themselves academically. The long-term, intense study of a subject will certainly make a student’s academic prowess evident to prospective schools, but this is only valuable if it doesn’t interfere with their studies and negatively affect their GPA. Students challenging themselves with a capstone project should be careful not to undertake the project at the expense of their other intellectual pursuits.


Colleges also seek out well-rounded students and you can make the argument that the focused study of one subject is out of line with what colleges and universities hope to see in a student. It’s true that capstone projects highlight the possession of a diverse skill set in a student, but colleges look for students with a wide range of interests in addition to skills. Students should not take up a capstone project if it means sacrificing extracurricular activities and other interests.


On a more personal level, students should ask themselves what they want to accomplish via a capstone project. The best projects are often the ones where the student is most passionate. If a student has a sincere interest in the deeper exploration of a field, it should be encouraged and their excitement and enthusiasm for the field can be felt in their work. If a student is solely tackling a capstone project to wow colleges, there is most likely a better way to impress schools more in line with the student’s interest.


What are Some Examples of Capstone Projects?


Looking to get a better sense of what a capstone project is or looking for an idea to get started on your own capstone project? Here are some examples:


Business: Study digital marketing and create a digital marketing plan for a local business to help increase awareness and drive sales.


STEM: Learn about video game or app development and conceptualize, design, and build a working game or app.


Athletics: Research training and nutrition, build a training plan and diet, and perform in an athletic competition (a triathlon or marathon, for example).


Community Service: Learn about the work non-profits do, get first-hand experience volunteering with a local non-profit, and build a plan to create an organization that serves your community.


Film: Research what makes an effective public service announcement (PSA) and write, direct, and film a PSA that addresses a concern in your community.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.