unique university courses
Carnegie Mellon is said to be the only university in the United States that offers a major in Bagpipe Studies. Source: Lou Benoist / AFP

Deciding on your course is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when preparing for uni. Whether you are interested in medicine or DJing, don’t worry. There are over two million courses to choose from – and that’s just in the US. And among them are some quirky degrees that you might not have expected – proof that you really can study just about anything, from circus performing to bagpiping.

If you’re still struggling with your choice or searching for something a little different, we have you covered. 

Here’s a list of seven of the most unique university courses around the world:

1. The Beatles

For all you Beatles fans out there, The Beatles: Music Industry and Heritage, a master’s programme offered at the University of Liverpool is just for you.

Imagine studying for a master’s degree dedicated to one of music’s most influential bands. Launched in September 2021 and based in the legendary band’s birthplace, Liverpool, the programme explores contemporary discourse on The Beatles beyond the historical and musicological into a broader and more robust 21st-century context.

The course will explore how the music of The Beatles still influences culture today, as well as the identity of Liverpool itself, the city where the band members grew up and played their first gigs.

2. Puppet arts 

One of the most iconic uses of puppets on television is Yoda in the first trilogy of the Star Wars film — but there’s more to this craft beyond playing a sci-fi icon.

Puppetry is an art that dates back to human history — and this art is not as simple as it seems. The Puppet Arts major offered by the University of Connecticut dives into its complexities. Examples of courses include Puppet Production Techniques, Voice and Diction, Scene Design and Painting, Trends in Contemporary American Puppetry, Marionette Performance, and Marionette Construction. Puppet Arts majors can find jobs in theatre performance and design, television and film puppetry, and school and museum programmes.

3. Circus arts

If you love performing, the Bachelor of Circus Arts by the Swinburne University of Technology is exactly what you are looking for. Australia’s only undergraduate degree in this field, this degree will teach you the history of circus performance and its cultural significance. You’ll receive world-class physical training from experts in the field too.

This programme is certainly not for everyone and is taken very seriously by circus instructors – so no clowning around.

4. Ethical hacking

Computer whizzes, this one is for you. The Ethical Hacking programme offered at the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland will show you how hackers break into the world’s most complex security systems — and have you deliberately breaking computer systems and building cybersecurity defences.

The goal is for you to develop a practical and offensive approach. To achieve this, you first need to understand the processes behind hacking and cyber attacks; work out how illegal hacks can be stopped; create real-life countermeasures and fixes; shut down security hacks quickly and professionally; and document it and do it again.

Graduates get high-paying jobs easily. Many have gone on to develop security systems of their own too.

5. Bagpipe performance

Carnegie Mellon University has offered bagpipe playing majors for over 75 years, thanks in part to the Scottish heritage of its founders, Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon. The college proclaims itself to be “the perfect home for both the aspiring and experienced bagpipers.”

Andrew Carlisle is the Artist Lecturer in Bagpipe and Director of Piping. Originally from Ballygowan, Northern Ireland, he joined the School of Music faculty in 2010. Since then, he’s transformed Carnegie Mellon University Pipes and Drums into one of the leading pipe bands in the US.  The band was crowned American Pipe Band Champions at Norfolk, Virginia winning both the traditional March, Strathspey and Reel and contemporary Medley Selection categories.

6. Packaging

Packaging can be found everywhere. Even as low-waste, zero-waste, and minimalist lifestyles become more popular, the fact remains that almost everything we buy is packaged.

Although packaging is an unusual field of study, it is one of the many important things that are applicable across a range of different industries. Students in such courses learn many things related to packaging. This includes the functionality and aesthetics of the package and the environmental impact of certain types of packages. 

Michigan State University hosts the School of Packaging which offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in packaging. This is the first programme in the world and a highly specialised degree that examines all aspects of packaging.

Students will learn about design and prototyping, sustainability and environmental impacts, computer applications, and packaging materials. Graduates of this programme have a high employment rate, and the average starting salary for undergraduates is US$57,500, ranging from US$40,000 to US$72,000.

7. Viticulture and Enology, Cornell University

Viticulture and Enology students learn all about the science and practice behind growing grapes and making wine. You will also have the opportunity to study abroad in some of the world’s best wine regions and vineyards to further develop your sommelier skills.

Viticulture is the study and practice of grape cultivation, and oenology is the study of wine and winemaking. Cornell University offers majors in this discipline which includes roaming wine estates, grape tasting, and wine tasting.

Example courses include Wine and Grapes: Composition and Analysis, Winemaking Theory and Practice, Sensory Evaluation of Food, and Wine and Grape Flavor Chemistry. Those majoring in viticulture and oenology can find work in winemaking, vineyard management, teaching and research, and wine companies.