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Go climb a tree—and get college credit for it.

Chris Abell
March 03, 2017

Different people look for different things from their college experiences.

Some earnest young learners eagerly embark on a dive into academia, putting passion and energy into challenging classes (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading, this was totally me). Others are purely concerned with courses and internships that will further their career prospects, while some students are sought-after athletes seeking to play the sport they love (this was unmistakably not me). Many young fools go off to university looking for beer kegs and dorm parties, or to get a fresh start in a cool college town.  

But no matter why you go to college, you still have to take classes. And not all of them have to be boring or predictable. I took a class in my university years called The Heavenly Decade: The 1960s. For the final project, there was a term paper on Mick Jagger. Pretty cool and unusual, right?

Actually, no. At college campuses across the country, students can find more odd, quirky, and unique college courses than ever before. Here, eleven of the strangest.

Related: 10 Secrets of the University of Michigan

The Art of Walking

Most students don’t enter higher education to learn literally how to put one foot in front of the other. But metaphorically? Sure. This Centre College, Kentucky class focuses on experiencing nature as a means of learning and studies texts and other art about walking and the outdoors. 

Wasting Time on the Internet

Where was this when I was in college? (I would have aced it, but instead, I did it in my free time and shaved some points off my GPA.) Some lucky students at the University of Pennsylvania will get Ivy League-good at surfing the net: This creative writing course challenges students to make compelling works of literature based purely on material gleaned from in-class web surfing. Students actually sit in the classroom and get lost online. Professor Kenneth Goldsmith says: “Distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.” 

How to Watch Television

It’s too bad this course isn’t also at Penn. You could pay top dollar to learn how to watch TV and waste time online all at the same school. This class, available at Montclair State in New Jersey, takes a deep look at television and how programs are interpreted by—and affect—society.

The Phallus

In the 2000s, Los Angeles’ Occidental College offered a course exploring the history and meaning of the phallus across cultures. That is all I will say on this one.

Underwater Basket Weaving

An essential, potentially life-saving skill necessary in today’s dangerous world and volatile economy. Seriously, though, it has been offered at Reed College in Oregon (albeit not for credit).

Tree Climbing

A college course that sounds like it was tailored to 11-year-old boys is actually a physical education option at Cornell. While it sounds ridiculous, students will learn skills like rappelling and rope techniques in the beautiful New York Finger Lakes region

Japanese Swordsmanship

You never know when you might need it. The martial arts class, taught at George Washington University in D.C., is relatively safe and known more formally as kendo. This form of sword fighting (maybe you recognize it from Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown?) involves protective body gear and bamboo swords.

The Joy of Garbage

A funny name for a serious study, the Santa Clara University course’s subject matter is important and relevant. Here, students delve into the impacts of different types of waste human beings dump all over our planet.

Circus Arts

Sure, college is a circus for a lot of us, but it’s a circus in a much more literal sense for students at Triton College in Illinois. And it’s exactly what it sounds like: pupils learn to juggle, ride unicycles, walk the tight wire, and more.

#Selfie Class

No, this University of Southern California course isn’t a tutorial in the best angles to flatter your face or body. Technically called “Writing 150: Writing and Critical Reasoning: Identity and Diversity,” it asks Los Angeles students to consider deeper questions about the selfie phenomenon, and what it says about individuals and society as a whole.

The Meaning of Life

Do these Rhode Island students crunch numbers until they get the correct solution? Can they get it wrong? This one seems like a classic Brown University course: a subjective, open question there for thought and discussion. At least there’s not much risk of cheating in this class (“Pssst! What’s the answer to #6, the one that asks what the meaning of life is?”). Similarly, Emerson College in Boston has taught a visual and media arts class called The Artist and the Making of Meaning. 

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