1. Pre-Planning for Your Capstone Project

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to: 

  • Explain the capstone experience.
  • Identify soft skills that can be developed/refined throughout the capstone experience.
  • Describe the importance of capstone projects for academic and professional career development.
  • Identify at least two steps you can take to pre-plan/prepare for your capstone project.


This chapter will guide you through the pre-planning phase of your capstone experience. Examples of capstone formats utilized by various schools and universities are included in this chapter.  General educational goals of capstone projects are reviewed and the importance of a capstone experience for academic and professional career advancement is discussed.  Strategies that can help you prepare for your capstone experience are explained.


The amount of stress that accumulates over the course of one’s college experience can be overwhelming.  Understanding what a capstone project entails and using strategies and skills that have been acquired throughout your academic career, will help you pre-plan for relevant and meaningful capstone experiences, while reducing stress.

What Exactly Is a Capstone Project?

A capstone project is a multifaceted assignment for professional students that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience.  Therefore, capstone projects can also be referred to as capstone

experiences, culminating projects, or senior exhibitions.   Capstone projects usually occur in the final year of professional academic programs and they may or may not be research based.  Constructed by your school, your professional program within your school or university, and learning experience, capstone projects can take a variety of forms (Refer to Table 1-1:  Examples of Capstone Project Formats).  While capstone projects are in some ways like a college thesis, capstone projects are typically long-term investigative projects that culminate into a final product, presentation, and/or performance (Sabbot, 2016).

Table 1-1:  Examples of Capstone Project Formats

  • Designing or building a product, intervention, or program to address an identified need or problem
  • Researching an industry or market, and creating a viable business plan for a proposed company that is then introduced to stakeholders
  • A service-learning or community-based experience in which a professional student works with community members to put into action the skills and knowledge acquired over the course of their academic career
  • A research-based experience that may be structured as the writing of a thesis

Source:  Moore, J. L. (2021, December 2). Capstone experiences. Center for Engaged Learning. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/resources/capstone-experiences/ 

Within health professions, the clinical doctorate has been traditionally driven by innovation in practice and the advancement and evolution of the health profession’s field.  Furthermore, clinical doctorate degrees are meant to provide graduates with the skills necessary to engage in direct clinical practice and leadership endeavors, which may influence healthcare program development and policy changes.  Simply, doctoral capstones provide accomplished students with an opportunity for in-depth professional practice within an area of focus (Kemp, Domina, Delbert, Rivera & Navarro-Walker, 2020).

Capstone projects have long been a hallmark of professional education. Capstone projects aim to help you recognize your own growth and development during your scholarly pursuits.  Capstone projects are also an effective method of showcasing attained and refined skills and competencies (Moore, 2021).  Furthermore, capstone projects are designed to encourage you to think critically, solve challenging problems, and showcase hard and unique soft skills. (Refer to Table 1-2:  Examples of Hard Skills and Soft Skills for Clinical Professionals and Professional Students)

Table 1-2:  Examples of Hard Skills and Soft Skills for Clinical Professionals and Professional Students 

Hard Skills

Job-specific abilities or knowledge learned through education, hands-on experience, or training.

Soft Skills

Character and personality traits. Interpersonal skills that are used daily.

Medical, neurological, pediatric, and anatomical experience  Organization 
Verbal communication skills  Flexibility 
Written communication skills  Empathy 
Technological skills  Problem Solving 
Research skills  Collaboration 
Grant writing  Leadership 
Healthcare-related licenses  Conflict Resolution 
Certificates, awards, badges and industry-recognized credentials  Time Management 

Sources:  Benz, C., Johns, S., & Team, the R. G. (2022, February 18). What are hard skills? definition & 51 hard skills examples. Resume Genius. Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://resumegenius.com/blog/resume-help/hard-skills; Coombe, T. (2021, February 25). Soft & Hard Skills for occupational therapy students: How to get them. EduMed. Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://www.edumed.org/online-schools/occupational-therapyprograms/studentskills/; and Kohler, C. (2021, December 17). What are soft skills? here’s how to showcase them on your resume. TopResume. Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/soft-skills-and-how-to-showcase-them-on-resume. 

Educational Goals for Capstone Projects

Capstone experiences within some schools and universities are designed to provide students with opportunities to become engaged in some aspect of clinical practice. Consequently, educational institutions will typically have their own capstone-specific goals. Even within a single school or university, the range of capstone-related goals and expectations can differ from program to program. For these reasons, it is important to review your specific program’s capstone project requirements and capstone syllabi.  By recognizing the general educational goals of capstone projects, you will acquire a better understanding of the capstone process and how it can be used for professional development not only throughout but beyond your academic career (Sabbot, 2016). (Refer to Table 1-3:  General Educational Goals of Capstone Projects). 

Table 1-3:  General Educational Goals of Capstone Projects

  • Increasing academic rigor
  • Increasing student motivation and engagement
  • Increasing educational and career aspiration
  • Improving student confidence and self-perception
  • Demonstrating learning and proficiency

Source:  Moore, J. L. (2021, December 2). Capstone experiences. Center for Engaged Learning. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/resources/capstone-experiences/.

Importance of Capstone Projects

Clinical doctoral programs are rigorous and demanding practice-focused programs that are designed to prepare students to become experts in clinical practice settings.  In this vein, capstone projects are heavily focused on innovative and evidence-based practices that not only reflect your ability to transfer didactic knowledge and research findings into a practice setting but to also evaluate and disseminate new knowledge to advance evidence-based care (Anderson, Knestrick & Barroso, 2015).  For example, in a school or university students are continually working on theoretical assignments, which allows them to acquire basic knowledge that supports their career path.  However, the capstone project extends beyond textbooks and classrooms as you begin to become immersed in real-world cases in real-life environments. Capstone projects can help you to become familiar with some of the issues professionals in your chosen area of study and/or interest may commonly face in the field.  Consequently, the experiential learning you will gain from your capstone experience is invaluable in relation to your entry into, and advancement in, your respective profession (Russel, 2022).

Capstone projects are considered scholarly pieces of work.  The intent of capstone projects is to create an effective and comprehensive product that will provide you with an opportunity to showcase your academic abilities, skills, and competencies.  In this fashion, capstone projects can be viewed as a springboard for career advancement or an entrepreneurial venture.  By taking a few steps to understand and prepare for your capstone experience, you will be able to effectively integrate learned knowledge into a real-world issue in a manner that is purposeful, meaningful, and marketable (Refer to Table 1.4:  Preplanning Strategies Students Can Use for Meaningful Capstone Experiences).

Table 1.4:  Preplanning Strategies Students Can Use for Meaningful Capstone Experiences

  • Update your Curriculum Vitae (CV): a document used by job applicants to showcase academic and professional accomplishments and/or Resume:  a formal document that a job applicant creates to itemize their qualifications for a position
    • Make sure your CV/Resume is up to date.  It is okay to enter your capstone project on your  CV/Resume, even if it is not yet completed because it shows your hands-on experience with specific skills
  • Prepare your Biographical Sketch (an abbreviated picture of your professional life, which is used to highlight your major achievements)
    • The information contained in your Biographical Sketch can be used for cover letters, business, and grant proposals, based on purpose (Refer to Author’s Biographical Sketch)
  • Review Capstone Projects of Previous Students Within Your Academic Program
    • This will help to familiarize you with the general format of capstone project within your academic program and provide you with some ideas/topics for your upcoming capstone project
  • Review your Capstone Courses Syllabi
    • This will help you gain knowledge of what is expected of you throughout the capstone process
  • Meet with your Capstone Course(s) Instructor(s)
    • It is important to develop relationships with your professors early on and to be sure that you understand capstone-related assignments and to get help if you are having trouble
  • Meet with Your Mentor
    • Mentors can provide experience-based knowledge that will help you grow and develop both personally and professionally
  • Cultivate a Spirit of Inquiry
    • A spirit of inquiry will empower you to challenge current practices, develop new ideas, design innovative interventions or solutions to problems, and disseminate new information
  • Focus on a Topic/Area of Practice that You are Truly Interested In
    • Choose a topic you are passionate about.  Are there issues relevant to your workplace, classroom experience, or career goals that have spiked your interest?
  • Embrace and Own Your Capstone Project
    • Capstone projects exemplify your dedication to an issue.  This is your opportunity to make a meaningful relationship between theory and real-world matter.  While a capstone project is usually the final assignment of your academic career, it is also a springboard for professional career advancement, entrepreneurship, and leadership opportunities


Understanding what a capstone project is and why it is an important component of academic and professional development will help you appreciate your capstone experience and maybe even enjoy it.  This chapter provided you with tips and strategies that will help you preplan for your capstone project.  The development of a meaningful and robust capstone experience requires a demonstration of need coupled with a professional area of interest (Bednarski, Bell & DeAngelis, 2020).  Preplanning can help ensure that your capstone project is relevant and impactful.

Case Study:  Examples

Glynn is an occupational therapist, who currently works in a physical disability rehabilitation setting.   Glynn is currently participating in a post-professional occupational therapy doctorate (OTD) program in an urban university setting.  According to Glynn’s OTD program, she will begin her capstone courses next semester.  In order for Glynn to prepare for their upcoming capstone experience, they will do the following:

  • Review their resume and update it, as necessary
  • Update their biographical information
  • Review the educational goals of capstone projects within their program of study (OTD)
  • Review the format of capstone projects within their program of study (OTD)
  • Begin to cultivate a spirit of inquiry
    • Self-reflect on their professional career and consider topics of interest that could be potential capstone projects
    • Glynn is taking an OTD course, which addresses health literacy initiatives for low-health literate patients. Glynn is very intrigued with this topic and is considering this topic for their capstone project.




Share This Book