Don't panic or anything, but choosing a university major can be an important and long-term decision with effects on your life in school and afterward. Some students spend two, three even four or more years deliberating between English and history. Some of us, though, have a taste for the unconventional that can only be satisfied by unique majors. You might end up learning how to make sausage or wine or metal art. Take a look at these 10 schools that offer ways to pursue your particular passion.
- Arizona State University lets you explore the fringes of the cosmos with astrobiology, the study of life beyond the stars. Despite its seemingly fanciful description, the program isn't just an excuse to draw your favorite imaginary space monsters. The focus is on the building blocks of life, why those particular elements were chosen, and how the rules for their selection might differ in environments other than the one on Earth. Biology, astrophysics and biochemistry each require intensive academic engagement, and astrobiology contains elements of all three, so it might take more than just owning every season of Dr. Who to be up to the task.
- Green Mountain College in Vermont knows that the recreation management industry needs capable, well-trained leaders to supervise trips and make sure no one puts an eye out. The Bachelor of Science in Adventure Education program gets a place among the ranks of cool college majors because it teaches interpersonal and educational skills while taking students on week-long canoe expeditions, raft guide training sessions and mountain bike management courses. The adventure industry as well as growing careers like recreational therapy now make it possible to climb rocks for college credit.
- Hinds Community College provides enterprising Mississippi students with a certificate program in meat merchandising that's designed to last three semesters (one year). According to the college, about 80 percent of students could have program-appropriate jobs waiting for them when they graduate. With the goal of preparing students for careers, the Meat Merchandising Certificate Program provides training in industry skills such as slaughtering, aging, quartering, cutting, chilling and inspecting the various cuts of meat destined for grills and supper tables nationwide. Program facilities include a large smoker, a quality control laboratory, a walk-in freezer and a large cutting room equipped like a caterer's or retail butcher shop.
- North Carolina State University is also angling for food lovers and aggies with its Bachelor of Science in Poultry Science degree. This program exposes students to the finer points of raising healthy chickens, ducks and turkeys for their meat or eggs. This major may be rare, but it's not all that strange if you think about it -- when was the last time you ate an egg? The poultry industry is a broad avenue on the map of American foodways and beyond, even providing modern medicine with insight into human vaccines through the study of chicken and duck embryos. Students examine topics like avian physiology, hatchery management, feed formation and live poultry evaluation.
- Penn State University allows students to focus on professional golf management as they pursue a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management. This degree option is built on three main elements -- business, recreation science and, well, golf. Students not only have to pass courses in financial accounting, business planning, hospitality operations and recreation services management but also must successfully complete the PGA's Playing Ability Test (P.A.T.), which is just what it sounds like. Golf management students have to play 36 holes of professional-caliber golf and finish within 15 strokes of par at a PGA sanctioned event before being allowed to graduate.
- Southern Illinois University in Carbondale pays homage to the high-tech industries of the past with its arts degree programs in metalsmithing. Applications include museum work as well as the arts. The metalsmithing studio at SIU is equipped to help students learn the basic tasks of modern smithing -- casting, forming, raising, etching, fabrication, enameling and electroforming as they experiment with iron and precious metals. The program also aims to show students the value of working with their hands while developing both aesthetic values and technical skill.
- University of California Davis isn't far from the picturesque vineyards of the Napa Valley, so its academic programs that focus on viticulture and enology -- the twin sciences of grape cultivation and winemaking -- are no surprise. This cool major isn't for the lazy, since it combines fundamental classes in chemistry, math, physics, biochemistry and microbiology with a biological curriculum that could include plant pathology, plant physiology, soil science, entomology and meteorology. UC Davis might not be the only university to offer this major, but with more than 100 years of related studies, this program has had plenty of time to age.
- University of Connecticut students can exercise their love for old-school animation with the university's BFA in Puppet Arts. Courses encompass costuming, lighting, scenery, theatrical design, vocal skills, directing, and practical puppetry operation and production techniques. Seeking to maintain a high quality of instruction for its students, the school selects its applicants carefully -- hopefuls must undergo an interview, perform an audition and submit a portfolio of past puppetry work as part of the application process.
- University of Delaware and its Three Languages program take the study of languages and literatures up a couple of notches by encouraging students to gain proficiency in (you guessed it) three languages over the course of one Bachelor of Arts degree. Students choose a first language, in which they need 24 credit hours, and then put 18 credits into a second and at least 6 credits into a third in order to fulfill the program requirements (as of May 2013). This taxing yet cool major is for verbal geniuses only -- becoming conversational in just one foreign language is difficult enough for most people.
- University of Vermont faculty have taken it upon themselves to recognize the nation with whom the U.S. shares the world's longest undefended border by offering an undergraduate minor in Canadian studies. It's not a major yet, but the program includes components of economics, geography, history, political science, history, anthropology and literature and brings in faculty from diverse specialties within the university's College of Arts and Sciences. Funded in part by U.S. and Canadian government interests, the program also sponsors academic and business conferences, public lectures and cultural events to help publicize the long and significant history between the two North American nations. And did we mention the chance for field trips across that border?
Of course, schools update their offerings regularly, and you might find different or even more atypical majors out there! If these 10 unusual programs don't speak to you, never fear. There are dozens of other diverse college majors out there just begging to be found by the right individual. Between all the traditional and online degrees available today, the major for you has got to be out there somewhere.