Capstone courses are designed to give students the chance to apply the knowledge they have acquired throughout their education to real-world situations, and to encapsulate all the learning objectives of a student's major. Students usually take capstone courses during the final semester of their senior year in college.
Internship-style capstone courses allow students to gain real-world experience by interacting directly with people already employed in their field of study. This type of capstone course is often supervised by a faculty member or someone affiliated with the sponsoring college who evaluates the student's progress over a semester. One example of this kind of capstone course is Portland State University's National Policy Consensus Center course, which requires political science students to study an alternative energy project and interview its designers to determine what approach was used to develop the project.
Portfolio capstone courses require students to create a body of work that faculty can evaluate. Typically, portfolios are used in majors in which artistic representation is a major aspect of the education provided, including fields such as creative writing, fashion design, screenwriting and sculpture. Some portfolio capstone courses encourage students to create their own website to display their capstone portfolio, and these portfolios and sites can be useful in students' post-college job searches.
A major project capstone course requires students to develop one project, such as a research paper, for one or two semesters. Capital University's professional studies degree, for example, requires a major capstone project in the second term of a student's senior year. Students can choose between two formats: a senior project option and a thesis option. The senior project option requires students to interact with a professional organization using the skills they have acquired throughout their academic career. The thesis option requires students to write an academic paper on a subject directly related to their target career.
A multiple-project capstone course requires students to produce projects in several different formats, such as a research project, an academic essay and a visual presentation. Southern Oregon University in Ashland, for instance, requires students in its art program to complete a multiple-project capstone course during their senior year. First, students must create artwork, produce a research project or complete an internship; next, they must write a "final capstone report" on that experience. This final report is then submitted for display to both students and faculty.