Capstone Projects for High School Students

Padya Paramita

Capstone Projects for High School Students

As colleges get more and more selective, you might be worried about how you can stand out among the thousands of talented candidates. One useful tip to keep in mind is that admissions officers want students who are truly passionate about what they do and have gone above and beyond to demonstrate their interests. If you’ve got an academic subject, topic, or even hobby that you love, consider taking on one of the many possible capstone projects for high school students

It’s never too early to start brainstorming, especially when considering broad fields such as biology and economics. Finding a specific topic that relates to you personally is especially important with interests such as writing and art that are common for many applicants. To guide you through the process, I have outlined what exactly is meant by capstone projects for high school students, provided some topic suggestions to give you an idea of what yours might look like, and finally, outlined how your project can benefit your chances in the college admissions process. 

What is a Capstone Project?

Capstone projects for high school students can take many different forms, depending on the topics that resonate with you, and what is feasible based on your location and the time you’re willing to spend. If you’d like a more concrete way to convey your skills, effort, and knowledge in a certain discipline, carrying out a capstone project - usually finished at the end of the school year - would be an effective way to reflect your interest. Throughout the project, you should make a plan, conduct research, maintain a portfolio if applicable, keep track of your progress, and finally, present it.

Students usually carry out these projects individually, but sometimes, depending on the breadth of the topic, form a group. You might want to find a mentor as a resource, though it’s not required. Choose a mentor who offers expertise in the field. For example, your history teacher can assist you on a paper about World War II, while your English teacher should be your go-to if you’re working on a poetry collection.

Once your project is ready, you should present your hard work in a form that makes sense for the field of your choice. Capstone projects for high school students could come to life in the form of a paper, video, public presentation, or something even more specific such as an app or book. You might submit it to a panel of your teachers or supervisors for a grade if applicable.

Brainstorming Topics for Capstone Projects for High School Students

Brainstorming capstone projects for high school students can be difficult. Where do you even start? Narrow down topics based on your intended major, career interest, or a problem in your community you’d want to tackle. You could even find an academic approach to one of your favorite extracurricular activities!

The project can take many forms. If you’re interested in studying filmmaking, you could create a short movie or documentary. If you’re conducting biological research, you could write an academic paper and try to get it published. Check out the following table, which we’ve divided up by fields, in order to inspire ideas for your own initiative as you continue brainstorming capstone projects for high school students

Area Project
Art & Design Paint a mural at your school and encourage the rest of the community to contribute; Draw a portrait series of notable figures in your community; Design and create your own board game
Athletics Study how gender inequality plays a role in sports e.g., how commentators treat women and men differently in major competitions; Study professional runners’ habits/diet and develop your own plan to eventually compete in a marathon or triathlon; Conduct research on how dancers recover from injuries and how the rehabilitation process affects them
Biology Take water samples from your local pond or river and learn about the different nutrients and micro-organisms that exist in it; Volunteer at a nursing home and help the members conduct a genealogy project; Study how the common cold is spread throughout your school and suggest the most effective prevention methods
Business & Economics Sell and trade stocks; Start your own business; Look at trends in business that have failed and present the results; Examine how different businesses manage their employees and conduct research on corporate culture or structure; Study the positive or negative growth of GDP in the last decade
Computer Science Design an app or video game on a topic of interest; Study the algorithm of how different websites suggest products based on your purchase history; Teach other teens how to code; Build a website for an organization in your area
Engineering Build a robot that can help your community with a particular problem; Look at different technologies at hospitals and examine how they affect the workflow of doctors and nurses; Study the construction of bridges that have collapsed and build a model eliminating the flaws
Environment Develop a plan for ways your school can be more sustainable; Form a group that visits schools offering, elementary schools access to easy-to-understand information about climate change; Study how local weather has changed over the last two decades
Fashion Launch your own clothing line; Research the fashion industry and how it negatively affects workers; Explore fashion trends in your city over a certain period of time and determine the role culture has played on what’s “in”
History Conduct an oral history project with someone who’s experienced World War II; Research the history of your community and how it was different 50 years ago; Work at a museum and study how globalization has impacted exhibits over time; Make a scrapbook collecting headlines from over a period of time and conduct a study on how history might repeat itself
International Affairs & Politics Write a paper exploring the role of social media in modern warfare; Follow the campaign of a local politician and study what an effective (or ineffective) campaign looks like; Write a paper illustrating how democracy has changed over time
Law Study how discourse over different laws (e.g., the Second Amendment) has changed across the decades; Examine how laws about workplace discrimination have shifted; Study different ways juries are made up and how jury members are selected
Language & Literature Write a paper about the representation of gender in a Shakespeare play; If you speak multiple languages, translate a favorite work of literature; Study different tropes, e.g., how the “chosen one” trope has been used across different works of literature; Explore how slang has evolved
Media Studies & Film Create a documentary on a topic that appeals to you; Study fandom and this can influence how people view a certain artist/book/movie; Take a look at how celebrities use social media to promote political ideas or to engage with their fans
Medicine Shadow a doctor and observe how they interact with patients of different ages; Study how terminal illnesses impact a family or broader community; Write a paper on the opioid crisis
Music Start a band, write your own songs, even put them on Spotify or Apple Music (and sign up for performances!); Study the effect of music therapy on children; Learn how to use recording and audio equipment
Photography Conduct a photography project in your local area; Start a portfolio capturing photos that fall under a particular theme; Look up old pictures of your community, recreate those photographs and study the patterns on how things have changed
Social Justice Form a group that teaches LGBT-inclusive sex ed at schools; Study gender or racial inequality in a particular field; Examine powerful protests that have occurred in your community
Theatre Write a play and organize a performance; Direct a show that resonates with you; Start a theatre group for kids in underprivileged communities; Study the social impact of theater
Writing & Journalism Write a novel or a poetry collection; Start a blog on a particular theme; Start a column at your school or local newspaper on a niche area of expertise or even found your own newspaper

As you can see, there is a world of possibilities. Your projects can also be on a relatively small scale if you don’t have the resources or the time. If you have multiple interests, you can combine various fields, such as art and business, engineering and biology, writing and social justice. If you’re thinking about pursuing one of these capstone projects for high school students, carefully consider what you can genuinely put the most effort into and create something that is unique to you!

How Can a Capstone Project Help You in the Admissions Process?

You might be wondering whether conducting capstone projects for high school students helps with your college applications. If done well, such work can impress admissions officers, as it would show that you aren’t afraid of taking initiative. If you work on the project with a team, this could be a great demonstration of your leadership and collaboration skills. Over the course of your work, depending on your project, you can also hone your research, writing, and public speaking skills. 

Colleges appreciate students who are specialized in one or two particular areas. Starting your own capstone project can effectively emphasize your passion for your major or prospective career. Considering that you will probably work very hard on the project and that it might end up having a deep impact on you (and vice versa), you could find yourself writing your personal statement or supplemental essays on the experience. Having worked on a project like this would portray clear ambition on your part. Admissions officers would get a strong impression of the ways you would contribute to the campus community. 

At the end of the day, the sole purpose of your project shouldn’t be just to boost your application profile. Genuinely work hard on your project and make sure your reasons behind pursuing it are convincing. Admissions officers will organically get a sense of your intellectual pursuits and commitment to creating something beyond what’s expected out of your academic interests. 

Capstone projects for high school students not only convey your passion towards a field, but they help you develop and hone skills that can benefit you throughout the rest of your life. Remember, that taking on such a project requires time, dedication, and patience, so don’t tackle something huge unless you can handle it. But if you commit to it with enthusiasm and determination, your efforts can go a long way toward increasing your knowledge, impressing colleges, and positively contributing to your community. Good luck!

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