Admissions Blog

So What Does Capstone Actually Look Like?

By Angel Ornelas '24
Posted Apr 30 2024

Capstone is the best part of your academic experience at SIPA. I mean, the classes and professors at SIPA are also amazing, but Capstone is the combination of everything great about SIPA packed into one. In this blog post, I will break down the Capstone experience to hopefully provide some insight into this graduation requirement for the MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP programs. For my Capstone, my team and I developed recommendations for the Ministry of Science and Higher Education under the Republic of Kazakhstan on how to best attract (and retain) international students. Kazakhstan currently has a strong interest in bringing in more international students from other Central Asian countries and Europe to become a regional hub for education. 


When do you start Capstone?

In the spring semester of your first year, the Capstone directors reach out to you with a survey asking about your interests. Typically, SIPA tries to maintain a wide variety of clients to ensure that most, if not all, academic interests are represented. Another factor that SIPA takes into consideration when selecting clients is the global policy landscape each year. For example, many 2024 Capstones focused on climate adaptation, climate finance, and climate resilience.

During the fall semester of your second year, you apply to the Capstone of your choice. You are allowed to rank your top five choices. Most of the time, people get their top choice, but there are instances where extremely popular Capstones are highly selective. Note that there are some Capstones that do not travel. These are typically clients that are based in the United States. Although travel is a major highlight for some, it isn’t necessary to have a great time. Some of the best Capstone experiences are with U.S.-based agencies such as the New York Housing Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Department of State. 

Also note that if you are an EPD student intending to do an EPD Capstone (also called EPD Workshop), you are required to enroll in the Methods for Sustainable Development course in the fall semester of your second year. 

After you’re ‘accepted’ into a Capstone, what’s next?

You will be notified of your newly assigned Capstone in November. One tip is to touch base with your team right away, whether that be through email, WhatsApp, or an in-person meetup. Try to hang out with your team informally as much as you can - a healthy team dynamic will be essential to your Capstone’s success. I can’t emphasize enough how important team building is to Capstone, this team should be your best friend for the rest of your second year. In addition, you will meet with your faculty advisor - this individual will provide support and advise you on how to best collect data for your project. 

In the spring semester, you will be enrolled in a 3-credit Capstone course. Note that this requires you to meet weekly, for two hours, with your faculty advisor and Capstone team. Understandably, in your last semester, people want to take as many interesting classes as they can. However, I would advise against taking more than 12 credits (typically four full semester classes) in the spring of your second year. Give yourself time to be able to work on your Capstone and spend time with your friends. 

So, when do you get to travel? And what do you do during travel?


Typically, Capstones travel during Spring Break (the exact dates of Spring Break vary every year but this usually falls in early March). The whole team will travel together, and 1-2 people on the team are responsible for booking everyone’s travel and lodging. I highly recommend booking your accommodations and flights through the third-party service SIPA contracts with to avoid having to pay the full price for everything and wait for reimbursement later. In addition, you are not allowed to miss any classes. You will need to coordinate with your team to figure out what is the best date for everyone. In my case, my team and I departed on March 7th, 2024, and returned on March 17th. 

We had the best time in Astana, Kazakhstan. During the day we were busy running around the city interviewing university administrators and government officials on the state of higher education in Kazakhstan. In the evening we explored the capital city’s restaurants, and bars, and tried new flavors of sheesha. If you can, depart the Thursday or Friday before Spring Break starts so you have extra time to do touristy things and explore. Typically, SIPA will only cover the cost of flights and hotels, you have to spend your own money on food and other personal costs.

When is the final product ‘due’?

Typically, your final report and final presentation to your client (and SIPA) are due the first week of May. You can find prior Capstone reports here so you can get an idea of what to expect. Currently, my Capstone team is at 120-ish pages (which is typical!), and we’re working on cutting this down to about 100 pages.

I hope you come to SIPA and experience Capstone, it is an incredibly rewarding experience!