Unpacking the capstone process

As a graduate student, there are different types of degree requirements to reach in order to finish your program. Requirements are assessed to ensure graduate students are achieving the necessary competencies relative to your program and degree level. 

What is a capstone?

A capstone is the final course completed at the end of a course-based program where you apply your learnings to a real-world problem through a final paper that is typically longer and more thorough than a regular course paper. Capstones typically do not require you to conduct primary research (i.e., survey, interview, focus groups) and focuses on secondary researcher (i.e., synthesizing research articles).

While the project and thesis are completed under a supervisor and/or committee member, the capstone is completed under a course instructor and possibly an academic advisor and/or community organization/industrial sponsor/client. In addition, unlike a thesis or project, your capstone may be done as a group project (consult your syllabus).






To apply knowledge and skills gained from one’s field of study to a real world context To apply knowledge and skills obtained from one's field of study and articulate the results of the investigation within a comprehensive written document To complete all stages of a research project and present the findings To demonstrate mature scholarship, critical judgement, and familiarity of methodology and methods relevant to the candidate’s field


Uses the existing body of research to support one’s stance while contributing new ideas Focuses on a specific problem rather than furthering a discipline’s theoretical understandings Should be original as much as possible and attempt to be significant enough for publication Provides a substantial and original contribution to the field

Breadth of Knowledge

Demonstrates the application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program Demonstrates the application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program Demonstrates a general knowledge of the field, related theories, and some appropriate methods Demonstrates the advanced application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program, its theories, and relevant research methodologies

What kind of requirements and structure should I expect?

Capstone Overview

Capstone requirements are highly specific to your program and instructor. Review your syllabus carefully and ask your instructor for clarification as needed.

However, as a general guideline, many capstones follow a similar structure: 

  1. Proposal 
    • Outline of relevant background information
    • State importance and relvance of project
    • State research goals, aims, and intended outcomes
    • Overview of methodology and/or analytic approach
    • Description of key partners and/or stakeholders
  2. Interim reports, memos, documentation, prototypes 
  3. Final Paper
  4. Oral Presentation 
  5. Additional assessments
    • Reflections such as self-reflections, peer reflections, lessons learned, recommendations for improvement 
    • Quizzes 
    • Attendance 


Degree milestones

Below we provide a series of the typical milestones common across degrees. Remember these steps are completed over a series of years. You can use these milestones as a guide and discuss them with your supervisors and/or department. The inclusion or sequencing of milestones will vary across programs and departments. 

*May be started before course work completed

1. Coursework & Other Program Requirements

  • Appointment of an advisor
  • Selection of coursework
  • Selection & formation of advisory committee
  • Completion of course work, internships and practicums (if applicable)
  • Candidacy/comprehensive exam(s) (PhD only)*

2. Project Development

  • Preparation and development of project*
  • Research Ethics Board approval (if applicable)
  • Minimum annual committee meetings and more as required

3. Executing Project/Capstone 

  • Begin data collection, analysis, (if applicable)
  • Begin product testing, development (if applicable)
  • Drafting, revising, completing report (if applicable)

4. Submission and Completion

  • Submit project to instructor for grading
  • Revise and resubmit (if applicable)
  • Oral presentation (most capstones) 

Program Duration

Your timeline for your degrees starts with the first class credited towards your degree – make sure you’re within your timeline!

• Postgraduate Diploma and Master's degree students have four (4) years to complete their degree.
• Ph.D. students have six (6) years to complete.
• If you transfer from a Master’s to a PhD, you must remember that your timeline will continue from the start of your Master’s degree to a maximum of six (6) years.

In extenuating circumstances, an extension to time in program may be available. If you think you may need an extension, speak with your supervisor or the graduate chair in your academic unit. More information about extensions to time in program, and how to apply for them, can be found here.

Academic Help

Student Learning Services provides the following workshops and resources:

  • Grad Help workshops cover a range of academic topics and are delivered by experienced volunteer graduate students and occasionally faculty and recent PhDs. These workshops are delivered from September to March. 
  • Graduate Writing Workshops cover topics such as structure, style, formatting, writing proposals and revising your work. These workshops are scheduled from September through March. 
  • Book an Appointment to discuss graduate academic skills with a peer mentor or get graduate writing help with a tutor.

         1. UNPACKING         Crafting >


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