Capstones

Capstones are culminating academic experiences that are completed within the confines of a semester-length course. Several Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) fields either require a capstone project 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 capstones: Capstone Course (faculty directed) and Capstone Independent Project (student directed).

Capstone Course

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.

You register as you would any other course in your final semester and, due to the heavy workload demands, as your one-and-only remaining course. It is important 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. Register on the first day of degree-candidate registration to obtain a seat in these limited-enrollment courses.

For detailed course description information, including specific registration requirements (e.g., 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 the semester right before capstone registration (no earlier).

For detailed course description information, visit:

Capstone Independent Project

For development practice, digital media design, journalism, museum studies, and sustainability, capstones are 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 Capstone Proposal Tutorial, (2) visit the Guide to the ALM Capstone Project website to read through the Crafting the Capstone Proposal specific guidelines, and (3) submit the first draft of your capstone proposal by the required deadline (see below in bold). If you do not meet this deadline, you'll be dropped from the tutorial.

Deadlines for subsequent drafts are set by your research advisor during the one-on-one tutorial, but plan on at least three to four drafts. 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 an approved proposal or 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. 

Timeline

  • For the fall capstone, you complete the proposal tutorial during the prior summer term: Register for the Summer Capstone Proposal Tutorial March 1. Submit first draft of capstone proposal between March 1 and May 31. Actively participate in the Capstone Proposal 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 Capstone Proposal Tutorial July 19. Submit first draft of capstone proposal between July 19 and October 1. Actively participate in the Capstone Proposal Tutorial during the fall and end the term with an approved proposal. Register and complete capstone in spring.
  • For the summer capstone capstone, you complete the proposal tutorial during the prior spring: Register for the Spring Capstone Proposal Tutorial November 8. Submit first draft of capstone proposal between November 8 and February 1. Actively participate in the Capstone Proposal Tutorial during the spring and end the term with an approved proposal. Register and complete capstone in summer.

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.

Registration is Open

 

Explore the course catalog and register by:

  • December 19 for January courses
  • January 27 for spring courses