Master's Capstone Seminar

Four women students in business suits present their capstone at the front of a large GW classroom to an audience

Rather than write a thesis or take a comprehensive exam, students at the Trachtenberg School complete a Capstone Seminar as their final core course as a culmination of the achievement of earning a master’s degree.

During the seminar, students work in a small team of classmates to design and implement substantial analytic projects for external clients such as government agencies or nonprofit organizations. The pro bono projects result in a written report and a formal presentation of research results to both the external client and Trachtenberg School community. 

Every MPA, MPP and MA-ENRP student completes a pro bono capstone project for a client of their choosing. You will graduate with more than a degree; you will have real-world consulting experience.

To learn more about the Capstone and past projects, click here (PDF) →




“Our team was able to meet with the community and business leaders in Durango, Colo., research the issue from our perspective and then present those findings directly to the DOE.”

Ben Walsh



students typically work together on
the project and complete all work as a team


cost to the client, and the pro bono work makes excellent material for résumés


different categories of capstone projects, from security policy to social justice, in recent years


weeks to complete the project, from defining the project scope to delivering a final report




“I learned a lot during the Capstone process. It was preparation for the job I do today with a consulting company.” 

Christine Mellen
MPP ‘15



Over the past three years, capstone projects have been completed in 14 categories: 

  • Childhood Development & Education
  • Domestic Violence & Human Trafficking
  • Energy, Environment, & Sustainability
  • Engineering & Technology
  • Government & Public Administration
  • Healthcare
  • Housing, Employment, & Poverty
  • Hunger & Food Security
  • International Development
  • Other
  • Security
  • Social Justice Policy
  • Urban Development & Transportation
  • Veterans Affairs


  • Identify and solve a real-world problem
  • Work collaboratively with other students and relevant members of the client agency
  • Integrate skills and knowledge gained from previous courses and experiences
  • Practice the full complement of communication skills, including written reports and oral presentations


The Students' Role

The Capstone team’s role is similar to that of an external consultant. Using specifications and guidance from an external agency or nonprofit organization, the team will clarify project goals and identify who on the team will be responsible for each assignment. The team will submit a final report to the client agency and to Trachtenberg School faculty at the conclusion of the project. All members of the team will be equally responsible for the success of the project.

Accomplishing this ambitious goal – particularly in a one-semester time span – requires more than simple mastery of prior courses; it requires moving rapidly with adroit planning, aggressive time management, resourcefulness and creativity.

Capstone teams produce a professional, comprehensive written report and oral presentation with the results of their work to the client at the end of the semester — early December for fall Capstones and late April/early May for spring Capstones.

The Client's Role

Because the teams must work in a limited timeframe of 8-10 weeks, it is important that the client and team agree on a topic of importance and interest to both, making sure that the task is suitable for the time period and resources available. Constructing a mutually advantageous and feasible research effort is often an iterative process that may evolve even after the agreement on an initial scope of work.

Throughout the process, the client provides information and access to necessary data to the student team.