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Articles / Applying to College / Unsure About a College Major? Check out These Unique Degrees

Unsure About a College Major? Check out These Unique Degrees

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Sept. 8, 2020
Unsure About a College Major? Check out These Unique Degrees


If you're an unconventional high school senior planning to apply to college, you may be wondering what kind of diversity exists in the realm of college degrees. The world and its needs are constantly evolving, and right now, things are changing quickly thanks to COVID-19. You might be searching for ideas about which major may best suit your interests for a life's work.

Many incoming college students don't know what they want to do for a living. These so-called "undeclared" freshmen hope to explore various curriculum offerings before making a firm direction about their majors.

Now might be a good time to do some out-of-the-box thinking and consider unusual, less-well-known degree programs. So let's take a look at a few of them. You may find something among these that could inspire you.

Plant Chemistry, Nautical Archeology and More

There's an excellent collection of ideas about off the beaten path degrees in the article 15 most unusual degrees (you've probably never heard of). In its introduction, College Consensus notes that this list contains:

some of the most unusual degree programs in the U.S. … 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 provide a service that not many schools provide …

Sure, most people are happy with conventional, tried-and-true careers: banker. teacher. nurse. But there are other people who can't do that. 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. In other words, smart weird

Here are some of the BS degree programs that I found most interesting:

BS in Packaging Science — Clemson University — Clemson, S.C.

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.

Bachelor's in Ecogastronomy — University of New Hampshire — Durham, N.H.

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 degree 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.

BS in Nautical Archeology — Texas A&M University — College Station, Texas

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.

BS in Medicinal Plant Chemistry — Northern Michigan University — Marquette, Mich.

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 business, or research and development.

BS in Fermentation Sciences — Appalachian State University — Boone, N.C.

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.

Some of the graduate programs are even more uncommon: MS in Foresight, MS in Pain Medicine, and my favorite, MA and MFA Puppetry. Looking for an unusual degree? Check out this list.

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Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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