Comping is truly a unique Harvard experience. You take a bunch of smart kids and make them jump through some hoops of various difficulty to even be allowed to privilege of joining a given student organization.
Some comps are formalities, others are grueling. Some will require perhaps an hour out of your time each week, others will demand a certain single minded devotion. Some comps will cut people, maybe half-way through, maybe even at the end of a long and tiring semester. Other comp directors will turn a blind eye if you’re enthusiastic enough.
Here’s the dirty on surviving this uniquely Harvard “comping” process.
1) What are you comping for?
After experiencing a fair number of comps in my time, I am in a pretty good position to say that the “comp process” is very different from your time as a full-fledged member of a given organization. For instance, a comp might be composed of attending presentations or maybe writing up something. But actually being a member of the organization could involve organizing events.
So, before you commit yourself to a comp, figure out what the organization is actually about when they’re not herding compers to and fro.
Additionally, if you’re looking for an organization where you will hopefully rise quickly in the ranks, figure out how much time/effort/previous experience the current execs have to see where you stand in your “comp class.”
And finally, don’t comp to comp. Really, the end result of your effort is not worth it if you don’t actually want membership and whatever that actually entails.
2) When to Comp
Generally, it’s much better to comp earlier, than later. You want to get that silly comp out of the way and become a member withlots of time left to make an impact.
3) Understand what you’re actually expected to do
Some comps are easy. If a comp requires you to attend a meeting or two each week and sometimes write a report (with much hand holding provided), then breathe easy. Because generally comps like these are informative formalities. You go to the meetings, absorb their worldly wisdom, do whatever projects they want you to do (usually not to time intensive), and voila! you’re in.
Comps like these generally have pretty laid-back comp directors. This means if you need to miss a meeting, they’re generally pretty good about it, letting you make it up in some way, shape or form.
Meeting your requirement comps
Then there are comps where you need to complete X, Y and Z, eventually. (A lot of the content boards for The Crimson are like this.) In other words, you need to complete a certain number of articles/editorials/etc. And once you complete these, you’re on board! While you can’t get out of these requirements, you generally will become a member if you complete them.
So, treat these like a class. Get them done and to the standard they need to be.
Comp as another word for “Rushing” comp
Some comps are more focused on the “social” aspects. The old members want to get to know you (and like you), see that you’re competent in X, Y, Z, and then, they’ll let you in, maybe. For comps like these, realize that ALL meetings/events are absolutely essential for you to attend. Try to get to know the members.
Obviously, if you know people in the club, it’ll be easier for you to get in.
And always remember that there’s a certain divide between members and non-members. So, don’t bad mouth said club to a friendly member if you’re comping.
Comp as another word for “No life” comp
There are a few comps that are truly rigorous and demanding. While you might be tempted to say that comping News on The Crimson falls here, it actually falls under the “meeting requirements” type of comp. Comping Business on The Crimson is really really really hard.
While the News comp lasts for however long you want it to last, Business is a one semester deal. The Business board also cuts compers at both the mid-point interview and the final interview. You also need to make sure that the current members of the Business board like you enough. And, you’re expected to be in the office X number of hours a week. (It’s almost like taking another demanding class.)
While my experience lies closer with The Crimson, I hear that the Lampoon also has a fairly rigorous comp. Beyond these two massive literary organizations, I’m sure there are more insanely difficult comps floating around.
For this type of comp, compers are working for the privilege of joining the prestigious organization. Remember this. Treat these types of comps very very very seriously. Don’t burn bridges, and try not to screw up.
For those thinking about being a comper under such a demanding comp, try to realize what you’re comping for. Comping is an interesting experience because of its unique challenges, but being a regular member is usually very very different. It would be awful to survive a challenging comp, and then realize the actual organization wasn’t for you to begin with.
Generally, if you really want to survive a comp, you will. This means you might need to prioritize your comp to slightly below the level of your academic priorities for the super hard comps. Yes, you should also worry about your social life, but realize that super hard comps generally have a “social life” of their own. You’ll get to know other compers and members really really well by the end of the comp.
This ties back into self-reflection. Is it really worth it? Are you joining this organization for the right reasons? What do you expect to get out of the experience? Does the comp, by itself, broaden your knowledge?
In some cases, you’ll gain a unique set of experiences and skills through your comp that will make the comp almost worth it for itself.
5) The Comp Isn’t the End All Be All
Regardless of whether or not you get into said organization (even after a grueling semester), remember that there are a TON of organizations on campus that do NOT have comps. You join by simply stating your interest or by applying, and bam! you’re a member of an organization much more instantaneously.
The nature of a comp is to test your loyalty/dedication/effort. The members want to see if you have what it takes to keep up the organization when they’ve moved onto more exciting things like ibanking careers.