While millions of college students pursue careers in business, computer science, education or health care, others study less common subjects. Here are 10 uncommon degrees offered across the nation:
Adventure Sports Management
Garrett College, McHenry, Md.
Nearly 200 students have backpacked, climbed, cycled, kayaked and skied their way to this two-year associate’s degree since 1992 when Garrett College began offering the nation’s first major in adventure sports management.
Program director Michael Logsdon, 61, designed the degree to meet the needs of the extreme sports industry. Students combine adventure skills training with courses in business management, science, marketing and leadership.
Nearby natural venues for training abound, including Marsh Mountain, Deep Creek Lake, seven rivers with various classifications of rapids, thousands of acres of state and national forestlands, and West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks and New River Gorge climbing areas.
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.
When Kurt Wichman, 19, chose a college major, he marched off the conventional career path to follow his longtime passion: bagpipes.
“People say to do what you’re good at,” says Wichman, of East Stroudsburg, Pa., who began piping lessons at age 7 and today majors in bagpipes at Carnegie Mellon.
Since 1990, when the university became the first in the nation to offer the four-year bachelor of fine arts degree in bagpipe performance, four students have earned the degree.
“This is a full music degree,” says director Andrew Carlisle, who in 2010 helped establish a bagpipes master’s program, which has one student in the pipeline. “Instead of using the violin, piano or voice, students can use the Great Highland bagpipe as their principal instrument.”
Bowling Industry Management and Technology
Vincennes University, Vincennes, Ind.
Since 1972, about 750 bowling enthusiasts have studied the business and technical sides of operating a bowling center and graduated with this one-of-a-kind, two-year associate’s degree.
“I’ve learned about the pinsetters’ components and parts, the lane machines and how the oil goes down,” says student Jenny Carlton, 53, a former dental hygienist. “Next I’ll learn about management procedures, running tournaments and ball drilling.”
Carlton and her husband, Jim, in 2009 opened a bowling shop inside Creole Lanes in Vincennes. “The more I got into it, the more I wanted to learn,” she says. “I’d like to see the sport continue and grow.”
Chemical Hygiene Officer
West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon, W.Va.
Necessity inspired this one-of-a-kind bachelor’s degree designed by Melissa Charlton-Smith, the college’s chemical hygiene officer.
“All labs are required by OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) to have a chemical hygiene officer, yet there was no formal education or program out there to train us,” says Charlton-Smith, 46. “All current officers are self-taught, but we’re getting older and retiring.”
The college began offering the four-year degree last fall. Graduates complete courses for a traditional chemistry degree, plus additional coursework and an internship. Two students have declared the major.
“I like anything involving chemistry and decided this would be an interesting degree,” says student Paul Mallory, 20, who plans to work in the hazardous-waste industry upon graduation.
Florida Southern College, Lakeland, Fla.
Orange groves abound on the campus of the nation’s only college where a student can earn a bachelor’s degree in citrus.
“The college’s teaching style is very active, engaged, experiential and hands-on,” says Malcolm Manners, 58, chairman of the college’s horticultural science department. “This is a major that very much lends itself to that kind of teaching.”
Offered since 1953, the degree prepares graduates for jobs as production managers on large citrus farms and in the fertilizer and agrichemical industries. About six students graduate from the citrus program each year.
Stan Perry, 21, who grew up on his family’s 700-acre citrus farm in nearby Lake Placid, plans to continue in the family business after earning his degree next year. “My whole family is into farming, but I didn’t know the science behind it,” Perry says. “Now I’m taking classes in plant nutrition and learning the chemistry behind how a plant takes in fertilizer.”
Mesalands Community College, Tucumcari, N.M.
For students seeking a stable career, horseshoeing is hard to beat.
“There’s always a demand for farriers because a machine can’t replace us,” says instructor Eddy Mardis, 55. “There’s a huge equine industry with rodeos, show horses, dressage and even horse Olympics.”
About 20 students are enrolled in the farrier science program at Mesalands, one of a handful of U.S. colleges that offer two-year associate’s degrees or certificates in equine services. Two days a week, local residents bring their horses to the Mesalands campus for shoeing. Students also get hands-on training at nearby ranches.
“Farriers need to know lameness issues, terminology and computer equipment. They work closely with veterinarians,” Mardis says.
Feed Science and Management
Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.
Grace Bokelman, 21, who grew up on a row-crop farm in Washington, Kan., and also worked at a dairy, found the perfect college path that combines her interests in crops and livestock—a feed science and management degree.
Her dream job?
“I’d like to work on the formulation of pet food and animal feed,” says Bokelman, who graduated from Kansas State in May with the bachelor’s degree and now is earning a master’s degree in grain science.
The university is the only U.S. college that grants degrees in feed science and management, baking science and management, and milling science and management. About 50 students earn degrees each year through the three grain-science programs and land jobs in commercial bakeries, mills and food companies.
“All of our programs deal with food and there’s always going to be a need for these degrees,” says Brenda Heptig, 50, the academic programs’ support coordinator. Students delve into food-safety issues and the development of gluten-free foods.
Montgomery Community College, Troy, N.C.
Students learn to service and repair firearms of all kinds while pursing a two-year associate’s degree in this program, which has been going great guns since 1997.
“We just accepted 30 students for the fall semester and our waiting list is around 140,” says Wayne Bernauer, 55, program director. Fewer than 10 colleges in the United States offer gunsmithing degrees. In addition to day and night classes, Montgomery Community College offers weekend classes and has an on-campus outdoor firing range for students.
Graduates have landed jobs with major firearm manufacturers and retailers, including Colt, Benelli, Gander Mountain and Remington, and with small gun-shop owners. Some graduates have opened their own gun shops.
University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.
Students have been pulling strings at the university since 1965 to earn puppetry degrees, including master’s degrees.
“Puppetry is an international art form and we have students from all over the world,” says director Bart Roccoberton, 61. “I’m surrounded by people who are passionate and creative.”
Puppeteer grads are in demand, especially to work in film, theater and television.
“Nobody can sit down and watch television for an hour without seeing a puppet,” Roccoberton says. “If you see a T-shirt jump out of a clothes dryer, that’s a puppet.”
Student Penny Benson, 58, is pursuing a master’s degree in puppetry, though she has a nursing degree and 10 years of experience as an actress.
“I’ve always identified with being an artist, and puppetry combines performance and art,” says Benson, who wants to design and build puppets for large theatrical productions and to produce her own smaller-scale touring shows.
Race Track Management
University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.
In 1974, with the horseracing industry galloping away, the university established the nation’s first bachelor’s degree in race track management. About 600 students have completed the degree.
“We thought there should be university-level training for people to become educated and move the industry forward,” says Wendy Davis, 52, associate coordinator of the Race Track Industry Program. “Due to the wagering aspect, this is one of the most highly regulated industries in the country.”
Students take classes in “Advanced Animal Racing Laws and Enforcement” and “Training and Management of the Weanling” and can specialize in either the business or animal-management side of horse racing.
By serving internships at race tracks in Erie, Pa., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Matt Benson, 30, gained experience in everything from animal training to employee insurance claim forms. Benson graduated from the university in May and aspires to work in upper-management at a racetrack.