College Consensus has put together a list of some of the most unusual degree programs in the US (and one global online). But this isn’t a list to get a little chuckle from the strangest degrees. These are degree programs that show big opportunity, because they’re in demand, unusual, and providing a service that not many schools provide – some of the most unique college programs in the world.
Sure, most people are happy with conventional, tried-and-true career. Banker. Teacher. Nurse. But there are other people who can’t do it. They have to get a little… weird. Bulgarian folk dancing? No, not that kind of weird. We mean the kind of weird that sees the state of the job market, sees what skills aren’t being met, and gets out there to fill a need.
Smart-weird, in other words.
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Some of these, like Northern Michigan University’s Medicinal Plant Chemistry bachelor’s degree, are the only program of their kind in the world. Others, like the University of Kentucky’s MS in Digital Mapping, are cutting-edge, unique college programs that are developed for the very specific, very new needs of the modern world. In some cases, it’s a career path that requires unusual skills that very few people have, while in other cases, most people may not even realize that such a career exists. But whatever the program, these are well-developed, and well aware of what they’re doing.
And if you see this list and think “I should have majored in that!” – well, it’s never too late.
Digital mapping is the modern marriage of traditional mapmaking with technology. There’s never been a time in civilized life when we didn’t need cartographers who could visualize the world around us. But in the 21st century, mapmaking may be more essential than ever. From Google Maps charting every inch of the earth, to Homeland Security using data to find patterns and locate threats, digital mapping is central. This interdisciplinary study brings together geography, computer science, design, and other fields to create new and useful ways to organize our world.
The MS in Digital Mapping at the University of Kentucky is one of the most cutting-edge and unique college programs for today’s mapmakers. Students in the New Maps Plus program, from the UKY Department of Geography, learn coding, open-source software, spatial analysis, data visualization, and traditional cartography. New Maps Plus brings together the ancient and the futuristic, giving students a grounding in modern issues like security and surveillance, and timeless concerns like accuracy and usefulness. There’s no program quite like the University of Kentucky’s MS in Digital Mapping.
“Professional futurist” is a real occupation, and Foresight is a real degree you can earn to further your career. A futurist isn’t a time traveler or a psychic; they don’t make predictions about the future. A futurist studies trends and changes in a systematic, scientific way to come up with plans for what might occur in the future. The job of a futurist, whether in business, politics, or any other field, is to anticipate what might happen based on influences, motivations, and other influences. That way, organizations or the clients they work for can prepare so they can have an advantage over their competition.
The University of Houston – one of the top public research universities in the US, in one of the nation’s business hubs – offers the MS in Foresight for prospective professional futurists, one of the most innovative college programs in the nation. This 36-credit graduate program gives students the fundamentals in business, consumer science, and other areas of expertise they need to read the trends and learn about the future from the past and present. Graduate from the University of Houston are automatically plugged into one of the top cities for business in the US, with a degree that puts them in control of their own future.
Packaging may be the world’s greatest unsung profession. Packaging design and engineering touches literally every aspect of modern life – not just retail, but shipping, storage, and every step of the supply chain. From raw materials to the shelf, there’s packaging everywhere, making it the third-largest industry by some estimates. And, of course, someone has to design the look of packages, engineer the materials and construction of packages, manage the marketing, and every other element. Package science programs are one of the new frontiers of design, engineering, and business education.
Clemson University’s BS in Packaging Science is a pioneering degree program that combines chemistry, physics, biology, graphic design, and other fields for a well-rounded, full grounding in every aspect of packaging. Offered for over 20 years, Clemson was one of the first, and one of the few to build a whole degree dedicated to packaging. It’s a model for other programs, and one of the most unique, interdisciplinary programs of its kind. Others have imitated, but Clemson remains among the most innovative college programs in packaging. Hands-on learning, a global reputation, and strong connections to the industry give Clemson’s packaging science graduates a door to an unusually rewarding career.
In our culture of fast food and waste, alternatives that are healthier for humans and the environment have become a priority for many. Slow food, urban gardening, composting, backyard chickens – small changes that started as trends have turned into movements, and higher education is beginning to catch up. Ecogastronomy – the study of how food and environment intersect and influence each other – is a critical new interdisciplinary field of study. From sustainable agriculture to health and nutrition, there is much to learn from one of the most unique college programs out there.
The University of New Hampshire’s Bachelor’s in Ecogastronomy degree program is way ahead of the curve. UH is one of just 10 universities to sign the Slow Food Agreements of Intentions and Collaborations, a founding document of the slow food movement. The Ecogastronomy is a direct outgrowth of the university’s dedication to changing how the world grows food and eats. Students can also pair Ecogastronomy up with one of 30 undergraduate majors for a dual degree that prepares them for a more specialized job in the food industry. Slow food begins at the University of New Hampshire – not just as a way of eating, but a livelihood.
Indiana Jones might be cool, but is he scuba-gear and diving bell cool? That’s because he’s just an ordinary, on-the-ground archeologist, not a nautical archaeologist. While many readers may not have heard of nautical archeology, it’s key to studying and understanding the past. For most of human history, before planes, trains, and automobiles, water was the fastest way to travel, and shipwrecks, submerged cities, and other watery sites can be some of the best places to find important discoveries.
Texas A&M University is one of the world’s foremost hubs for nautical archeology, and TAMU’s BS in Nautical Archeology has been around since 1976, leading the pack among innovative college programs in archeology. The Nautical Archeology program focuses on areas of study like trade routes and ports, ship construction, and the hands-on techniques for finding and preserving artifacts. TAMU is also home to the Institute of Nautical Archeology, and the Center for Maritime Archeology and Conservation, two of the leading research centers in the field. For students with a very specific interest, Texas A&M is the destination for nautical archeology.
Nature can create the most effective, and unlikely, designs – a bumblebee’s wings, for instance, or the blobfish. But humans can learn a lot from the millennia of trial and error that makes nature work. That’s where biomimicry comes in. Biomimicry is the study of natural patterns that humans can emulate to solve problems in design and engineering. Biomimicry experts look to natural features that have become well-adapted to the world that can help humans live more sustainably and harmoniously with nature.
Arizona State University’s graduate certificate in Biomimicry is well-adapted, too, and one of the most innovative college programs around. It offers 15 credit hours and a practicum that can be adapted to just about any design, engineering, tech, or professional career, and it’s available fully online so students can keep their jobs and apply what they learn immediately. Students learn the basics of biomimicry theory and practice, and get to put what they learn into action in the virtual design lab. This certificate is for students who already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and want to add a credential that will give them more professional options.
Somatic studies seeks to connect the mind and the body to bring about full, holistic intelligence – soma in ancient Greek. It may be an ancient concept, but it has many applications in the modern world, from leadership and management to creativity and problem-solving. Somatic knowledge and practices help people and organizations innovate, grow, and heal, and that kind of mindfulness has become highly sought in the digital age. As people feel more and more disconnected because of technology, somatic studies may be the next game-changer of the 21st century.
The Evergreen State College offers a rare Bachelor’s in Somatic Studies for students interested in a life cultivating connection. This interdisciplinary program draws on psychology, health, art, dance, and many other fields as part of its all-encompassing mission. From movement workshops to mindfulness meditation, theory to practice, the Somatic Studies program helps students explore ways they can help others and themselves. Somatic Studies can be useful to counselors, therapists, artists, activists, leaders, and many other career and life paths, and will undoubtedly influence other innovative college programs.
“Hacking” is one of the scariest words of the modern age – largely because most people still don’t really know what hacking is. We’ve come a long way from Angelina Jolie and Sick Boy doing computer magic in the cult classic Hackers, not that you’d know it from hysteria over Russia and North Korea. But standing in the way of black-hat hackers are the white-hat crowd: ethical hackers. These are the computer wizzes who find vulnerabilities and secure them before they become the next Sony Pictures or DNC – or worse.
Dakota State University has made a big name for itself with its computer science programs, including the Dakota State Ethical Hacking Graduate Certificate. Designed for IT professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, this certificate program equips tech workers with cutting-edge security skills. This fully online, 9-credit certificate gives students the lowdown on cybersecurity, testing for weaknesses, managing hacking incidents, and more. With a credential that says your hat is bright and shiny white, Dakota State is preparing professionals for a new kind of career with one of the most unique college programs out there.
If you know your Myers-Briggs type – or if you’ve had someone tell you theirs, with an excessively detailed explanation – you’ve encountered psychometrics. Psychometrics is about the systematic study of psychological factors, like skills, personal traits, and intelligence. That encompasses everything from surveys and questionnaires to tests like the SAT and the GRE, and psychometrics brings together psychology and statistics for a fuller picture. Psychometrics experts work in the government, education, and private industry, using their insight for research, management, and policy.
Boston College’s MS in Applied Statistics and Psychometrics is a rare graduate degree specializing in psychometrics. This combined program gives graduates expertise in the technical aspects of psychometrics, from designing measurement tools to face-to-face research. Students prepare for careers in any number of settings, from social work and health science to education, learning all they need to jump into their career. This 30-credit master’s degree has the Boston College reputation, recognition as one of the most innovative college programs in the US, and an open door to a job in one of the most exciting fields of our day.
MS in Digital Currency - University of Nicosia (Cyprus and Greece)
Are you interested in Bitcoin and blockchain technology? Everyone is these days, even people who have no idea what those things mean. Digital currency is complicated, elusive, and chaotic – kind of like modern life in the digital age itself. But it may very well be the future. Even if we’re not all paying for our pizza with Bitcoin, digital currencies and blockchain technology are having a real, world-changing impact on finance, banking, and commerce. The leaders and managers who understand it will have the advantage, leading to one of the most unique college programs in the world.
The University of Nicosia, in the island nation of Cyprus, offers a Global Online MS in Digital Currency degree program. This full, 3-semester master’s degree gives students a full immersion in digital currency, from the technical elements of how it works to the social and economic understanding of how it affects modern life. Whether they are managers or entrepreneurs, government workers or policy-makers, the Digital Currency program is a revolutionary study at the forefront of higher education. The University of Nicosia online master’s is a way to get ahead of the pack.
Pain management has come a long way in the last century. In that time, we’ve progressed from looking at pain as a symptom, or as a burden to bear, to understanding pain as a sickness to be treated responsibly and ethically. New pain medications have made life bearable to people with chronic pain. On the other hand, a nationwide opioid epidemic has made understanding and treating pain a public health emergency. All sides of pain management and treatment are complex, and degree programs dedicated to pain medicine are a vital part of making sure the medical field has the best and most current research and knowledge.
The University of Southern California MS in Pain Medicine degree program is leading the way. Designed by the Keck School of Medicine’s Division of Pain Medicine, and the Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC’s Pain Medicine graduate program combines a 3-year master’s with a 1-year certificate specializing in pain medicine. This program is open to any licensed clinician – from doctors and dentists to nurses and pharmacists – who want a further specialization in pain medicine. Students learn not only about diagnosing and treating pain, but understanding the context of pain and medicine. It’s a model of its kind, one of the most innovative college programs in the nation, and carries the USC reputation. The program is available fully online.
The digital age has revolutionized storytelling, mainly by giving so many creators access to tools that were not widely available just a decade or two ago. With digital video, editing software, podcasting, and all kinds of other media, we’re realizing the power of storytelling in a way never before possible. Storytelling has become a function of all kinds of professions – not just entertainers and novelists, but attorneys, fundraisers, managers, and many, many more. Any professional can benefit from being able to harness the power of narrative thinking.
The Strategic Storytelling Seminar at Columbia University gives students all they need to start using compelling storytelling in every aspect of their career. The Digital Storytelling Lab at the Columbia University School of the Arts offers the intensive 2-day seminar several times a year. The seminar steeps students in the 4-part Strategic Storytelling Model, which combines multiple approaches to storytelling and community-building for effective, impactful stories into one of the most innovative college programs today. Columbia University is one of the world’s foremost institutions, and few universities know more about storytelling.
Puppetry is one of the most intensively multidisciplinary arts in the world. We’ve all made a sock puppet in elementary school, but puppetry, as a fine art and entertainment medium, incorporates everything – art and design, material science and engineering, acting and movement, and even robotics and computing. Those who want to work as professional puppeteers, or to incorporate puppetry into their art or work, need a wide range of knowledge and ability. A little DIY, can-do initiative makes a big difference too. Puppeteers are thinkers, imagineers, and problem-solvers.
The University of Connecticut’s MA/MFA in Puppetry is one of the world’s best. UConn’s Puppet Arts program understands how complex and varied the world of puppetry is, attracting students from fields as different as literature and music to political science. Students get a thorough grounding not only in the history, theory, and contexts of puppetry, but the hands-on know-how to design, build, and operate all manner of puppets. For future puppeteers looking for unique college programs, UConn is the place for a career that can go anywhere.
Natural medicine has experienced an incredible resurgence in the 21st century, as people trade in conventional medicine for herbal remedies and other natural medicines. What’s more, as cannabis and cannabis-derived CBD products become more widely legal, there’s a boom coming for any career related to medicinal plants. The cultivation and processing of medicinal plants, whether it’s for herbal medicine, cannabis and CBD, natural beauty products, or other plant products, is a big business that only promises to get bigger. A degree in medicinal plant chemistry is a smart investment in the future of medicine.
Northern Michigan University’s Medicinal Plant Chemistry bachelor’s degree program is the only program of its kind at the undergraduate level. Students build a full foundation in chemistry and biology to make the most of the potential for plant-based medicine and products. Students learn about horticulture, analysis, processing, and distribution in the industry, preparing them for a wide variety of career paths. There are also two specialized tracks, Entrepreneurial and Bio-Analytical, for students who are more interested in the business, or in the research and development.
Beer and wine might be the sign that God wants us to be happy, as Ben Franklin (sort of) once said, but there’s a lot more to fermentation. Fermentation is one of the most fascinating natural processes ever discovered and developed. While alcohol might be the biggest star, fermentation is involved in all sorts of products and processes – kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, pickles, and much more. And in recent years, we’ve become much more aware of how healthy fermented foods can be, as we come to understand how complex our digestion is, and how many little organisms work together to keep us well. With all that, fermentation science sounds like a pretty promising career path.
If you want to major in kombucha (or wine, or yogurt, or even miso), there are only a few options out there. One of the most prominent and respected is the BS in Fermentation Science at Appalachian State University. Located in the mountains of North Carolina, App State has been offering their fermentation degree since 2012, building one of the most thorough, industry-ready programs in the nation. Students learn all aspects of fermentation, from viticulture and chemistry to entrepreneurship and marketing. You can even take courses in “Sensory Analysis of Wine and Beer” – tasting, in other words. Whatever level and field in the industry, Appalachian’s Fermentation Science program, one of the most innovative college programs in the South, is designed to get you ready for success.