Capstones

The Capstone is a culminating academic project experience that is completed within the confines of a semester-length course. Several Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) fields either require a capstone or offer the option to pursue one. In addition to the information below, review Guide to the ALM Capstone Project website.

Types of Capstones

We offer two forms of capstone: Capstone Course (faculty directed) and Capstone Independent Project (student directed).

Capstone Course--Faculty Directed

For the ALM fields of biotechnology, data science, English, government, history, information management systems, international relations, management, math for teaching, psychology, religion, and software engineering, capstones are courses designed by faculty members who bring together, in a structured syllabus, all the key learning outcomes of the field of study. Capstone students must select a particular subject for research which corresponds to the theme declared by the capstone instructor.

You register as you would any other course in your final semester and, ordinarily, due to the heavy workload demands, as your one-and-only remaining course. For the majority of the capstones, it is critical that all your other degree requirements be fulfilled so you can draw upon your entire ALM training to produce a project worthy of a Harvard degree by committing to fultime study. We recommend that you register on the first day of degree-candidate registration to obtain a seat in these limited-enrollment courses.

While every effort is made to offer the same precapstone/capstone topics each year (e.g., human development, policy analysis, and social justice), topics are subject to change.

For detailed course description information, including specific registration requirements, such as credit minimums and academic standing requirements, visit the following course pages:

Precapstones

The ALM fields of biotechnology, data science, English, government, history, international relations, management, psychology, and religion have a required precapstone course that must be completed with a grade of B- or higher.

Mandatory Sequencing. You complete the precapstone course the semester right before capstone registration (no earlier).  In addition, the precapstone and capstone sequence must be completed in the same academic year and with the same instructor. The only exception to the same instructor requirement is the biotechnology precapstone, which is co-taught by two management instructors.

Attempts. You have a maximum of two attempts at the precapstone course to earn the required grade of B- or higher. If after two attempts, you have not fulfilled the requirement (a WD grade is considered an attempt), your degree candidacy will expire. If by not passing the precapstone you fall into poor academic standing, you will need to take additional degree-applicable courses to return to good standing before enrolling in the precapstone for your second and final time.

The second attempt policy is only available if your five-year, degree-completion deadline allows for more time.  If you attempt to complete the precapstone in your final year and don't pass (including a WD grade), your candidacy will automatically expire. 

For detailed course description information, visit:

Capstone Independent Project--Student Directed

For global development practice, digital media design, journalism, museum studies, and sustainability, capstones are client-based projects or independent research projects focused on a current issue or problem that has become compelling for you during your course of study. The project represents your academic passion and professional interest. You complete the research individually (journalism) or in a classroom setting with fellow candidates (all other fields).

Journalism candidates should scroll down to Journalism Capstone. The following applies to:

Registration for the capstone independent project in the above fields is similar to registration for a course, but the research project must be approved months in advance. There are two major steps to obtain project approval.

Step one: obtain advice right away. Once admitted to the program, meet with your research advisor early and often about your initial capstone research interests. He or she can provide support as well as course selection advice as you develop preliminary ideas. Please note that while every effort is made to support your capstone interest, guidance is not available for all possible projects. Therefore, revision or a change of capstone topic may be necessary.

Step two: register for the noncredit tutorial. The semester before capstone registration (no earlier), you are required to (1) enroll in the noncredit Precapstone tutorial, (2) visit the Guide to the ALM Capstone Project website to read through the tutorial guidelines, and (3) submit your preproposal by the required deadline (see below in bold). The preproposal demonstrates that you have done enough prior reading and research on your topic to begin the capstone proposal process. Registration in the tutorial is limited to degree candidates who submit quality preproposals. If your preproposal is not approved, you will need to spend time revising in order to re-submit for the next offering of the tutorial, if your five-year, degree-completion deadline allows. 

Once registered in the tutorial, you will receive guidance and mentoring while you iterate on your individual capstone proposal until the document reaches a satisfactory quality. The tutorial is not a course in the traditional sense. You work independently on your proposal with your research advisor by submitting multiple proposal drafts and scheduling individual appointments (ordinarily, during the hours of 9-5). You need to make self-directed progress on the proposal without special prompting from the research advisor.  While the tutorial is noncredit, your due diligence throughout the semester is required.

If you do not have a proposal that is close to being approved by the semester’s withdrawal deadline, you’ll need to withdraw from the course, delay capstone registration, and re-take the capstone proposal tutorial again in a future semester, if your five-year, degree-completion deadline allows.

Timeline

  • For the fall capstone, you complete the proposal tutorial during the prior summer term: Register for the Summer Precapstone tutorial March 1. Submit the first draft of the preproposal between March 1 and May 15. Actively participate in the tutorial during the summer and end the term with an approved proposal. Register and complete capstone in fall.
  • For the spring capstone, you complete the proposal tutorial during the prior fall term: Register for the Fall Precapstone tutorial when registration opens in mid-July. Submit the first draft of the preproposal between July 18 and August 1. Actively participate in the tutorial during the fall and end the term with an approved proposal. Register and complete the capstone in spring.
  • For the summer capstone, you complete the proposal tutorial during the prior spring: Register for the spring Precapstone tutorial when registration open in early November. Submit the first draft of the preproposal between November 7 and January 2. Actively participate in the Capstone Proposal Tutorial during the spring and end the term with an approved proposal. Register and complete capstone in summer. This sequence (spring tutorial, summer capstone) is required for international students who need a student visa.

Please note that not all fields offer a capstone each term. Refer to your field’s degree course search for the schedule. 

Human Subjects

If your capstone will involve the use of human subjects (e.g., subject interviews, surveys, observations), review the Human Subjects section on the Guide to the ALM Capstone Project website to learn Harvard University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval process.

Journalism Capstone

The course, JOUR E-599, entails a portfolio of several related stories that are completed over the course of one semester. You apply knowledge and skills obtained in the program to complete a significant journalism project under the direction of a professional in the field.  Over the course of the capstone semester, you'll conduct an in-depth investigation of a single topic and emerge with a portfolio of new work suitable for publishing, posting, or broadcasting.

You can register for the capstone once you complete 36 credits, and you work independently to complete the project within a semester timeframe. The capstone can be, and often is, completed at a distance.

To begin the capstone approval process, you schedule an appointment with your research advisor, June Erlick, (jerlick@fas.harvard.edu), to discuss your capstone ideas.  Once a topic is approved, you submit the first draft of your capstone proposal (visit the Guide to the ALM Capstone Project website to read the Crafting the Capstone Proposal specific guidelines). Ms. Erlick supports you through the fine tuning of the proposal and works with the Journalism program office to identify a capstone director. A director is a journalism instructor or professional in the field who has expertise relevant to your capstone topic.

While you are expected to work independently on your project, the capstone director will meet with you several times over the semester to answer questions, discuss your progress, read drafts, and offer feedback. The director also grades the final project. The final decision about who will serve as director is made by the Journalism program office; however, you are welcome to request a particular instructor. We ask that you not contact an instructor directly prior to capstone approval.

Journalism Timeline

  • Fall capstone: Meet to discuss capstone ideas by May 1. Submit first draft of capstone proposal by June 1.
  • Spring capstone: Meet to discuss capstone ideas by September 1. Submit first draft of capstone proposal by October 1.
  • Summer capstone: Meet to discuss capstone ideas by February 1. Submit first draft of capstone proposal by March 1

Final Capstone Grade

You need to earn a grade of B- or higher to earn degree credit for the capstone. If you earn a grade below a B– (including a WD), you will need to petition the Administrative Board for permission to enroll in the capstone for one final time. The petition process is only available if your five-year, degree-completion deadline allows for more time. Your candidacy will automatically expire if you do not successfully complete the capstone requirement by your required deadline.

If approved for a second attempt, you may be required to repeat the precapstone course or the non-credit precapstone tutorial in order to develop a new proposal on a different topic. Please note that you cannot choose a different capstone topic to gain additional (more than two) attempts at fulfilling the capstone requirement.

If by not passing the capstone you fall into poor academic standing, you'll need to take additional degree-applicable courses to return to good standing before enrolling in the capstone for your second and final time. This is only an option if your five-year, degree-completion deadline allows for more time to take additional courses.

The Board only reviews cases in which extenuating circumstances prevented the successful completion of the capstone.