Crazy College Courses
Study for an exam on Syrah? Take a lab in levitation? How about tuning into TV for credit? All this is possible in college today, even in the Ivy League. Courses not only sound more interesting than "Calculus 101," they actually are! However, courses that sound fun may not always be easy.
Underwater basket weaving used to be the catch-all term for ridiculously easy college classes. Those easy classes do exist, but don't get fooled by the creative subject titles. You will have to work, even if your future degree in medicine or education does not depend on it.
Drinking for credit--Ivy League style
Binge drinking may be a terrible problem on some college campuses, but Cornell University teaches students the finer side of wine tasting. "Introduction to Wines" is harder than you think. Students are charged with learning the history of wine, different languages, climate, culture, and the science behind wine making. The 800 juniors and seniors are only drinking six 1-ounce measured samples each class.
"I think that after the first three weeks of class the students realized they need to keep up with the information each week," says Professor Stephen Mutkoski. "The course has a reputation on campus as being the most failed class at Cornell. I do not try to dispel this urban legend, but I am confident that anyone who has the brains to get accepted at Cornell can master the subject matter and pass the course."
Mutkoski has taught the class, offered since 1963, since 1984. I can vouch for this class, having taken it in 1993. It's not easy, but I have been able to navigate phone book-like wine lists with ease to this day.
If you get shut out of the very popular "Wines," as it's called on campus, there's another one dedicated to beer.
Does the campus store sell a sorcerer's stone?
At Frostburg State University in Maryland, students can earn three credits for "Cosmic Concepts," a general education physical science class based on the Harry Potter series. Levitation, magical creatures, and time travel are all subjects covered in the class.
However, students DON'T have to read the Harry Potter books or watch the movies, though many do. There's a regular science textbook for this class. And if you think the required reading isn't required, Professor George Plitnik will convince you otherwise quickly with daily quizzes, homework assignments and three exams.
"This is a course about SCIENCE, not some easy Harry Potter discussion class," says Plitnik. "Anyone who does not do the assignment, is not prepared for class, and/or flunks the grueling tests will flunk."
OK: Some classes ARE as easy as they look
The University of California, San Diego actually offers underwater basket weaving as a recreation class. In one "marathon" session, students actually learn basket weaving from an engineer in the college's jacuzzi. The class has been offered for more than 25 years and always fills up. The class does have a practical element: It's always held right before Mother's Day with the idea that the basket would make a great gift.
The classes that keep on giving
Professor Mutkoski says that his wines class has led students to consider new careers.
"There have been numerous students who have been bitten by the wine bug and make a career change." he says. "Some have gone on to work for individual wineries, some worked with wine importers or wholesalers, some have become brand managers, others have gone into retailing of wine and a few have gone on to work for wine publications such as 'Wine Spectator'."
In the wizard world of Harry Potter, Professor Plitnik has similar hopes.
"My ultimate goal is to pique the students interest in science, using Harry Potter as a 'hook,'" he says.
Other creative class offerings include:
- Gaga for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity (Introductory writing course) University of Virginia
- The American Vacation (American studies) University of Iowa
- How to Watch Television (Media theory) Montclair State University
- Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular 'Logic' on TV Judge Shows (Freshman seminar) University of California, Berkeley
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Carol Berman, an award-winning journalist, writes the blog, The Scribble Lounge, a unique take on current events and pop culture. She's New York bred and now lives outside Philadelphia.
Over more than 15 years, she spent many years in broadcast journalism as a producer, followed by a short award-winning stint in public relations and now makes a happy return to journalism. An avid news junkie, Carol is also a runner, a recovering triathlete, and dog lover. She loves to bake for friends and family and volunteer with different non-profits.