Accountancy not for you? Economics a little dry? How about a degree course in SCUBA diving or ranch management? Or studying the skies for harbingers and harmonics? Whether you're graduating high school or thinking of a career change, offbeat degrees increasingly are offering a breakaway from what are considered traditional career paths while presenting opportunities for career growth and development. We take a look at seven offbeat degrees that offer a mix of education, innovation and opportunity in an uncertain economy. Who, after all, wouldn't want to spend a year baking cakes?
Saddle up for your studies: Barry Dunn PhD, the executive director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, says Texas A&M's two-year degree program could be considered an "MBA for ranchers." Students likely will have "a bachelors degrees in agriculture [or] practical experience working on a ranch or in the livestock industry," and will "get practical experience and a mentoring relationship with a rancher." Courses on offer include business and wildlife management, range management and livestock production. Just four students are taken on every year, and the lucky ones, Dunn says, get to "use the ranch as kind of a laboratory." Courses include summer internships and one full semester on a working ranch. Dunn says most of his graduates have become managers or assistant managers of ranches, and since 2000 the school has recruited students from states including Missouri, Montana, Nevada and South Dakota.
How about graduating underwater? Pamela Rast, the department chair of Kinesiology at Texas Wesleyan University, says all of her students will be "pinned and finned" at a special underwater ceremony after graduating from the minor that consists of between 18 and 20 hours of coursework a week including open-water and advanced driver courses. Also included are professional dive preparation classes to dive master level, two classes of instructor training and some highly technical studies for advanced divers, and internships to dive schools in Grand Cayman and Curacao and beyond, where students work as dive masters. The program, which started about 10 years ago, also offers basic open-water certification classes for recreational drivers. Before they dip their toes in the outside world, grads sign an oath to support the SCUBA program before a tassel is pinned to their dive mask - all while underwater, of course.
Want a career managing LeBron James? Or coordinating a nation's bid for the Olympics? Matt Mitter, the director of Marquette's National Sports Law Institute, says the faculty offers training for prospective careers in the sports industry, where grads will experience everything from "representing Olympic athletes, to promoting nationally recognized products to school district law, students getting kicked off a team and disputing it with the district body." The two-year course takes in intellectual property law alongside contract and labor law, and offers student contact with alumnus and industry professionals. Often, sports law students have a law degree to begin with and will go on to work in both professional and amateur sports.
Starry-eyed for education? Enid Newberg, the president of the Kepler College, in Lynwood, Wash., says her college's bachelors degree course in astrology offers "alternative ways of thinking -- one of those dealing with culture cosmology [and] relating what happens in the sky with what happens on earth, and about 4000 years of various interpretations across many cultures." Newberg says students also will undertake a "remarkable amount" of writing and analysis and are required to "understand and compare how astrology is studied, the history of science and the history of philosophy." Since the college opened in 2000, she says about half of her graduates have become astrologers. The program aimed at all ages is weighed toward online learning, and students and instructors meet often through audio and video conferences. Students should have an interest in medicine and natural philosophy.
Got a yearning for yeast fermentation? Tim Grable, the executive chef at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco's Bay Area, says that baking and pastry students will learn the intricacies of making "Viennese" -- or Danish and pastries, to you and me -- and most everything else they need to pursue a career in the restaurant or hotel business, wedding catering or as a food stylist or writer. One thing they can't teach, Grable says, is "a passion for and dedication to food." The certified 36-week pastry and bread-making course covers the basics of baking including dough preparation and advanced yeast-fermentation techniques, and examines different bread-making methods, and can be taken without enrolling in a wider culinary program. Grable says the course has been running for about 20 years, and his current students, a mix of young students, workers who have been laid off and people with a genuine enthusiasm for baking, range in age from 18 to 62.
Jorjan Powers at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Santa Rosa, Calif., says studying here is not just about a love of dogs -- but it sure helps. Degrees on offer at the service-dog school, the only one of its kind in the world, include an associate science, masters in science, and bachelors in dog studies, and courses on social therapy, scent detection and puppy training. The college breeds its own golden and labrador retrievers and also works with local breeders to raise four litters of assistance dogs annually. Students will attend the college on site for two or three-week sessions then complete the course online. She says prospective students must be able to speak English, and students from as far afield as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan all have graduated from the program. Saying that the school's primary mission is "helping dogs help people," she adds: "People come here for serious study: how to run a business, a kennel, or fundraising."
Everyone knows that whistling a familiar tune can lift your spirits, and Al Bumanis, at the American Music Therapy Association, says students of music therapy will learn about the "correlation between music and health throughout history." He says some 72 colleges across the U.S. offer "intensive and rigorous" two and three-year degrees to students with a high level of musical ability, with many having a degree or background in music or psychology. The courses often are a mix of research, technical training and clinical experience, with many students working as part of a musical therapy treatment team at a general hospital, school or mental-health care home. Graduates also increasingly are opening private practices, Bumanis says, adding: "It takes a unique person. Sometimes people find their life's calling, It's a helping profession."