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--Faculty Directed
For the ALM fields of biotechnology, data science, English, government, history, industrial-organizational psychology, 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. We recommend that your 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:
- BIOT E-599 Biotechnology Capstone
- CSCI E-599 Software Engineering Capstone
- CSCI E-599a Data Science Capstone (industry consulting project)
- ENGL E-599 English Literature in a Critical Context Capstone
- GOVT E-599 Policy Analysis Capstone
- GOVT E-599a Social Justice Capstone: Bridges to JustPeace
- GOVT E-599b National Security Analysis Capstone
- HIST E-599 Social Reform Movements in America Capstone
- ISMT E-599 Capstone Seminar in Digital Enterprise
- ISMT E-599a Capstone Seminar in Information Management
- MATH E-599 Math for Teaching Capstone
- MGMT E-599 Entrepreneurship in Action
- PSYC E-599 Bridging Science and Practice in Human Development Capstone
- PSYC E-599a Applied Psychometrics
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).
You are required to complete the precapstone and capstone sequence in order, in the same academic year, and with the same instructor. The only exception to the same instructor requirement is the biotechnology precapstone.
For detailed course description information, visit:
- CSCI E-597 Data Science Precapstone (data science)
- ENGL E-597 Focused Study on English Literature in a Critical Context (English)
- GOVT E-595 Foundations of Policy Writing and Analysis (government or international relations)
- GOVT E-596 Bridges to JustPeace (government or religion)
- GOVT E-597 Foundations of National Security Writing and Analysis (government or international relations)
- HIST E-597 Social Reform Movements in America Precapstone (government, history, or religion)
- MGMT E-597 Entrepreneurship in Action Precapstone (management)
- MGMT E-5420 Entrepreneurship and Innovation (biotechnology)
- PSYC E-597 Theory and Research in Human Development Precapstone (psychology)
Capstone Independent Project--Student Directed
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:
- Development practice (ENVR E-599a -- community consulting project)
- Digital media design (DGMD E-599)
- Museum studies (MUSE E-599)
- Sustainability (ENVR E-599 or ENVR E-599a -- industry consulting project)
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'll need to spend time revising in order to re-submit for the next offering of the tutorial.Once registered in the tutorial, you'll 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.
- 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 capstone in spring.
- For the summer capstone 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.
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.
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, (email@example.com), 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.
- 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
You need to earn a grade of B- or higher to earn 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. If approved, 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.
The Board only reviews cases in which extenuating circumstances prevented the successful completion of the capstone.