“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”—Mark Twain.
College life is one the great American clichés: keg parties, cram sessions, dorm drama, and student debt are the set pieces of any good coming-of-age story. In truth, the idea that every person should “go to college” at the age of 18 hasn’t been around that long, historically. Once upon a time, formal learning institutions were completely restricted to the highest of the upper-class, and most of these students would be men. Even further back, the institution of the “college” was a matter of church, not state and certainly not commerce. With such a far-reaching lineage, is it any wonder that college is so freaky?
Which Muppet gave Southampton College’s graduation speech? What ancient church did those grad caps belong to? Which school has a library rumored to literally take people’s breath away? Don’t wait all semester to find out: here are 45 kooky facts about college life.
College Life Facts
45. These Books Will Take Your Breath Away
Some have implied that Stanford University would suffocate its own librarians before sacrificing its rare books. Let us explain: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is equipped with a state of the art fire-extinguishing system that stops fire without sprinklers that could harm the books. Instead, the system pumps in a special gas that removes oxygen from the room, stopping the spread of fire. This has given way to grim conclusions about what happens to librarians closed inside. Of course, the system doesn’t remove that much oxygen from the library. Bibliophiles can feel safe from flames and suffocation at Stanford.
44. From Afterlife to Academic
Before its founding in 1870, the University of Glasgow was almost going to be a cemetery. Delays by the original developers led the University to buy the land, so it now just teaches about dead people instead of housing them.
43. They Want to Believe
When asked, a whopping 71% of college students put themselves in the top 10% of their class. Was the survey conducted by their parents? We’ll leave you to consider how that math doesn’t work out. Still, there’s something to be said about self-confidence.
42. Bachelor of Buccaneering
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), students can apply for an official “Pirate License.” All you need to do is qualify in archery, fencing, sailing, and pistol classes and you’re ready to go. Mind you, this license doesn’t officially give you the right to pillage ships and loot along the coasts. It’s purely “arrgh”-norary.
41. Tough Pickings
According to a UCLA study, more than 75% incoming US college students in 2014 were accepted into their first-choice school. However, only 57% could actually afford to attend this first pick.
40. The Best of the Bush
Only a whopping 0.4% of undergraduates in the US attend an Ivy league school.
39. Call Me Daddy
The next time you receive an “alumni” email from your former institution asking for donations, you should remember that the word “alumni” derives from the Latin phrase “alumnus” for “foster son.” We’re all one big family, if family members paid tuition.
38. Mother Knows Best
When someone refers to their “alma mater,” they’re referring to where they went to college. Tell them “alma mater” is from the Latin word for “nurturing mother.” So, reunions are really a return to one’s “motherland.”
37. Getting a Kick
On November 6, 1869, the first-ever game of American football was played between universities. The schools in question were Rutgers and New Jersey, which would later be called Princeton University.
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36. Girls Just Want to Have Sums
Once upon a time, college was a boy’s club. That’s changed in recent years. Today, nearly 60% of all college students are women.
35. It’s All Greek to Me
Why do frats and sororities prefer Greek signage? Blame one random Greek language nerd who held a grudge against Latin. 1776. That year, the first Greek student society was founded by John Heath. Based in the College of William and Mary, the society was called Phi Beta Kappa, which is Greek for “Love of learning is the guide to life.” Originally, he had been declined from joining the campus Latin lettered frat, so this turn to Greek must have been a little personal. Also, his special society chose Greek since Heath was the considered the school’s most superlative Greek scholar.
34. The Church of All Caps
The classic graduation cap originates from the Celtic era. It’s believed Druid priests would don the caps as “hoods” in order to symbolize their holy intelligence. So much of the Western university’s language and rituals are tied to the church, so it’s no wonder this academic aesthetic doubled as a clerical ensemble.
33. In Cognito
Ali G, one of the many personas of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, addressed the 2004 class of Harvard University in full costume and character. His speech was…eclectic. According to witnesses, it ranged from topics from sex to drugs and race in higher education. Booyakasha!
32. Put ‘Em Up
Lassen Community College offers a program in “Gunsmithing.” The school is affiliated with the NRA and offers courses in “Basic Machine Shop,” “Barreling,” and “Engraving.”
31. Sergeant Pepper’s Graduate Degree
If you are willing to attend Liverpool Hope University, you can get a Master of Arts degree in “The Beatles, Popular Music & Society.”
30. Better Safe Than Squirrely
Universities put students right at the heart of cutting-edge research. Like when a study was performed at the University of Sheffield where a professor spent five years of his life developing a birth control pill for squirrels.
Get that degree with a help of a little magic—and a couple billion in bestsellers: J.K. Rowling holds 6 honorary degrees from St. Andrew University, the University of Edinburg, Edinburg Napier University, the University of Aberdeen, Harvard University, and the University of Exeter, where she actually attended. Hey, just one more and she can have a full set of Horcruxes!
28. The H in PhD stands for “Hoot”
The University of Bath has an owl named Professor Yoda, whose job is to unsettle the seagull population from campus. Professor Yoda is a European eagle owl who rose above this humble station to earn his own official university library card for his service. With his regular owl powers, not with the Force, unfortunately. But if you’re looking for Jedi powers in the academy…
27. The Dark Side of Course Selection
In 2008, Queen’s University Belfast offered a Jedi course. Titled “Feel the Force: How to Train in the Jedi Way,” the course promoted open-learning, commination skills, and personal development. As a one-day program that cost only £23, wouldn’t you take it?
26. Serve With Fries Without the Cries
A team of researchers at the University of Liverpool helped develop a tear-free onion called the Supasweet.
25. An All-Canadian Flame War
The College Hall of Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia burned down. Twice. On the same day, 43 years apart. The building met a flaming fate for the first time on December 2, 1877, just to be rebuilt and burned down again on December 2, 1920. University Hall opened on the same site in 1925, so here’s hoping the third time is the truly the charm!
24. Into the Woods
Universities usually prefer cash donations, but York University in Toronto, Canada made an exception. In 1998, the university’s faculty of environmental sciences was donated a 145-hectare parcel of cloud forest in Costa Rica called La Nubes, or “the clouds.” For the sake of conservation and research, this parcel of land still functions as their “Las Nubes Project”—a hub for sustainability and biodiversity research.
23. Brain a La Mode
McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada owns a part of Albert Einstein’s brain. Specifically, the school own a respectable 14 pieces of the scientist’s thinker—which amounts to a whole fifth!
22. Hall of Fame
Answer: a gallery at the University of Ottawa, named after the Jeopardy! host who graduated with a philosophy degree from the college in 1961. Question: What is the Alex Trebek Alumni Hall?
21. Under Pressure
Surprising almost no one, the idea of “stress” came from university. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, a researcher at McGill University named Hans Selye devised the term “stress” as a popular experience. While at the University of Montreal, Selye pioneered the study of biological stress on human beings. Thanks, college.
20. The Shape of Knowledge
Plato’s Academy is considered by some to be the first formal “university” in European history. Its entrance gate is said to have read, “Let the none has not learned geometry enter here.” Get out your protractor, or get out?
19. That’s Nuts
The Squirrel Club at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has more than 400 members. Their mission? To feed peanuts to squirrels.
18. The Original Brownnosers
In 1804, tuition to Brown University was only $5. Only back them, it was called “The College of Rhode Island.” The institution was renamed after Nicholas Brown made a $5,000 donation. So long as we’re keeping track, that’s 1,000 student tuitions in a big bundle!
17. The Weight of the World on Their Hips
Freshman 15? More like Freshman 2 to 3. According to an Ohio State University study, college students gain nowhere near as much as 15 pounds in their first year of studies. The average is typically 2 to 3 pounds. They also gain no more weight than their non-college attending peers of the same age group. The only factor that might lead to increased weight gain is increased student drinking. So, make use of that meal card as you please.
16. Does It Pay to Learn?
The worst paying college majors are usually Social Work, Theology, Education, Music, Spanish, Fine Arts, Hospitality/Tourism, and Drama. Usually. It all depends on what you do with it, of course.
15. Heart of Stone
The first structure in the world to be reinforced with concrete is the Harvard Stadium.
14. Venial Sins at the Ivy League
Surprising few, punishable crimes at Yale University before the US Civil War were “disbelief” in the Bible and profanity towards the Sabbath.
13. Break a Sweat, A Degree You Will Get
Do you have a big GPA? But do you also have a bigger body? If you were a student at Lincoln University in 2009, the latter could cost you a degree: students with a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 30 could not graduate unless they passed a fitness course.
12. For Want of a Cootie-Free College
One US government study found that when a college is comprised of 60% female students, high school boys will stop applying to said institution. Hey, it’s their loss.
11. First Steps
Starting in 1841, Oberlin College was the first US post-secondary school to grant degrees to female students. Going further, it was also the first college to let an African American woman graduate, in 1862. Her name was Mary Jane Patterson, and she went on to have an illustrious teaching career in other black institutions.
10. In the Business of Learning
That Harvard University is the oldest college in the United States isn’t shocking. But the university is also the oldest and first corporation in the country’s history, period. Which goes to show, in the United States at least, that higher education and business have always gone hand in hand.
9. Easy to Love, Hard to Get
For all of its prestige, Harvard University doesn’t even have the lowest acceptance rate out of all US post-secondary schools. The Ivy League school boasts an acceptance rate of 7.9%, but it is firmly outplaced by the Juilliard School in New York (7.6%) and Rust College (7.6%) in Holly Springs, followed by Jarvis Christian College (4.5%). The school with the lowest acceptance rate is the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at just 4.0% of applicants accepted per year. That’s a lot of performing arts schools!
8. Easy A
Want a school that’s ostensible easy to get into? These colleges boast a 100% acceptance rate: Baker College in Flint, West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Mountain State University in Beckley, and Northwest University in Kirkland.
7. Mad for the Ladies
In 1767, multiple students are Harvard University were sent back home to be quarantined from an affliction which was being referred to as “The Itch.” Symptoms of this spooky social condition include “associating with, countenancing, and encouraging one or more lewd women.” Is there a pill for that?
6. Big Talk
Why do grad students need to give an oral defense of their thesis? Blame a long line of weird institutional rituals from the “oration” of the colonial college to the conventus of the medieval university, and perhaps even blame the interrogation methods of the Mesopotamian tablet-house. These institutions put a lot of stake on verbal sass.
5. Jocks Before Nerds
The term “Ivy League” has its roots not in academic excellence, but in sports. In 1954, the term was officially adopted in reference to an athletic conference between those now-fancy schools. In fact, the term “Ivy,” in relation to them, was first used by a 1933 sportswriter.
35. The Amphibious Academic
In 1996, Kermit the Frog of Sesame Street fame gave the graduation keynote speech at Southampton College. He told the outgoing class about his rise from the swamps and that, “All of us should feel very proud of ourselves ... and just a little bit silly” and “On behalf of frogs, fish, pigs, bears and all of the other species who are lower than you on the food chain, thank you for dedicating your lives to saving our world and our home.”
34. It Ain’t Easy Being Green
When Kermit the Frog gave his commencement speech to the Southampton College graduates, not everyone felt good to be green. The Muppet was awarded an honorary doctorate of amphibious letters for his work in environmental awareness. But not everyone took his presence and award well; a marine biology major at the college complained that she labored for 5 years just to “have a sock talk at our commencement.” Hey, that sock has had quite the career!
2. Burn It Down
David Cameron was part of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club, an exclusive group for the country’s most elite, whose fees are outside of most humans’ budgets. In 2013, it was reported that one of its initiation rituals requires members to burn a £50 in front of a beggar; a friend of one of Bullingdon’s members leaked the information to the press after he found out.
In a similar incident in 2017, a Cambridge student was kicked out of the campus Conservative Association after footage showed up of him burning a £20 note in front of a homeless person (sound familiar?). He did so while inebriated and in the white tie and tails that members wear to dinners. He also claimed to be the nephew of famous Scottish minister Nicola Sturgeon, but the Scottish government has denied that any relation exists.
1. Does This Chute Go to the Darwin Awards?
While hanging out one night in college, a bunch of freshmen thought that they stumbled upon their university’s laundry chute, and boy—do the movies ever make jumping through a laundry chute look fun. Shortly after one of the friends jumped in, they realized their grave mistake. He fell three stories into the library trash compactor (why would the library have had a laundry chute?) and was crushed.