Is AP Capstone worth it? Should you take AP Seminar & AP Research?

Navigating the course selection process can be a yearly challenge for high school students. With AP Capstone in the mix, students have more options—and more decisions to make—than ever before. Still a relatively new program, AP Capstone is expected to continue growing in popularity as more students, teachers, and counselors better understand what it is and what it entails.

If you're considering taking AP Seminar and AP Research, here's what the courses involve and how to figure out whether AP Capstone is a good fit for you.

What is AP Capstone?

AP Capstone is a relatively recent offering, first introduced by the College Board in 2014. It's a diploma program that centers around two yearlong courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. To earn the AP Capstone Diploma, you must achieve scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research as well as on four additional AP exams of your choosing.

Here's how the AP Capstone program is structured:

  • Year 1: AP Seminar
    • Team project & presentation
    • Individual research-based essay & presentation
    • End-of-course exam
  • Year 2: AP Research
    • Research process documentation 
    • Academic thesis paper
    • Presentation & oral defense
  • At any point throughout high school: 4 subject-specific AP courses & exams

The program was designed to develop students’ skills in research, analysis, collaboration, writing, and presenting, rather than focusing on learning subject-specific content. Clay Hensley, a former College Board employee who was involved in the design of the AP Capstone program, provided deeper insight when he recently tweeted, "The 2-course sequence promotes interdisciplinary & intercultural learning, provides opportunities for collaborative & creative projects, & prepares students for #highered research experiences. Personally, I prefer this newer, more innovative AP model (of promoting deep, meaningful, authentic, global learning, rather than simply pushing credit/ placement.)"

Is AP Capstone right for you?

AP Capstone may be a good fit for you if you're an independent, self-directed student with passions you're motivated to examine in greater depth. If there’s a topic you have a real interest in (and you’re up for a challenge!), AP Capstone is an opportunity to explore that topic in a flexible and open-ended way that will help prepare you to do college-level research. You'll have a ton of freedom to engage with material that truly excites you and challenges you. In short, you're likely to have a positive, meaningful experience with the AP Capstone program if you take AP Seminar and AP Research out of genuine interest.

AP Capstone involves a lot of writing, so you'll enjoy the program more if you like to write. You should also consider your ability to manage long-term projects as well as your presentation and time management skills—or at least how excited you feel about the prospect of improving your skills in those areas.

AP Seminar and AP Research are two of the more time-consuming AP options, so you'll need to think about what else is on your plate before committing to AP Capstone. If you're used to last-minute cramming or coasting through tests with minimal studying, prepare to make adjustments to your homework routine.

Lastly, while it's common for students to take AP courses for credit/placement purposes, you should be aware that a smaller number of colleges offer credit for AP Seminar and AP Research (only about 400 schools compared to the 2,000 that offer credit for more popular courses). This means if you’re looking for relatively easy, straightforward AP courses to boost your GPA and earn college credit, steer clear of AP Seminar and AP Research. But if you're excited about building your college-level research and presentation skills as you dive deeply into a topic of your choice, AP Capstone may be a great fit for you.

The bottom line ...

The AP Capstone program can be a lot of work and might feel intimidating if you haven't had to write, present, and defend a lengthy research paper before. For those same reasons, though, it can be an exciting opportunity for motivated, intellectually curious students.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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