One of the great benefits of higher education is the freedom that you’re given to pursue — and ultimately prove — your understanding of concepts that are vital to your personal and professional ambitions. For many students, the proof will come in the form of a capstone or a thesis. 

While these climactic projects are both integral parts of your degree program, they are vastly different in process and presentation. 

What is a Capstone? 

The capstone, also known as the capstone course or capstone project, comes at the conclusion of your bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program but is not a final exam or multiple-choice test. Rather, the capstone tests your critical thinking, research, interview, and analyzation abilities, among others, while allowing you to demonstrate your overall understanding of the material in one of many ways.

Your approach may vary, and your capstone can take many forms, including:

Plan or Proposal

A marketing student develops a strategic marketing plan for launching a new product. A budding entrepreneur creates a multi-tiered business plan to address short- and long-term goals. A healthcare administration student drafts a proposal for improving the quality and safety of patient care. All of these are examples of capstone projects, in which you can address a problem currently facing an organization or industry — a problem you may struggle to solve every day in your profession. 

Research Paper

Unlike a traditional research paper, your capstone paper may comprise elements of your entire degree program. At times, it may feel similar to a thesis in that your paper requires an idea or topic, a structure, and questions that you must be prepared to answer. If you’re new to the experience, you can work with your instructor or do a search for capstone project examples to get a sense of how you’ll approach the challenge. 


In some degree programs, your capstone course may take the form of a strategic simulation in which you’re presented with real-world challenges and asked to posit solutions. When completing the simulation as a group, this approach can help you demonstrate your ability to lead, delegate, and strategize in pursuit of a common goal.

Not every degree program includes a capstone, and in some cases, the subject may be predetermined by your instructor.

What is a Thesis?

The thesis, also called a “dissertation,” is a super-sized form of a research paper that serves as the final project before you complete your master’s degree or doctoral degree. One of the primary differences between a thesis and a capstone is the scholarly nature of the thesis, which allows you to contribute valuable research to your field of study

Putting Your Thesis Together

In constructing your thesis, you will attempt to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and your conclusions must be backed by extensive research and a thoughtful, learned description of how you got there. This process begins early in your degree program, affording you multiple semesters to conduct research in cooperation with your thesis advisor or dissertation committee. 

Letter of Intent

Your advisor will require you to submit a letter of intent, a document that defines your chosen topic, why it was chosen, and what you will say in your paper. While the subject matter is entirely your choice, it must live up to the promise of your one- to two-sentence thesis statement.

Thesis Statement

A thesis statement should be thought of as an answer to a question. Your answer becomes your position, and your statement can take one of three forms:

Argumentative: An argumentative thesis begins with a) your topic, b) your position, and c) the reasons you will cite that back up your position.

Analytical: The analytical approach requires you to make a statement about what you’ve analyzed, your topic, and the conclusion that you’ve reached.

Expository: An expository thesis statement cites your topic and its key aspects — a preview of what you will discuss in your paper. 
This process will likely take time and several revisions, but you can find several online resources to help you develop a thesis statement that works

Once you’ve determined your path, the bulk of your thesis work will involve research and writing. Some degree programs will require an in-person oral defense of your thesis paper, while others may allow you to present your defense virtually. 

In the end, your thesis paper will demonstrate advanced research design and analysis, with the goal of making a significant contribution to professional literature in your field. 

A Commitment Worth Making

Like college itself, your capstone or thesis requires a lengthy commitment, so you must be prepared to spend an extensive amount of time on your topic. It’s a commitment worth making because when done successfully, these projects can serve as the foundation of your professional portfolio, providing you a springboard to greater things in your post-graduate career. 


Written by University Staff

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