You're Taking What Now?
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Bizarre College Classes That Will Make You Want to Go Back to School

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You're Taking What Now?
skynesher/istockphoto

You're Taking What Now?

About 17 million undergrad students are expected to arrive on U.S. college campuses soon, likely armed with an optimistic desire to improve the world, some dorm essentials, and maybe a fake ID. What isn't fake, however, are these very real college classes that in some cases sound anything but. From arts and English to politics and philosophy, here are the college courses that illustrate the sometimes wacky world of higher education.

Related: Best Colleges for Seniors in Every State

Tree Climbing
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Tree Climbing

Cornell University
There is nothing lofty hidden in the syllabus here — this course literally teaches people how to climb trees, albeit for recreation as well as education and research. The course is open to all ages and experience levels, so if you've longed to be a kid again, this one's for you. Possibly the best part? The field trips — this past spring, participants ventured to Costa Rica.

How to Watch Television
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How to Watch Television

Montclair State University
Sounds like an easy "A," right? But like many other courses on this list, this one delves deeper than the title would indicate. The description notes that "the aim is for students to critically evaluate the role and impact of television in their lives as well as in the life of the culture." But we're still betting they watch a fair amount of Netflix in between weighty discussions.

Circus Arts
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Circus Arts

Triton College
Remember when you had to run away to join a circus? You still do, but more specifically you need to run away to River Grove, Illinois, where Triton's community education department will teach you, over the course of about 10 weeks, to juggle, ride a unicycle, clown, walking a tight wire, trampoline tumble, and other mad circus skills. If you're lucky, you'll be good enough at the end of it all to join the Triton Troupers Circus, an annual tradition since 1972.

Wordplay: A Wry Plod from Babel to Scrabble
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Wordplay: A Wry Plod from Babel to Scrabble

Princeton University
Word nerds are the best, as a quick read through Princeton Alumni Weekly's coverage of this course will attest. In Wordplay, students "play games like Boggle and Scrabble; trade puns, pangrams, and examples of onomatopoeia from English and many other languages." The professor, Joshua Katz, notes that his methods introduce a playful way to "test and contemplate the limits of language." Now, extra credit if you caught the wordplay in the course title. No? Anyone?

Philosophy in the Twilight Zone
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Philosophy in the Twilight Zone

Indiana State University
It seems TV shows — especially long-running iconic ones — have something to teach us about life. This course, "an introduction to philosophy through the eyes of Rod Serling," says instructor Dr. Kevin Bollinger, includes themed weeks where students explore the topics of "honesty, loyalty, love, and faithfulness, as well as narcissism, prejudice, and vanity."

The Game of Thrones
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The Game of Thrones

University of Virginia
This course compares how George R.R. Martin's books differ from the show, and specifically will "compare the ways in which HBO's approach to the 'Game of Thrones' phenomena both changes and cements aspects that Martin created." Course creator and professor Lisa Woolfork told website Phys.org in April that the 2019 summer class was "likely the last time I will be offering this course." But that's presumably because the show has ended, and not because "winter is coming."

Dr. Seuss and Y(our) World
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Dr. Seuss and Y(our) World

Appalachian State University
Dr. Seuss created fantastical worlds and wonderful rhymes. He also, asserts instructor Donald Presnell, wrote "books — especially the longer, more complex narratives and stories — (that) address such timely and relevant themes as politics; race; class; religion; and ethics." This course delves into literature, science, philosophy, mythology, and many other areas of academic study. If you're up for a little lighter reading, you can appease your inner child with this fall's new book release, "Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum" instead.

Stupidity
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Stupidity

Occidental College
Ah, here's one for the masses. This course, taught by a licensed clinical psychologist Glenn A. Elmer Griffin, looks at the topic of stupidity through the constructs of philosophy, literature, sociology, and more. Of the class, Griffin has noted that humans are at a point in history during which "we are in a position to identify stupidity in its more varied, dynamic and pervasive forms." While the class has faced backlash, truer words have perhaps not been spoken.

"Cow to Cone" Ice Cream Short Course
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"Cow to Cone" Ice Cream Short Course

Penn State
For those who aren't titillated by the study of stupidity, we offer frozen treats. This seven-day short course attracts about 120 students a year from all over the world — because, duh, ice cream. But they're also studying "the nuances of commercial ice cream manufacture." Past participants represent such ice cream luminaries as Baskin-Robbins, Ben and Jerry's, Blue Bell, Dreyer's, and many more. And reading the course description will have you wondering why you didn't just major in ice cream.

Related: 50 Ice Cream Shops With Unique Treats Across the Country

The Science of Well-Being
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The Science of Well-Being

Yale University / Coursera
Can happiness be taught? Originating in the Ivy League, this course is now widely available — for free — in the relatively minor league of academia known as Coursera, which offers online versions of classes from "the world's best universities." This course, through videos, readings, and quizzes, renders its students better prepared to increase their own happiness by building productive habits and integrating wellness into their lives. With a rating of 4.9 (out of 5) stars and an enrollment of more than 380,000, we have nothing snarky to say about this one.

The Cannabis College
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The Cannabis College

Oaksterdam University
More an entire college than one specific course, Oakland, California-based Oaksterdam is "America's first cannabis college." Founded in 2007, it now has 40,000 alumni and a mission "to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to lead and succeed in the evolving cannabis industry." So, it's like regular college, but the, erm, recreational activities are sanctioned, right? Apparently students are encouraged to sample what they're learning about, according to a 2009 piece in The Atlantic. Ah, the benefits of higher education (sorry, we had to).

Related: Why So Many Seniors Are Turning to CBD

Street Fighting Mathematics
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Street Fighting Mathematics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Although the prospect of a bunch of MIT brains sitting around using math to deduce how to kick some butt is appealing, this class, sadly, is not that. It does sound pretty cool, though. Here the premise: "Shoot first and ask questions later. Although unwise as public policy, it is a valuable problem-solving philosophy and the theme of this course: how to guess answers without a proof or an exact calculation, in order to develop insight." The course is now offered to the public on EdX, and has also been turned into a book.

The Physics of Star Trek
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The Physics of Star Trek

Santa Clara University
Pop culture inspires a lot of academia, apparently, and here's another entry into the category of "things you can learn from geeks." (See also: Game of Thrones). This is a week-long course that explores "the physics that underlies space travel and time travel" and studies "the real and accepted physics of such Star Trek staples as transporter beams and warp drive." Beam us up and all that.

Underwater Basket Weaving … or Not
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Underwater Basket Weaving … or Not

Reed College, Oregon
After liberal arts colleges in the 1950s starting offering classes that sounded increasingly un-academic, someone started a joke about an underwater basket weaving class, and it stuck. And for years, media sites have reported that Reed College actually offers this class. They do not, but they do get a kick out of people thinking they do. Reed College does, however, offer a litany of other courses that, while not wacky, are enough to warrant an unusually high number of graduates who go on to earn doctorates and post-grad degrees.

homer simpson's brain
homer simpson's brain by Anna (CC BY-NC)

Simpsons and Philosophy (The D'oh! Of Homer)

University of California-Berkeley; now offered online
This course asked the question: "When Homer says, 'I'm lonely, insignificant speck on a has-been planet orbited by a cold, indifferent sun!' did Simpsons writers intend any deeper existential meaning?" It doesn't appear as though any universities are currently offering this course that debuted at Berkeley in 2003 and was eventually taken by thousands of students. But those interested in finding out the answer to that question can still visit its dedicated website, and buy the book that inspired the college class. Course creator Tyler Shores also still blogs semi-regularly on his own website, most recently about "digital distractions."

The Art of Walking
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The Art of Walking

Centre College
If you feel that your ambulatory education thus far in life has failed you, join other students in search of easy credits in "a close reading of Martin Heidegger's 'Being and Time'" and "numerous walks on sidewalks and trails in central Kentucky." Lest we leave you with the impression that this class is overly frivolous, part of the class deals with "death, authenticity and time." Which is probably why The New York Times labeled it one of "10 Courses With a Twist."

Wasting Time on the Internet
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Wasting Time on the Internet

University of Pennsylvania
This 2015 English course asserted that students could use their screen time to create great content. The course description asked: "Could we reconstruct our autobiography using only Facebook? Could we write a great novella by plundering our Twitter feed?" Students, it went on to say, would be "required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs." That didn't last long, it seems — professor and poet Kenneth Goldsmith explained to The Daily Pennsylvanian the following year that he and his students let the course evolve, and that included blasting rap music, playing hide and seek on campus, and watching pornography together. "If you're going to waste time on the internet, you're certainly going to look at pornography," Goldsmith explained. "I didn't want to say that was off limits." So, fair to say, Shakespeare it was not?

GIFs, Selfies, Memes
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GIFs, Selfies, Memes

Northwestern University
Speaking of digital distractions, here's a class on the very same. However, instead of asking its students to create GIFs, selfies, and so on, it explores "the technologies, habits, forms, and cultures emerging alongside smartphones, social media, and pervasive wireless networks in the mid-2000s." Which does sound slightly more intellectual.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse
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Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

Michigan State University
While it doesn't appear that MSU is offering enrollment for this class, it does still have its own website, which explains that it's a M.O.L.I.E. (multimedia online learning immersive experience). It sounds a bit like a gimmick, but the course has won multiple awards, as has the course "trailer," which features an actor gravely positing that "in times of catastrophes, some people find their humanity, while others lose theirs." It's not clear exactly what the course focuses on, academia-wise, or whether it will be offered again in the future, but apparently there is another M.O.L.I.E. in development, of which the creators say: "Our goal remains the same, combine teaching and learning, art, and technology to create an experience that will redefine what a learning environment can be."

Arguing with Judge Judy
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Arguing with Judge Judy

University of California-Berkeley
Judge Judy does not suffer fools, as the multiple memes that have honored her best quotes will attest. C'mon — "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining?" Classic! If you've seen even one episode of Our Lady of Court TV, you know that pretty much every defendant and plaintiff who appears before her could use a semester or two of this class, which offers "an exploration of logical fallacies that are often presented by defendants and plaintiffs on court television shows." Sadly, we could not find a university that still offers this class, which originated at UC-Berkeley.