When you choose a college, you’re not just choosing your academic path. You’re choosing your friends, your social environment, and the atmosphere that surrounds you for four years. You’re choosing the professor that will challenge your beliefs the first day of your Geopolitics course. You’re choosing the flyers that you’ll see in the hallway on the way to put your laundry in the dryer, and you’re choosing the stranger in line at the dining hall that will turn into your best friend. The people around you, arguably more than any other aspect of college life, are what make your college experience.
Of course, you can’t possibly know who these individuals are going to be when you choose a college. But you do have a fair amount of control over who and what you’re surrounded by. By investing time researching colleges’ student bodies and campus cultures, you can get a sense if each college would be a positive experience for you. After all, we know that college is so much what you make of it, so it’s important that you feel not just like you’ve found your people, but that you can thrive among them.
A college’s campus culture is impactful for all students, but can be especially so for queer students as they navigate the reality of being LGBTQ+ in a new place. If you’re trying to assess the environment of the colleges you’re considering, here are some resources to help you find your college home!
Head to Campus Pride Index
CPI rates colleges based on their queer friendliness using 50 factors. Each college listed has a scorecard showing how the college performs in various factors – like if they provide trans-inclusive student health insurance or give LGBTQ+-related scholarships. Of course, some of these factors may be more important to you than others, so dig deeper than the simple score and do some self-reflection about what support you’re looking for in college. Also, keep in mind that colleges have to opt-in to be on the CPI, so if you’re researching a school and can’t find it on there, it could mean that they either 1) don’t know about Campus Pride, or 2) aren’t all that queer-friendly. (Neither of which is a great sign for its queer friendliness.)
Check Out Student Groups
A college’s student organizations are reflective of the priorities of its student body. If you search University of Southern California student groups for the word “queer” or “gay,” for example, you’ll find that they not only have an LGBTQ+ Student Center, but they’ve also got student groups like “Nice Jewish Queers” and “Queers in Engineering, Science, and Technology,” along with 15+ other queer-oriented organizations. If you search the “other USC” (University of South Carolina)’s student groups, you’ll find far fewer (even though their undergraduate enrollment is close to the same size). Now – will you join 15 queer organizations in your limited time outside of class, homework, and your social life? Probably not! But the easy availability of queer-oriented spaces like student groups is a good sign that it’s a friendly place for LGBTQ+ students to gather.
Another check in the queer-friendly column is a Queer or LGBTQ+ Studies major or minor option. Whether or not that’s a field you want to study in college, it’s a good sign that the campus is more open to queer students.
One thing to note: smaller colleges generally have fewer majors and fewer student clubs because there are – yep – fewer students. For a great example of a smaller school with plenty of queer-related groups, check out Vassar’s list of student organizations.
Use Student Review Websites
Collegewise counselors love Niche and Unigo to get a sense of campus culture. Since colleges’ own websites are designed partially as a sales tool, they don’t often show what kinds of students actually go there. You’re never going to see a college advertise that their students are “determined,” “religious,” and “judgmental,” but words like that may show up on their Niche page. Niche also has students rate the political environment of the school, which gives you a sense of how the campus leans on the progressive to conservative scale.
Look Into the Surrounding Area
There are lots of lists and rankings of queer-friendly cities and states. You might be surprised that in addition to the obvious San Franciscos and New Yorks, there are a lot of small towns like Northampton, MA or Asheville, NC that have safe and affirming communities for LGBTQ+ folks. While much of your college experience will be on campus, the off-campus experience can be just as important.
If you’re able to visit, you’ll likely get a sense of how queer friendly a college is. You should see signs of queer affirmation (whether that’s Safe Space stickers in professors’ office windows, pronouns on the admission counselors’ business cards, or rainbow flags). You should see bathroom options that will feel comfortable for you. Admission counselors should be fluent in communicating about gender-neutral housing, queer student groups, and the LGBTQ+ student experience.
Lastly, remember there’s nothing more impactful on your college experience than what you do when you’re there. Stay late and talk to your Geopolitics professor. Check out the flyer in the hallway. Say hi to the stranger in line. You have four wide open years in front of you, just waiting for you to find your place.
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.