5 Weird College Degrees That Can Actually Make You Money

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Business is the most popular undergraduate major in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Other top areas of study include health-related subjects, education, and psychology. There’s good reason for the dominance of those fields — students see them as the quickest, clearest way forward to a decent career after graduation.

But not everyone wants a conventional degree, or a conventional job. For people with more adventurous spirits or who have a very clear idea of what they want to do, schools offers hundreds of majors in highly specialized subjects, from aerospace engineering to jewelry design. Earning a degree in a narrowly focused field can be a smart move for people who have a clear vision for what they want to do with the rest of their life and the drive to succeed in what may be a very competitive environment. But picking a specialized major can backfire if you choose a field that later turns out not to be a good fit or is harder than you expected for finding work.

“You should specialize only when you know what you want to specialize in,” management consultant Nick Vaidya told U.S. News and World Report. “It is a [backward] way of thinking to specialize prematurely just to get into a job.”

But what about those who have a true passion for an unusual subject? Potential majors and career opportunities abound. We’ve highlighted five of the “weirdest” college majors out there – areas of study offered at relatively few schools and which usually lead to highly specialized jobs. And to show that having an unusual major doesn’t necessarily leave you unemployable, we’ve also provided details about common jobs and average salaries for people with these degrees.

Elmo sesame street

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1. Puppetry

The University of Connecticut is one of the only colleges in the U.S. offering bachelor’s degrees in puppetry (West Virginia University also has a program). UConn is also home to the country’s only master’s-level puppetry program. While the major sounds like it’s all fun and games, admission is competitive and requires an audition, interview, and portfolio of past work.

Professional puppeteers may work in theater, film, or television. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t collect data on puppeteer salaries, but an article from 2006 estimated that experienced puppeteers could earn at least $40,000 a year. Carol Spinney, the puppeteer who plays Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, earns about $314,000 a year.

2. Bowling industry management

At Vincennes University in Indiana, you can earn an associate degree in bowling industry management and technology. The two-year program prepares students “for entry-level positions within the bowling industry in center management, sales, marketing, and technical fields,” according to the university. Required classes include “Lane and Pinsetter Maintenance” and “Pro Shop Operations and Instruction.”

Average salaries for bowling industry workers aren’t collected by the BLS, but a general manager job at an AMF Bowling Center (a major national chain) pays an average of $56,384, according to Glassdoor. Average salaries for a similar position at Brunswick Bowling, another chain, are similar. Payscale reports slightly lower average salaries of $39,305 for bowling center managers and $31,118 for bowling alley mechanics and pinsetters.

windmill with tulips

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3. Dutch studies

Area studies that focus on particular geographies or cultures are pretty common college majors. Many schools offer majors and concentrations in Latin American East Asian, or Middle Eastern studies. But Dutch studies? That’s a little more unusual. Yet at least two schools in the U.S., the University of California, Berkeley, and Michigan’s Calvin College, offer this major. Both offer courses on the language, literature, and culture of the Netherlands, a country of 16.8 million people that’s about twice the size of New Jersey.

What might be a future career for a Dutch studies student? The University of Minnesota, which has a Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch (only a Dutch minor is offered), suggests that students might be able to pursue careers as diplomats, teachers, or translators. Interpreters and translators earn about $45,000 a year, according to the BLS. Payscale doesn’t have data on salaries for Dutch studies majors, but it does provide information about the similar field of German studies, where graduates earn an average of $43,794 in entry-level positions.

4. Adventure education

For people who can’t stomach the idea of a sitting behind a desk, a career in adventure education could be the path to a fulfilling career. Majors in adventure education and related fields, while hardly as common as those in business or English, are offered at a number of schools, including Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, Arizona’s Prescott College, and Southern Oregon University. The major doesn’t just involve spending time scaling mountains and river rafting. At Plymouth State, the program combines technical courses like rock climbing and wilderness expedition with theoretical and philosophical studies.

After graduation, students may go on to jobs in outdoor education, environmental education, or adventure travel. Fort Lewis College lists recent graduate salaries ranging from $10.50 an hour to $6,270 a month. Average salaries for outdoor education majors range from $28,000 to $37,382 depending on years of experience, according to Payscale, though the number of people reporting their earnings is small.

Kentucky derby churchill downs

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5. Racetrack management

Those who were more excited about the Kentucky Derby than Pacquiao vs. Mayweather may find an educational home at the University of Arizona, which offers the country’s only program in racetrack management. Students choose from two tracks, one focusing on the business of racetracks and one that concentrates on equine management. Required courses for the latter include “Equine Nutrition and Management” and “Introduction to Horsemanship Programs.”

There are more than 100 thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S., as well as dozens of harness race tracks, according to the Daily Racing Form. Graduates of the University of Arizona program hold top positions at many of them, as well as at related businesses and organizations like state racing boards and racing industry publications. Entry-level salaries in the industry average $41,000, according to Payscale, increasing to $72,000 for those with two or more decades of experience

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