Typically serving as the culminating experience in an MBA program, a capstone or thesis project bridges academic study and professional practice, applying the skills gained from an MBA to real-world business management and research. Thesis projects commonly take a more academic, research-based approach, while capstones focus on the practical side of business, often requiring students to identify and solve problems at real companies.
Capstones require students to synthesize everything they've learned from their MBA programs, serving as their best opportunity to demonstrate understanding of business principles and practices. Andrew Gold, an associate professor of management at Saint Leo University in Florida, puts it plainly: "The capstone is probably the single most important class in the entire program."
This page offers a general guide to MBA capstone and thesis projects. Below, find an overview of the key differences between the two types of projects, typical steps to research and writing, capstone project examples, and answers to common questions -- all accompanied by expert advice from an MBA faculty member.
What's the Difference Between a Capstone and a Thesis?
While a capstone and thesis serve similar functions, most MBA programs distinguish between the two projects. MBAs typically include practicum/internship components, enabling students to gain hands-on experience in professional business environments. Capstones build on this experience, requiring students to develop practical solutions to real-world business problems.
As Gold explains, "The [capstone] is intended to demonstrate that you understand and can apply what you have learned about the various disciplines in the business school and use some creativity to put together comprehensive analyses of complicated, real-life problems."
A thesis generally takes a more academic approach, requiring students to answer a question to contribute new knowledge to the field through a comprehensive research paper. Programs with an academic focus, preparing graduates for research and academic positions, might opt for a thesis over a capstone.
|The MBA Capstone||The MBA Thesis|
|When does it happen?||During the final year of the program||Typically during the final year of the program, though students may begin work earlier|
|How long does it take?||One semester to a full academic year||Often a full academic year|
|How much time per week does it require?||15-20 hours||15-20 hours|
|How many pages is it?||Variable; often 15-20 pages||Variable; often 40-80+ pages|
|What's its purpose?||To solve a practical business problem||To contribute new knowledge to the field of business through research|
|What's the format?||A hands-on project or a research paper||An extensive research paper|
|How important is it to your MBA?||Extremely important||Extremely important|
|What are its research requirements?||Variable -- students typically conduct research in relation to their business problem||More extensive -- students are expected to produce a literature review and their own research|
|How do you present it?||Typically a public seminar||Typically a public or private seminar, often with a formal oral defense|
|What type of collaboration is necessary?||Students often work as part of a team||Students often work individually with supervision from a faculty advisor|
|What type of student does it serve?||Students with professional aspirations||Students with academic aspirations|
The MBA Capstone
Broadly, MBA capstones require students to synthesize major program principles to address contemporary business issues, serving to assess overall knowledge and individual skill. As Gold explains, "In addition to demonstrating students' abilities to analyze complex problems, the [capstone] typically shows evidence of creative thinking, critical thinking, and the ability to examine a problem from a variety of functional perspectives." The following sections detail typical capstone components and processes.
The MBA Thesis
An MBA thesis functions similarly to a capstone in some regards, but the two projects maintain notable differences. While capstones address practical business problems, thesis projects draw on original research to contribute new knowledge to the field of business. This section outlines major components of an MBA thesis.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is an MBA capstone project?
- A capstone typically serves as the culminating requirement for an MBA program, requiring students to synthesize what they have learned to research and address a contemporary business problem.
- What are different types of MBA capstones?
- Capstones typically take the form of either a research project, in which students research topics independently, or hands-on projects, in which students work directly with businesses to solve problems.
- Is a capstone course hard?
- As the culminating experience for most programs, a capstone requires students to demonstrate wide-ranging business skills and mastery of overall program principles, both of which faculty evaluate rigorously.
- How long does an MBA capstone project take?
- Specific length requirements vary between programs, but most capstones require 1-2 semesters to complete. Some may last the duration of the program's final year, while others take place over one semester.
- What is a great company for an MBA capstone analysis project?
- Students typically have the most success completing their capstones at companies with which they hold existing connections or relationships. Students may struggle cold-calling companies to request access for capstone research.
- What happens if you fail your capstone?
- Exact procedures vary among schools and programs. However, students who fail their capstones may repeat the course with program director approval.
- Is a capstone the same as a thesis?
- While a capstone and thesis both serve as culminating MBA requirements, they differ slightly in overall goals and methods. Capstones take a more professional approach, while thesis projects are more academic.
- What is the difference between a dissertation and a capstone?
- Most commonly, capstones require students to use their knowledge to solve practical business problems, while thesis projects require learners to perform research contributing new knowledge to the field.
- Is a thesis required for an MBA?
- Not all programs require an MBA thesis. Thesis projects often fulfill requirements for more academically focused MBAs, which prepare graduates for positions in research and education.
- How long is an MBA thesis?
- Length and time requirements vary between programs, but a thesis often takes two semesters to complete, resulting in a document of 40-80+ pages.
Meet the Expert
Associate Professor, Saint Leo University
Andrew Gold, Ph.D., is an associate professor of management at Saint Leo University in Florida and an adjunct associate professor at the University of North Carolina, teaching managing innovation processes and performance in the online MBA program. He received his bachelor's degree in finance in 1992 from Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, with a focus on international finance and investments. He received his doctorate in 2002 from the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, with a focus on strategy and innovation management.