AP Capstone Program: Seminar and Research

AP CAPSTONE: An Innovative Approach to Cross-Curricular Education

and College-Level Critical Thinking/Writing



Program Track

Year 1 (sophomore or junior year): AP Seminar (2 semesters, 5 units each)

Year 2 (junior or senior year): AP Research (2 semesters, 5 units each)



          AP Capstone is an innovative program developed and offered through College Board in conjunction with other Advanced Placement accelerated coursework, with the intended purpose of giving students the chance to further develop and cultivate a love for academic discourse. The two-year program combines research and analytic skills, critical thinking, and an interdisciplinary approach meant to enhance the learning already happening in and between the various AP courses. Students who choose to complete the Capstone program will spend two years delving deeply into special topics of cross-curricular discussion, relevant to today’s world, their local communities, and/or their school-specific academic interests.

Students who complete the program will have significant bodies of work in major areas of research, which may provide them with internship, research, and academic opportunities at the college level. Students will be given opportunities to use this work to further advance their scholarship, career, and personal educational goals. There will be opportunities to apply for scholarship contests, professional publication, and conference-presentation (all great for college resumes!) embedded in the coursework of the program. For further information regarding the ways in which this program serves as a springboard for students into a variety of college opportunities, see College Board’s website under their “AP Capstone” designated page (which also includes a list of participating colleges).

Students who complete both years of the Capstone Program with passing AP scores for AP Seminar (year 1) and AP Research (year 2) will receive an AP Seminar and Research Certificate, signifying success in the program; students who do so, and successfully pass four other AP exams (in any subjects) qualify for the AP Capstone diploma, signifying exemplary academic achievement and college-skill readiness. Students applying to colleges are strongly encouraged by College Board to use their research projects and individual interests as spring boards for college admissions, which may serve as a way for colleges to place students in special programs and internships as a result of their already-completed research.




"Patriotism is not enough." But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.”

Aldous Huxley, Island (1963)


          AP Seminar is a year-long preparatory course, serving as the prerequisite to AP Research.* The content of the course is flexible, often taking a multidisciplinary, cross-curricular approach, designed to showcase for students the overlapping and interdependent nature of their educations. Over the course of the major thematic study, students will be guided through the QUEST method or research: Question and explore, Understand and analyze, Evaluate multiple perspectives, Synthesize ideas, Team/transform/transmit. Students will be given a variety of lenses through which to examine the central theme, including (but not limited to):

Cultural and Social outlooks
Philosophical and Ethical approaches
Political examples
Historical events
Environmental studies
Economic impacts
Scientific, Mathematical, and Medical practices
Artistic mediums 

The semester will begin with a review of informal logic and critical thinking skills and techniques, followed by a continuation into some aspects of Formal Symbolic logic. Students will learn how to diagram arguments for the sake of validity and soundness of argumentation--skills students will use to analyze given pieces in the AP Exam itself, as well as skills students will use to create their own valid and sound arguments in the major high-stakes tasks.



In order to be recognized as successfully complete the AP Seminar course, students must pass the following three requirements, all of which combine for a single AP Exam score:

  • Task 1: Team Project and Presentation (20% of AP score)

Includes: portfolio of article responses, annotated bibliographies, group topic proposal, individual research reports, group responses, and a collaborative multimedia presentation and oral defense

  • Task 2: Individual Research-based Paper and Presentation (35% of AP score)

Includes: portfolio of annotated bibliographies, topic proposals, detailed outlines, drafts and peer editing, final papers and reflections, and an individual multimedia presentation and oral defense

  • End-of-course AP Exam (45% of AP score)

Includes: 3 short-answer questions regarding a single article or work within a given theme (students must demonstrate understanding and analysis of the argument presented in the work), and a single sustained argument synthesizing four articles or works on a theme derived from the student’s reading/analysis of the works (evidence-based argument essay)

Class grade will be based on the components above and students will be given rubrics, guidelines, and scoring breakdowns within class materials and expectations throughout the course.



          Students in AP Seminar will have the chance to utilize the materials provided to them, the foundational skills of research, and the wide breadth of knowledge in their other classes in order to synthesize a multidisciplinary, cross-curricular work of significance. They will have a lot of personal choice in the direction of their individual contributions to the group project, as well as their individual research papers, and should pursue things about which they care or in which they are personally or academically invested. Students are strongly encouraged to integrate content from other courses of which they are currently apart, or have taken in the past. The aim should be to develop conscientiousness, finding relevance and positive connection between all aspects of a student’s high school studies—further enriching each and every class in their transcript. After the AP exam, Seminar students will begin their individual inquiries for the Research portion of the program, and will be given opportunities to adapt their Seminar work for scholarship and academic writing contests, as well as submission for publication. (All great for college resumes and essays!)


2020-2021 AP Seminar, Special Topics Theme: Humanity's Duty to the Environment

          This year, students will begin the first semester exploring broad themes in Environmental Philosophy with the guidance of one of Mrs. Cabrera's mentors from her graduate studies--a foremost thinker in Environmental Ethics. Over the course of the semester, students will engage in preliminary research into such topics as meta-ethical systems in philosophy, population and its role in sustainability and resource allocation, personal and ecological justice and the delicate balance of human rights and economic growth, political policy on both the national and global scale regarding environmental protection, investigations of anthropocentricism and perspectives of speciesism on the consideration of 'personhood,' which leads to discussions of conservation and animal rights. These special topics will lead to group formal inquiries at the end of the semester which will set up students for the high stakes tasks of the program.





            AP Research is a year-long culminating study based on individual student inquiry in a specific cross-curricular area of interest, based on the foundational skills learned and developed in AP Seminar and further enhances through personal, peer, advisor, and expert mentorship. The class is flexibly structured to allow students the personal time to engage not only their own academic settings, but the community and world-at-large as well. Students may choose their own topics, synthesizing areas of study from a variety of their own coursework, conduct research, studies, surveys, interviews, etc. in order to contribute in some way to the academic discourse surrounding their area of inquiry. Only students who have completed AP Seminar may go on to AP Research the following school year.

            As is the case in AP Seminar as well, AP Research students should view the research process as cautioned by College Board:

Critical Inquiry focuses on the creation of new ideas, perspectives, and arguments… the research process is not simply about collective evidence or facts and then piecing them together. Instead, the research process is about inquiry—asking questions and coming to solutions and conclusions through serious thinking and reflection. The researcher seeks relevant information in articles, books, and other sources and develops an informed perspective built upon, but not merely derivative of, the ideas in the examined material. As a result, the research process is recursive, meaning that the researcher regularly revisits ideas, seeks new information when necessary, and reconsiders and refines the research questions, topic, and/or approach.

Students will have two academic advisors: the one provided as the teacher of the course, and a second selected by the student who will serve as an expert mentor—who should be chosen based on the area of inquiry of which the student is in pursuit (our goal is to do this in conjunction with local universities). Over the course of the year, students will learn other formatting types (beyond MLA), specific to their area of inquiry, will work through topic creation, researching, outlining, drafting and revising, peer and advisor reviewing, and reflecting upon their own processes. In the end, students will have completed a project of extended, and significant academic achievement, which should put them at a significant advantage in regards to college admissions and creating avenues for themselves in specific collegiate programs, internships, and research.



In order to be recognized for successful completion the AP Research course, students must pass the following requirements, both of which combine for a single AP Exam score:

  • Individual Inquiry Academic Paper (75% of AP score)

Includes: portfolio of topic proposals and revisions, resource lists, annotated bibliographies, working and final outlines, sample works from previous courses and reflection on the writing process, rough draft and revisions, final paper and personal philosophical statement and reflection

  • Presentation and Oral Defense (25% of AP score)

Includes: individual multimedia presentation and oral defense in front of a panel of academic advisors and/or administration.

Class grade will be based on the components above and students will be given rubrics, guidelines, and scoring breakdowns within class materials and expectations throughout the course.



            Students in AP Research will have a lot of personal choice in the direction of their individual research papers, and may also seize the opportunity to become engaged at a deeper level in terms of understanding the philosophies behind local civic or national/international policy, cultural heritages, and engage in academic work that can have a significant impact beyond the classroom. Students have the opportunity to work with experts in the field, make important professional connections, and begin to specialize in their own areas of interest. Students will present at a school-wide academic conference upon completion of the paper and defense, serving as ambassadors of their own work, and the program. Final works will also be submitted for publication. 



* while College Board does allow for AP Seminar to be taken as a stand-alone course, it is strongly encouraged that students commit to the whole program in order to achieve the designations given above.


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Please see the attached handout.


Applications for AP Capstone will begin March 24; Interest Letters  are due May 12 to mchscapstone@gmail.com; Writing Samples (more info to come) will be submitted by May 12 to Turnitin.com for consideration. Prospective students are encouraged to attend Mira Costa's Research Conference (information forthcoming) for good understanding about the program's goals and projected results.


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*see attached for class expectations and semester overview for AP Seminar and AP Research for the 2019-2020 school year.