When I give tours, parents and prospective students often ask about how Swarthmore seniors end their time at the College—writing a thesis, acting in a play, or doing something else. Since I’m in the midst of embarking in what the College deems my “comprehensive exam,” I thought it would be helpful to write a blog post about this vague-sounding requirement! While Swarthmore’s graduation requirements say that every graduate must “pass satisfactorily the comprehensive examinations in his or her major field,” it’s wholly up to each department to decide what their majors must do to fulfill this.
For example, film and media studies students must take FMST090, a capstone seminar class with all the other majors and minors, where each student works on a culminating creative project. That means that this semester I’ve been working on writing two hour-long episodes of a television mini-series adaptation of Jandy Nelson’s young adult novel I’ll Give You the Sun. I’ve been casting adult and child actors in the Philadelphia area to come to campus in mid-April so I can film the table read and put together a final presentation for early May.
While this creative project has certainly been a lot of work, some of my friends have had projects they’ve been working on for over a year now! All sociology and anthropology majors are required to write a two-credit thesis, so their work spans the course of an entire year. One of my friends who is a sociology and anthropology special major has been working on her thesis since last summer. Her topic is Jewish yoga practice and cultural syncretism; the College gave her travel funds to research Jewish yoga practices around the country. Since then, she’s been working on her thesis all year and just turned in her draft last week!
These are only two ways that Swarthmore students fulfill their “comprehensive” requirement—some students direct a play or compose a musical piece, while those in the Honors Program prepare for their Honors Examinations. For me, the process has allowed me to use all the knowledge and experience I’ve gained throughout my time at Swarthmore to produce a focused project that I could be proud of moving forward. While writing two hour-long television episodes was a hefty task, what I’ve learned about adapting a book for the screen will be useful in future pursuits.
Beyond simply working on your comprehensive requirement in your major areas, I’ve found that many of my Swarthmore classes have interesting, non-traditional assessments at the end of the semester. In my TV/New Media and my Reality TV class, we’ve been tasked with developing and producing an episode of television to be screened for the campus community at the end of the semester. Rather than a traditional final exam, this forced us to get outside of our academic comfort zone and actually make something with all the knowledge that we gained throughout the semester. We got to put our theory into practice and create a project that we are still proud of almost a year later.
As classes start to wind down this spring, campus buzzes with senior art thesis gallery showings, plays directed by theater majors, and science poster sessions—making it a great time to stop by Swarthmore and take a look at what graduating students have done!