Applying to College as an LGBTQ Student

The college application process is complicated for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For LGBTQ applicants, however, their sexual orientation or gender can bring added challenges during the admissions cycle. 

But the college process also represents a good opportunity to find a campus that is friendly and welcoming to your LGBTQ identity. This resource is designed not only to guide you through the process of assessing a campus’ LGBTQ friendliness, but also to being out during your application process.

While this resource does not cover the challenge of paying for college, HRC maintains the largest database in the nation of scholarships for LGBTQ students.

Assessing the LGBTQ friendliness of a campus

Figuring out how warmly a campus will welcome your LGBTQ identity involved weighing a number of factors, including policies in place and less concrete cultural forces.

LGBTQ-inclusive policies

An LGBTQ-friendly campus should have policies in place and ensure that LGBTQ students are comfortable and protected during their college years. Look to see if a campus’ non-discrimination policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

For transgender and gender non-conforming students, it is often crucial that the school offers an easy process for changing gender markers on official school records. Some schools also cover transition-related care coverage in their campus insurance plans.

Other LGBTQ-friendly policies include providing gender-neutral housing (in which students of different genders may live together in the same room) and gender-neutral bathrooms. 

The way that a campus treats its LGBTQ employees is an important indicator of how welcoming a campus will be to LGBTQ students — it reflects how the higher-ups at an institution feel about the rights and protections afforded to LGBTQ individuals. Do they offer domestic partner benefits? Is there an employee resource group? 

Generally, the rubric provided by Campus Pride acts as a good list of policies to investigate when considering whether a campus’ policies are LGBTQ-inclusive.

LGBTQ resources on campus

One way that colleges and universities support their pro-LGBTQ rhetoric with action is through the support of LGBTQ student groups and resource centers.

Some questions to ask when assessing a campus’s LGBTQ resources:

  • Does the school have a full time employee who works on providing resources and services to LGBTQ students?
  • Is there an LGBTQ center on the campus?
  • Is there only one LGBTQ student groups, or organizations that acknowledge the diversity of the LGBTQ community? For example, some schools have groups dedicated to transgender students or LGBTQ students of color, while others only have one group broadly dedicated to the LGBTQ population.
  • What kind of events does the campus LGBTQ group or center sponsor? Groups may be aimed towards activism and advocacy, when some organizations tend to be more interested in providing social opportunities for the LGBTQ community.
  • How many events did the campus LGBTQ group or center hold last year? How many people attended? With student-run groups especially, it is usually good to check to see if they are indeed an active organization.
  • Does the school offer health and counseling services designed for LGBTQ students?

Understanding the campus climate

While policies and services that protect and nurture the LGBTQ community are crucial considerations for LGBTQ applicants, it is also vital that you try to understand the cultural climate on campus with regards to LGBTQ students. Look up bias crime statistics for the campus to see if there have been any recent incidents that targeted LGBTQ students or employees (or any other marginalized group, for that matter). Read the campus newspaper, which will often be available online, to see what you potential future peers are saying about LGBTQ issues.

If you have the opportunity to visit campus (some schools offer travel scholarships), talk to students who don’t work for the admissions office about the campus climate. Often, you can reach out to students through the campus LGBTQ center or a dean of multicultural affairs. 

Ultimately, you deserve to be on a campus where you not only feel safe, but feel free to be who you are in every context — whether in the classroom, in your social life, or while competing for your school. Often, your experience will be impacted by the culture of your school as much as its stated policies. Keep this in mind throughout the application process. 

Being out during the application process

There is no hard-and-fast rule with regards to being out during the application process. Ultimately, the choice to disclose an LGBTQ identity to schools you are applying depends on the individual and the schools they are applying to. Though in some cases, colleges might not be totally accepting of your LGBTQ identity, many schools appreciate having the fullest possible sense of all of their applicants — including the fact that they are LGBTQ.

Every school is different

Through the college process, it is likely that you will look at schools that are very LGBTQ friendly and some that are less accepting. It is perfectly acceptable to be out to some schools and not out to others if you feel like your LGBTQ identity could negatively impact your opportunity of gaining admission to a school.

You can, but don’t need to, come out in your essay

While some LGBTQ students write their Common Application essay on a topic related to their sexual orientation or gender identity, there are also other ways to come out to admissions staff in your application. For example, there is a small “Personal Statement” section on the Common App where you can write about your LGBTQ identity, or you can use the “Additional Information” section to note your orientation or identity. Some schools will also allow you to disclose your LGBTQ identity in their supplement.

It is possible to be out to admissions staff members but not your family

Since not everyone comes out before they leave high school, it can sometimes be difficult for LGBTQ students who are still in the closet to reach out to admissions officers about LGBTQ opportunities on campus. While many of the ways you can be out to admissions staff is through your written application, it is preferable for LGBTQ students not currently out to their family to avoid coming out in writing, even on “private” email accounts. Instead, you can call admissions officers at a school or come out during an interview with a staff member. 

Conclusion

As you go through the college process, you will look for a school where you feel comfortable academically and socially. It is important to consider, however much is possible given your own particular circumstances, how your LGBTQ identity will be accepted by the college you select.