When it comes to college and university classes, most of us think of basic first year calculus, English literature, chemistry labs and maybe that odd language course or intro to sociology. Yet, courses have gone way beyond the basics at many colleges and universities. Higher education is no longer limited to “textbook” subjects: everything from fandom favorites like Star Trek or Harry Potter, to video games, and unexpected skills you’d never even think to have, much less study, such as making maple syrup to speaking Elvish, are actual subjects that students can study. Many of these unusual and highly creative courses are rooted in classic areas such as philosophy, sociology or mathematics.
Needless to say, if students want to get away from generic courses that make getting out of bed in the morning less-than-appealing, they can opt to learn things that will help expand their minds and hone some skills that, at the very least, would make great conversation starters at parties and job interviews. The following are some classes that might actually be worth rolling out of bed for. And rather than taking a notebook or textbooks, students only need to arm themselves with video games, an Elvish dictionary, or a sweet tooth.
Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur
University of Washington
This class is dedicated to the work of rapper Tupac Shakur. A University of Washington graduate student created this course, which relates Tupac’s work to literature. In an exploration of his music and history, the class aims to look into why many people consume his work and why he is an important figure.
Philosophy and Star Trek
This course promises that students will have an excuse to watch Star Trek while getting credit for a class. The class, which focuses on topics in metaphysics that have arisen in the classic television series, compares the writing of philosophers with the antics of Kirk and Spock. The course allows students to analyze whether things like time travel are possible, if people can survive death and whether people will be replaced with machines eventually. Oh my.
Tattoos in American Popular Culture
At Pitzer college, one professor teaches a course on Tattoos in American Popular Culture and another class on Tattoos, Piercing, and Body Adornment. According to the course description for the former, the class examines how tattoos are depicted in popular American culture, their meanings and significance. It also explores how the tattoos construct difference depending on race, class, gender, sexuality. Apparently, tattoos actually say much more than most people realize.
The Art of Walking
Center College has been home to an iconic course for over a decade that, quite literally, focuses on the art of walking (and yes, apparently there is an art to it). In this course, students learn how to put their best foot forward and… well, walk. The course has even been taken abroad to different locations, including Germany and France so students get the chance to walk on different lands.
The University of Michigan
Students might need nerves of steel before registering for this course: the professor of this class has been known to actually go out and chase tornadoes with upper-level students. In “Extreme Weather,” students bring laptops to class and analyze data from the field of meteorology, focusing on events such as tornadoes. One bonus is that all exams are open-book, because the professor maintains that in real life you will rarely be asked a question you can’t look up.
Zombies in Popular Media
Columbia College Chicago
This course explores the history of, well, zombies. Students learn how the zombie has been represented in popular media and literature. Students reflect daily on, yes, zombies. No word whether students of the course learn how to successfully survive a zombie apocalypse. Surely that class must be in the works.
Colorado State University
While this class specifically focuses on cattle, the professor insists that the course is mainly about observation. Students will visit a cattle ranch and learn how to build a corral system, focusing on visual problem solving and learning about the behavior of the cattle through observation.
American Pro Wrestling
Students who enjoy pro wrestling can get some college credit for studying it at MIT. The course explores the cultural and media history of professional wrestling, from topics on how technology has impacted the sport to the promotion of American masculinity. The course says students are not required to be a fan of the sport, but it might help.
Maple Syrup: The Real Thing
Alfred University offers students the opportunity to explore the sticky-sweet treat that everyone loves to pour on pancakes. This is a course that teaches students about the overall production process of maple syrup, from the traditional process of making it, to what to do with the final product and even the process of cooking some sweet treats. The course also includes field trips to producers, restaurants, and festivals… and possibly even a major sugar high.
University of Wisconsin
A mini course on Sindarin, the Elvish language from Lord of the Rings, is offered to language fans and Lord of the Rings enthusiasts. The mini-course allows some students to get credit for a language that they probably will never use in the real world, but they could really impress fellow fans on message boards and definitely enhance a cosplay at Comic Con.
The Hunger Games: Class, Politics and Marketing
This course goes way beyond exploring the Blockbuster films. Using the hugely popular Hunger Games trilogy as a case study, this course allows students to explore important topics like oppression, poverty, feminism and how they relate to class, politics ethics, social media and marketing.
The George Washington University
If you’ve ever wanted to learn Japanese Swordsmanship, now is your chance… and you’ll get college credit to boot. No word on whether it will lead to epic sword battles, but skills learned in this course, which is taught in the lifestyle, sport and physical activity department, will certainly be a great conversation starter.
This course explores gossip as a “devalued art”. If you’re looking for a course that is applied, the bad news is that this one is much more theoretical in nature: the course focuses on “philosophical traditions in which gossip has been devalued.” Studying authors such as Kant, Kierkegaard, Freud and others.
Harry Potter: Literary Tradition and Popular Culture
Otis College of Art and Design
For everyone who didn’t get their acceptance letter to Hogwarts, this course might be the next-best thing. According to the Otis website, the class examines the Harry Potter phenomenon, including its origins, structure, and impact on popular culture. It promises students will understand how and why Harry Potter has made reading fun again. In the process, this class might also make going to class fun again.
Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame
University of South-Carolina Columbia
In the spring of 2011, at the University of South Carolina one professor was inspired by an appearance by Lady Gaga on the tonight show to create a college course that revolves around the “Fame Monster.” The course analyzed the work of Lady Gaga, studying socially relevant elements in her rise to fame. It focused on the social context of Gaga’s rise to fame, focusing particularly on how she has risen to fame.
Strategy of StarCraft
University of California, Berkeley
College students may spend a lot of time playing video games, but it is about time students got credit for it. At least Berkeley thought so. The real-time strategy game StarCraft inspired this course, which focuses on topics ranging from the theory of playing the game to analyzing a student’s battles in the game. Required materials and homework for the course includes a copy of the game and an interest in playing the game.
University of Rochester
Just when you thought you’d heard of every college course possible… there’s one on alien sex. A part of the Gender and Women’s Studies department, this class explores the portrayals of gender in fantasy and science fiction literature.
It may be surprising to know that this class does in fact have plenty of students signing up to take it. Imagine what the exams will cover!
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