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Weird College Degrees

I could have used some weird college degrees back in the day when I was an undergraduate. The default for me, because I really didn't have any idea what I wanted to do, was Business Administration. My business skills were nonexistent. I'm really not a numbers guy and my first-year accounting course was sheer misery for me. See, back in the day, colleges didn't cater to students the way they do today. Maybe that's because things weren't as competitive as they now are. Whatever the reason, I eventually found my way out of the numbers game and into the comfort of liberal arts, which eventually carried me to where I am today (wherever that is).

We live now in the age of specialization. Many young people are blessed with the foresight to know exactly what they want to do in life, even down to the smallest detail. For those fortunate planners, there are some very specific college majors out there that can fill the bill for their needs. So, if you're one of those types who knows that viticulture and enology is what's calling to your inner person, then you're in luck. Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to college majors.


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Kaitlin Madden of MSN's Career Builder.com site has written an interesting article that talks about some of these super-specialized majors. Some, like Puppetry, are almost humorous, but aren't funny at all for those inspired by such creativity. Have a look. You might be inspired to follow a road not taken.

Weird but true: College degrees

6 unique college degrees, and what you can do with them

Do you ever wonder who decided potato chips should come in such a loud, crinkly package?

And why a bag of chips? Why not a box? Or a can? Someone had to decide. Luckily, you can take comfort in knowing that the "bag of chips" decision was made by an expert. Packaging, the art of developing appropriate containers for consumer goods, is actually a major at several colleges in the U.S.

Packaging isn't even the strangest college degree. We rounded up some of the most unusual and interesting degrees offered at colleges and universities around the country, and then went a step further to find out what people do with these degrees when they graduate.

1. Racetrack management: The Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona is the only program of its kind, providing students with the background necessary for a number of career paths in the horse racing industry. Should students choose the "animal path," they will graduate prepared to work as a horse trainer or breeder. Those opting for the "business path" will be suited to work on the management side of the industry.

So how do students fare in the real world after graduating from this unique program? According to Douglas Reed, the program's director, graduates do pretty well.

"We have a placement rate in excess of 80 percent immediately upon graduation, and [students] receive jobs in all facets of the industry due to the nature of the two paths and the broad-based knowledge they receive," Reed says. "Some students start at a racetrack in midlevel management or entry-level jobs; others work with the horses either on farms or at the track for a trainer. Still others enter the business in related companies [like those] that process wagers or service the industry." Interested in finding out more about what can be done with the degree? A list of alumni can be found on the program's website.

2. Packaging: Students who enroll in one of the nation's few undergraduate packaging programs don't spend four years learning to think outside the box. They learn to think about the box. A degree in packaging teaches students how to create the most economically, aesthetically, environmentally and technically sound packages for consumer goods.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, graduates of its packaging program go on to work for companies including Snap-on Tools, Frito-Lay, Kohler and FedEx. In a survey on 2009 graduates of the UWS program, in the months after graduation, 95 percent of packaging graduates were employed, 90 percent in a field related to their major.

3. Viticulture and enology: In layman's terms, Cornell University's Viticulture and Enology Program is its school of grapes and wine. Though the school began offering course work in the discipline in the early 1990s, viticulture and enology only recently became an official major. Program coordinator Kari Richards says about 35 students are majoring and 20 are minoring in the program.

"Of the approximately 20 graduates over the past five years, the majority are involved in the industry," Richards says. "Some have continued enology-related studies in graduate school, others travel worldwide to gain experience in harvest and crush, [and a] few will or have returned to the home winery/vineyard."

4. Puppetry: The University of Connecticut is one of only two schools in the country to offer an undergraduate degree in puppetry arts, and the only school in the country offering a master's program. According to the program's website, enrollment is limited to 22 students, who take classes such as "Trends in Contemporary American Puppetry" and "Marionette Construction."

According to the site, "graduates of the program perform and design for theaters around the world; appear in, build for and manage internationally recognized television programs and films; write books; design toys; teach children; and direct prominent schools and museums."

5. Decision making: Indiana University's Kelley School of Business offers a doctorate in decision sciences, a program designed to help future business leaders analyze information and make decisions. Though the name may make this degree sound like fluff, the course of study is rigorous. According to the program's website, "Decision sciences is devoted to the study of quantitative methods used to aid decision making in business environments. Using mathematical models and analytical reasoning, students examine problems ... and learn how to solve these problems by using a number of mathematical techniques, including optimization methods (linear, integer, nonlinear), computer simulation, decision analysis, artificial intelligence and more."

6. Turfgrass management: Michigan State University is one of a handful of schools in the country that offer a turfgrass specialization. Under its College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, students in the MSU program learn to maintain golf-course greens, athletic fields and parks by taking classes  such as "Golf Turf Irrigation," "Management of Turfgrass Weeds" and "Plant Genetics." Graduates of the program have nabbed some pretty notable jobs, too. According to Jill Cords, a career consultant with the college, two alumni faced off at last year's World Series. One alumnus was a groundskeeper for the Texas Rangers, and the other was working for the San Francisco Giants.

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Interesting, huh? But wait, there's more (as they say on TV ads)! Check out this list of "17 Weird College Classes You can Actually Take," if you don't want to plunge all the way into a major but still want to experience the "weirdness" of higher education. As long as you're paying those high college costs, you might as well have some fun, right? (By the way, you might not want to mention your "The Art of Walking" course to your parents. :-))

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.