The start of the school year is close at hand—the pencils are being sharpened, the tree leaves are preparing to rust, and your school would like you to declare a major. It's tempting to write down something standard, but if you're willing to forgo the allure of everyday majors like English or philosophy, then an uncommon degree could put you in good stead for one of these jobs (Note: These majors might not be "weird" to the professors who teach them, but they aren't plain vanilla either.):
Linguistics: Question: How do companies choose the brand names for their products? Answer: Carefully. Companies aim to communicate a lot through the way a brand name looks, sounds, and the associations it carries. Linguistics majors look at the syntax, semantics, phonetics, and other components of language—and they'll find the job of a brand namer an unusually good fit for their knowledge of plosives, fricatives, and nomenclature.
Linguistics plays a big role at New York-based namebase, a brand naming firm responsible for coining "Fruitopia" and Tyson's "Any'tizers," says President and Creative Director Jim Singer. The daily grind at Singer's firm involves searching for a neologism (a coined word) that communicates so well, it virtually advertises the product itself. Sound is key. The name of a small car should sound small. The name of an antidepressant should sound helpful or upbeat. The company's linguistic analysis checks for word associations and colloquialisms in a variety of languages.
Consumer science: While a budding financial planner's first instinct might be to get a business or economics degree, a consumer science degree will offer a unique perspective: Students focus on the business of doing what's best for the consumer, rather than what's best for business, says Cynthia Jasper, chair of the Department of Consumer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Students in the Wisconsin program can join an extracurricular group where they train to offer financial counseling to fellow college students shouldering credit card debt or other financial burdens.
The outlook for the profession is good: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of personal financial advisers will grow 41 percent between 2006 and 2016—making it one of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations.
Classics: The classics, or classical civilizations, major is good preparation for a lawyer, but it's not—as some would suspect—because students will better understand the meaning of "habeas corpus" or "caveat emptor." Rather, says Prof. David Traill, director of the classics program at University of California-Davis, it's because study of Latin and Greek requires careful reading and attention to meaning and grammar. That skill can prove enormously useful to lawyers, and even to burgeoning law students who are tackling the LSAT exam. Latin and Greek students often gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the English language, which helps with the writing involved in legal careers. Plus, Traill says, the major may help students get into law schools that seek a diversity of majors among the crowd of applicants.
Food science: Got a good tongue? Try the work of a flavor chemist, or flavorist. Flavorists create natural and artificial flavors for a variety of food, beverages, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products. There's a lot of science involved in the laboratory re-creation of naturally occurring flavors, but there's also a great deal of creativity required. "It's an art," says Kenneth Kraut, president of the Society of Flavor Chemists. "It's almost like making a painting." A flavorist with 15 years or so in the business can make between $100,000 and $150,000, Kraut says.
Packaging: Bottled water has been getting a bad rap lately, in large part because of its plastic packaging, which requires plenty of petroleum in its manufacturing and takes up significant stretches of space in landfills. In fact, many products' packaging is getting a second look as consumers and companies become more concerned with environmental impact.