Every college in America boasts that one life-changing class with that one legendary professor. If you’re lucky enough to be in such a class, you surely drink the professor’s Kool-Aid and think, “I’m gonna tell my kid about this some day.”
The following 12 courses have earned esteemed reputations at their respective schools. Each is crafted in a distinct and unusual way, leading them to gain a place among America's most unique college classes.
1. Writers House Fellows, University of Pennsylvania
David Sedaris and Susan Sontag and Tony Kushner, oh my! In Al Filreis' unconventional English course, students actually get to meet the writers they study. The semester is divided into three sections and each section is dedicated to one writer. At the end of each month-long segment, the writer that the class has been studying attends the 3-hour seminar and participates in an unrecorded conversation with the students. Talk about dream come true for Lit. nerds.
2. Demystifying the Hipster, Tufts University Experimental College
It’s not all American Apparel and Indie tracks; the voice of our generation is composed of so much more than just stereotypes, and Jacqueline O’Dell’s Experimental College course delves deep into the definitions, debates, and history of the hipster. Through developing their own standard of what it means to be a hipster, students become experts and critics of hipster identity and culture.
3. Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé, Rutgers University
Calling all the single ladies: this exploration into Queen Bey’s influence on feminism, race, gender, and culture helps students become more aware of the way in which pop culture shapes society. Most classes that are named for celebrities deal with sociologies of fame or psychologies of human behavior, but Kevin Allred’s version zeroes in on politics. By juxtaposing Beyoncé’s song lyrics with readings by distinguished black leaders like Sojourner Truth and Octavia Butler, students ask and attempt to answer the question, “Can Beyoncé’s music be seen as a blueprint for progressive social change?” Yet the more appropriate question may be: Who runs the world? Beyoncé.
4. Whiteness: The Other Side of Racism, Mount Holyoke College
Sandy Lawrence’s controversial course explores the advantages of being white. Studying “the other side of racism” illuminates the benefits that white people obtain simply because of their race. The core goal of this class is to uncover the “‘dirty secrets’ about inequality that our society tends to conceal” while helping students realize that they can do something to combat the power of whiteness.
5. Tree Climbing, Cornell University
If you were too short or too scared or just never learned to climb a tree when you were younger, this is the class for you. From understanding the practical uses of ropes and climbing gear to gaining personal confidence, Cornell Outdoor Education’s Tree Climbing class lets college students feel like kids again.
6. What if Harry Potter Is Real?, Appalachian State University
Alohamora! What if that spell actually unlocked a door? Layne McDaniel’s Harry Potter class is different from Harry Potter courses at other schools because of its focus on the “What if?” Through asking “What if?” questions about the nature and accuracy of history and examining Harry Potter texts for factual information as well as imagined events, students engage the tension between fantasy and reality and understand the ways in which history is used and mis-used.
7. Health Psychology, Yale University
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Psych 101. In Benjamin Toll’s interactive course, students learn as much outside of the classroom as they do inside by immersing themselves in a self-intervention. Each student identifies a problem within their own life, ranging from stress to sleep to indecision, and for the duration of the semester, they apply their knowledge from class discussions and readings to their own habits in an effort to change their behavior. Embodying John Dewey’s philosophy of “learning by doing,” one student who took this course said, “The intervention helped me recognize the triggers of my indecision and how to intervene if I found myself in a fit of indecisiveness…It opened me up to the world of psychology as a way we can all better ourselves through simple mechanisms that can make huge differences.”
8. Stupidity, Occidental
Noam Chomsky once said, “Most schooling is training for stupidity and conformity.” Well, Elmer Griffen’s stupidity course takes that statement and runs with it. Through examining the nature of stupidity as “the double of intelligence rather than its opposite,” students in this class are taught to see things from an entirely different perspective.
9. “Oh, Look, A Chicken!” Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing, Belmont University
Deen Entsminger’s course description says it all: "'Oh, look! A Chicken!'….This course will pursue ways of knowing through embracing [little ants, carrying a morsel of food across the table] what it means to be a distracted [I could sure enjoy a peanut butter sandwich right now] learner as well as [OMG -- I get to go to the beach this summer] developing an awareness [I need to trim my fingernails] of one’s senses. The instructor teaches in the school of music, [do I hear water dripping?] so there will be an element related to that woven [spiders are amazing] into the course. [oh, it's the fish tank behind me] Those registering for this section may even learn to juggle [I'll be right down, I just have to finish this...what was I working on?].”
10. The Art of Walking, Centre College
Wait, there’s an art to that mindless method of transportation we all utilize several times per day? According to this Ken Keffer’s class, the answer is yes. This three-week course -– designed for CentreTerm, an abbreviated term used for “risk-taking and exploration” -– tests theories put forth by people such as Immanuel Kant and Martin Heidegger by having students focus on walking as an experience in itself rather than a means to an end.
11. Pet Apparel Fashion and Design, Fashion Institute of Technology
7 For All Petkind. Badgley Meowchka. Christian Loubouturtle. Dogce and Gabbana. There’s a whole world out there of pet fashion (minus these punny names) and Kris Lynch is teaching burgeoning designers the ins and outs. In this course, students learn how to redirect their creativity into one of today’s fastest growing industries, animal apparel. Finally, something to make our pets even cuter.
12. Death in Perspective, Kean University
With a three-year waiting list, let’s hope no one dies before they get to take this class. Kidding! More than anything else, Norma Bowe's death class teaches students to appreciate life. Fieldtrips to cemeteries, debates about the death penalty, and assignments such as drafting wills ironically help students think about the type of lives they want to lead.