You have no doubt already heard about “Comps” at Carleton, but may nevertheless still be uncertain about precisely what it is or what it’s for. Some of the mystique of Comps may be dispelled by a little history.

In days of yore, Carleton seniors took a “Comprehensive Examination” designed to test their competence across the entire field in which they had majored. The enormous expansion and increasing compartmentalization of disciplinary knowledge eventually rendered the ideal of comprehensiveness untenable, and towards the end of the twentieth century Carleton responded by trying to find ways to reinvent the exercise.

In one version it was recast as an “Integrative Exercise,” designed to help seniors find connections between disparate courses, though without any longer striving for comprehensiveness. In another, it was re-imagined as independent research on a narrowly defined topic. Looking around campus, you will find versions of the exercise that draw on one or more of these historical iterations.

Thus, for instance, the current edition of the college’s Academic Catalog endorses the second version, arguing that Comps is designed “to help students relate the subjects they have studied in their major field,” while the college’s Academic Regulations and Procedures defines it more loosely as “a capstone experience.” Meanwhile, the ghost of the original ideal continues to haunt us in the colloquial term by which the exercise will probably always be known: “Comps.”