Is it bad to admit that I fully enjoyed doing comps? For my entire junior year, I watched senior friends power through sleepless nights to produce a product that, at the end of the day, is pass/fail. I got loads of advice telling me to do X and not Y, and start working on comps on one date and not another one. I was told who I should ask to be an adviser. I was told that winter term was going to be an unwelcoming hell because of the 12 credits of history comps.
To be honest, it was the least stressful term I’ve had at Carleton.I loved comps first and foremost because it is truly the first time I got to do something that was fully my own. In previous classes, I was able to do extensive research papers on a topic that was confined by topic and time period. This gave me a sizeable dose of freedom to choose something that I was passionate about, but not free reign. Comps puts the steering wheel in your hands. If you have an idea you’re passionate about exploring, you can go for it entirely.
At first I was unconvinced I would be able to do the comps I was interested in because of sources and I did not know any advisers for that time period who would be interested. One of the key reasons comps was incredible for me was that my adviser was amazing. He gave advice that was critical, constructive, and kind. Thanks to his guidance, I never felt lost while pursuing my topic, and found someone who truly wanted me to write a comps for me, not for professors in the department or my classmates. Moreover, I was able to get funding and travel to collect my sources. Carleton has so many largely untapped opportunities to dive headfirst into your own research questions.
The comps process also allowed me to entirely design my own schedule. I rarely had class as part of the 12 credits, and while taking only one other class, I found myself with ample time to work on my project. For once, I got to design what my day would look like. I didn’t have any class to get to; I could pick and choose the time I worked.
It made me realize how much I hated routine and loved designing my own day.
Writing comps, oddly enough, helped me restore my love of writing. I was so tired of pursuing topics that I was relatively interested in, but still felt forced to do for a grade. Writing something not for a grade was really liberating. I wrote how I wanted to write, not how someone else expected me to write.
And to be honest, that’s always how someone should write. But it took a pass/fail project to get my writing voice back. It made me not completely write off a career in academic writing in the future.
I understand that many people can find comps to be a complete time suck. I have many friends who do not desire to pursue academic writing in their future, and do not find the process to be useful. At the very least, I think comps is a great way to top off your college writing experience. And hey, now you can tell people in the future that you did your own research paper. That’s kind of cool, right?
If you hear panicked seniors talking about comps, don’t worry. I loved it and actually found it to be one of the easier things I’ve done. That being said, I started on my comps pretty early. I had great guidance. But more than anything, the only critical piece of information I would convey from my experience is that you should do something you’re passionate about. Don’t worry too much if people don’t totally support it. At the end of the day, you’re the one who is going to conduct research and write the paper.
Just follow your gut about what you’d like to do, and write how you want to write. Write for yourself first. There’s no sense in pursuing something if it’s not for yourself. Also, don’t worry. It is pass/fail, after all.