By Caroline Nixon
It is that time of year again. The crackle of extensive study guides replaces the laughter and gossip of the ground floor of the library. Seniors stay in on weekends and are absent for most of their classes. Spring Break becomes a study destination rather than a resort destination. Yes, you guessed it— it’s comp season.
As someone about to enter senior year, comprehensive exams terrify me. For English majors like myself, we are required to write five essays about five out of eight periods of literature. Those essays have and will dictate my choices of class for the next couple of semesters. Should I have taken that Tolkien class after all? If I am trying to take two classes per chosen period I probably will exceed the 13 English course limit.
My fears are not unfounded. A comprehensive exam is daunting, especially on top of the many responsibilities of senior year. Most colleges do not have an equivalent. Instead of looking to an uncertain future, the comps force seniors to regurgitate all of what they have learned over the past four years. It feels pointless.
What’s also disheartening is that not all comps are created equal. What does a degree from Sewanee mean when economics majors only have to complete a group project and psychology majors do not have to sit in for their comp, as their paper is written on their own time? How is that fair to the majors have to sacrifice and arm and a leg to sit through their nine hour exams? What is it all really for?
“Comps are pretty stressful when you have to study for them, but to me they ensure that that my English major means something,” Izy Speed (‘19) said. It is best to look at it from an individual level. The English comp gives meaning to an English degree at Sewanee. Five essays may not mean much to the amount of writing the history comp requires, but the level of analysis required is different to the informational focus of a history comp.
Comps shouldn’t be pitted against each other because they represent vastly different fields with different requirements. The difficulty of a comp speaks more to the major it serves rather than to a university degree as a whole. I know that the English comp is worth it because it ensures that one cannot simply take easy classes to get an English degree.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to remember this when I am in the depths of the ATC.