Is Capstone Worth It?

By OLIVE NUGENT

Recently, I’ve had several people, mostly Grade 10s and 11s, ask me whether the AP Capstone/Research program is worth their time. Having been in the thick of my research for the last month, I worry my pitches may have varied in enthusiasm depending on how my work was going that week, so now that I’m in the home stretch, I thought I’d take the time to give those interested a more circumspect take on the course.

Capstone is a program taken over Grade 11 and 12 that is essentially a crash course in academic research and writing. Year one, called AP Capstone, teaches you how to write the equivalent of a first year university research paper and present your findings in a polished way. Because the program doesn’t fit neatly into the Ontario curriculum, the first year is superimposed onto ENG3U and Equity and Social Justice, which you take as two courses meshed in one throughout the year. While some of the work assigned has a social justice bent, most projects, including your big research papers, can take almost any focus you want, from ecology to history to socio-political issues.

In your second year, known as AP Research, you’ll be expected to take the skills you learned in Capstone and use them to conduct your own original research. It’s your job to find some unexplored corner of academia, a question no one’s ever answered, and try to fill that gap yourself. The only limitations on your choice of topic are logistical; if you can do it in eight months without much money and without flying to Panama or whatever, everything’s on the table. Friends of mine have studied everything from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People to the behaviour of coywolves in Gatineau Park, while I’m deep into a local history project.

I’m convinced that AP Capstone is worthwhile for anyone who plans to go to university. Whatever your skills and confidence as a writer, I can guarantee the program will have you in good shape for postsecondary-level work by the end of the year, and that you’ll have acquired research experience that no other high school programs really offer and that universities value greatly.

But it’s not the first year that most people I’ve talked to had reservations about. AP Research is generally the most daunting part to younger students, and some are worried both about whether they’re cut out for the second stage of the program and whether they should be making such a big commitment so far in advance.

I’m not going to whitewash this: AP Research is a freaking lot of work. It’s a long slog that for me has come with bouts of impostor syndrome and anxiety; and yet, it may be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Finding a project you really enjoy, have complete control over, and can become an almost-expert in is massively satisfying, and finally getting it done will be my biggest pride and relief of the year.

So, is Capstone right for you?

I think it depends entirely on what you want out of your senior year. If your idea of a perfect Grade 12 is hanging out on the airport chairs with your friends for hours every day and spending all your spares on Netflix, AP Re- search is probably not your best option. That’s not to say we don’t make time for friends and Stranger Things, but everyone has had to make some sacrifices to do this properly. If you’re at serious risk of senioritis or struggle to keep up with unstructured work, you should also think twice about signing up. If, however, the program appeals to you and you think you can stick with it, I highly recommend you give Capstone a try.

Fair warning: no matter how hard you work, there will come a point in Grade 12 where you’re exhausted, disenchanted with your research, and, to quote Frost, the only way out is through. But to use Mr. Middleton’s preferred Capstone analogy, that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, if you can take the meat with the gristle, the last few mouthfuls are pretty sweet.