The capstone experience in our department is the senior comprehensive exercise (“comps”). The exercise ideally grows out of work done in one of the 300-level courses our majors have taken. Working closely with one adviser and often consulting with a second reader, the student researches the topic approved by the department and writes a thesis-driven thirty-forty page essay complete with bibliography that conforms to MLA standards. Research is required and includes primary and secondary sources in Spanish and English.

The process is one that stretches over several terms (fall and winter) and is completed spring term of senior year. Often an adviser meets with the student several times a term, and students usually write several drafts of the essay before the final version is ready for submission. Once the adviser and second reader read and approve the final version of the exercise, the student makes a 30-minute presentation of the comps. This presentation in English is open to the campus at large. Our students’ comps are archived and stored electronically in the library.

The senior comprehensive exercise provides our students with an opportunity to explore a topic in depth and over an extended period of time with one or more faculty members. The presentation of the comps in the spring brings all the majors together in a shared experience, gives the seniors a sense of belonging to a larger intellectual community, and offers a model for junior and sophomore majors.

Student Comments

“Going through the Spanish comps process transformed my way of thinking, reading and writing. My comps advisor and I met together almost every week. In our conversations, she taught me to think my ideas through in new ways and to nuance them to make them stronger and clearer. My project involved writing about three film directors and their films, and through my advisor’s connections I was able to interview and get to know the two who visited Carleton in the fall of my senior year. Overall, the Spanish comps was one of the most challenging and meaningful experiences I had at Carleton. The personal working relationship I had with my advisor made all the difference.” (Camille Braun ’16)

The most important step in the comps process is choosing a topic. I have arduously written far too many end of term papers in which I had little interest. Comps is a several month long process that will seem never-ending if you are not excited about realizing your project. Depending on with whom you are working, setting your own deadlines may also be helpful. It is easy to feel lost in your research or stuck with a draft so set goals that will encourage you to make progress. Lastly, have a native Spanish speaker like the Spanish language associate revise your paper so that your grammar will be perfect.” (Ethan Bernstein ’11)

“Writing my comps was an extremely satisfying experience. My advisor guided my through the process and offered wonderful feedback and reading suggestions, but gave me enough freedom to really feel ownership over the project. It was great practice for the type of work that I do in graduate school every semester. I recommend making a timeline for yourself very early on, and taking the deadlines you set for yourself seriously. I also suggest reaching out to and connecting with other Spanish majors writing at the same time, even if you’re writing about totally different things, as it can make the whole thing feel less isolating.” (Britta Anderson ’09)

“I find the comps experience a very unique and positive part of Carleton. I would suggest taking this as the great opportunity that it is to really investigate an area of interest. I enjoyed my COMPS experience because I was extremely excited about the topic and the research and the constant support I received from the professors in this process.” (Amber Shields ’08, LTAM)

***Some quotes have been shortened or edited for clarity.