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What’s a Comps?

McKenna explains what a "Comps" project is and how seniors complete them at Carleton.

McKenna explains what a "Comps" project is and how seniors complete them at Carleton.

One of the terms you’ll hear a lot at Carleton is “Comps,” a term used in the context of senior year and someone’s major. It’s sort of like a capstone project. Every student completes one. If you’re in a pinch, asking about someone’s comps is a guaranteed conversation-starter. As I start my senior year, it’s definitely something that I’m thinking about a lot.

What’s a comps?

Technically, “comps” is an integrative exercise designed to let students go deeper with their chosen area of study. The name comes from “comprehensive examination,” which is what the process used to involve. Some departments still have a similar requirement, but most have moved towards a project or research paper. It can be a little like writing a thesis or dissertation, and is consequently great preparation for graduate school.

Library featuring People
The library’s resources can be really helpful with the Comps process.

Okay… but what is it actually?

Comps can look like a lot of different things. Theater majors produce their own show. Cinema and Media Studies majors create a film. American Studies majors can critically analyze The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Comps can also be individual or group projects.

Despite the differences, there are a few things that play a role in every comps process. Each student gets a special advisor for their comps process. Sometimes this is your major advisor but not always. Expect to do a lot of research for your topic—the librarians are your best friends here! Finally, every comps must be presented! This can be in the form of a paper, poster session, or presentation.

two women in a lake, closer woman holding a film slate and looking at the camera
A photo from the Cinema and Media Studies comps, directed by one of the Admissions bloggers.

Can you do multiple comps projects?

Yes! Each student needs to complete one comps project for each major. That means that people pursuing two majors, like myself, need to complete two separate projects. While this can be a lot of work, it also means that you don’t have to try to find a connection between your two majors (although that’s very easy to do at Carleton)!

A scene from a theater comps production in WCC 172
I would love to do a Theater comps!

How does the process start?

Typically, most students start thinking about their topic during their junior year. For some majors you will start your research in a seminar for seniors. Other majors do independent research or talk with a professor to figure out a good topic. You aren’t expected to start working until your senior year, though, and you will get course credit for all of that research!

Minecraft Skinner from the side
Someone in the Computer Science department will be adding evolution into Minecraft for their comps!

The comps process is a great way to do a deep dive on a topic that interests you. It’s also a wonderful talking point for job interviews, professional conferences, or dinner with your family. While it may be a lot of work, it’s definitely worth it!

McKenna is a Russian and Psychology double major who is thrilled to be spending the summer in Minnesota! On campus, she’s often designing lights for a student performance, speaking Russian in Parish house, or grabbing a meal with friends. She’s also a proud member of the Carleton Equestrian Team. Off campus, she participates in the CLS Program and is a tutor with Paper AirplanesMeet the other Bloggers!