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Navigating the College Search and Application Process as an LGBTQIA+ Student

Picture of Fayelah Johnson
By Fayelah Johnson on July, 20 2023 | 7 minute read

As we continue through the summer, many rising seniors (and juniors who are ahead of the game) are starting to dig more deeply into the college research process. For all high school students, the college search and application process comes with a mix of emotions and plenty of questions. LGBTQIA+ students are faced with unique challenges, emotions, and often even more questions. While their straight and cisgender peers may be weighing whether or not they’ll be homesick in their new college town (or like many of my students, whether there is a Target in walking distance), LGBTQIA+ students are often also considering the political climate of their new state, inclusion in their new city, and safety on their new college campus. 

As a Black Queer person who did not come out until I was in college, attending an inclusive school where I had access to safe and affirming communities was life-changing. I found it empowering to be in an environment with folks with similar identities and values. Student concerns about access to that kind of environment are even more valid today, with the hundreds of Anti-LGBTQIA+, and specifically Anti-Trans, legislation proposed this year alone. All students deserve an equitable and inclusive college education where they feel like they can be themselves, build community, and find their people in a safe and affirming environment, and there are tons of colleges and universities across the U.S. are working to be this environment for queer students through their campus policies, programs, and practices.

Navigating college in an inclusive, safe, and affirming environment can make for an even more impactful and positive experience. If you are an LGBTQIA+ student looking for help with navigating the college search and application, or an ally supporting them through the process, keep reading for green flags for queer-inclusive colleges, frequently asked questions, and helpful resources! 

What Makes a College LGBTQIA+ Friendly?

First, check out Campus Pride Index to search hundreds of LGBTQ-friendly colleges and view the ways they are committed to LGBTQ-inclusive policies, programs, and practices. The Campus Pride Index rates colleges on how LGBTQ-friendly campuses are based on factors that range from housing policies to student-run organizations. Reflect on the inclusivity factors that are most important to you in a college and allow that to guide your use of CPI. You need to take control of your story and tell it confidently in your application to avoid being overlooked for admission and potential scholarships. 

Green Flags for Queer-Inclusive Colleges

Here are a few additional green flags that indicate a college is queer-inclusive and aims to protect and celebrate its LGBTQIA+ community. The absence of these green flags is not an inherent sign of unfriendliness to the queer community and the presence of them is not an inherent sign of acceptance. Although not a perfect science, these are still very helpful in gauging what your life could be like on their campus. 

  • Designated LGBTQIA+ student support center available on campus.
  • Students can major, minor, or conduct research in Gender & Sexuality Studies, Queer and/or Feminist Studies. 
  • Opportunities for building a queer community through student-led clubs and organizations.
  • LGBTQIA+ students speak positively about campus culture- You can utilize resources like Unigo for student reviews, as well as explore social media and YouTube to hear from students directly.
  • Gender-Inclusive Housing like UC Santa Cruz’s Trans-Inclusive Housing Communities for students who identify as trans, nonbinary, or LGBTQIA+ allies and University of Southern California’s Rainbow Floor, a special interest residential community for LGBTQIA+ students. 
  • All-gender bathrooms on campus.
  • Efficient systems and processes to update your Lived Name (sometimes called Chosen or Preferred Name) and gender marker in online portals and student directories.
  • Overall vibe and visibility- check out the college’s social media and see what types of events they promote and speakers they bring to campus. If you have the opportunity, tour the campus and local area.
  • Traditions celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community, like Lavender Graduation or Rainbow Graduation. 
  • Overall vibe and visibility – tour the campus and take a look around. Notice safe space signs, Progress Pride Flags, and pronoun pins on your tour guide. Explore the area around the campus to get a feel for what it might be like to live there. If you cannot visit the campus, utilize virtual tours and information sessions, social media, and YouTube.

Using Campus Pride Index and the above green flags as you research colleges is a great starting point for an LGBTQ-friendly college list. Of course, a good fit college means it also meets your academic and financial factors. Check out our blog Creative College Research for support on other ways to research colleges.


FAQs From LGBTQIA+ Students

As a College Counselor, I’ve found there are two main questions from LGBTQIA+ students and their families when it comes to the personal statement and application: 

Q: Why does the Common Application ask my gender pronouns? 

A: Recently, the Common App revised its questions on gender and sex. Prospective students can include their preferred name (if different from their legal name) and pronoun set. This update was to create a more equitable application process and better reflect the identities of the students who use the application. Some colleges have an additional optional question to allow students to share their gender identity and sexuality. This allows colleges to use this context in their holistic application review, but it will not have a negative impact on your application. If you're interested in LGBTQ+ clubs/activities on the application, you’ll receive helpful information and resources specific to your gender identity once admitted.

Q: Should I come out in my college essay? Or, for students who already are: Should I disclose my sexuality and/or gender identity in my college essay?

A: Coming out is different for everyone. When, and if, you choose to do that is entirely up to you. Regarding personal statements, you do not need to disclose anything you aren’t comfortable with. Two key tips when writing your personal statement are to “Be Honest” and “Own Your Story.” If you feel that your gender and sexual identity provide context to who you are and your experience, and you feel comfortable telling your story, it will only allow admissions readers to have a better understanding of who you are. If you do not feel comfortable disclosing your gender and sexuality, that is totally fine- land on another topic that authentically tells your story.

An Important Note on Intersectionality:

One’s lived experiences are intrinsically connected to the identities one carry—and folks with intersecting marginalized identities face unique challenges. When assessing college environments for inclusivity, LGBTQIA+ students must also consider how their race, gender, sexuality, and economic background intersect to influence what they may consider most important in a college. For example, BIPOC LGBTQIA+ students face specific challenges and might seek a campus that values and supports their queer identity as well as racial and/or ethnic background.

Encouragement for LGBTQIA+ Students Embarking on Their College Journey.

College exploration is an exciting time! Soon, you’ll have new experiences, meet new people, and learn more about yourself and the world around you. By reflecting on your identity and the queer-inclusive factors that are most important to you, you can seek out colleges that prioritize your safety, well-being, and sense of belonging- and there are plenty!

Additional Resources for Students:

Campus Pride HBCU Clearinghouse

Campus Pride Trans Policy Clearinghouse

Campus Pride Scholarship Database

Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ+ Student Scholarship Database


Additional Resources for Allies, Families, and Counselors:

Ally is A Verb, Not A Noun

Human Right Campaign, Glossary of Terms

Trevor Project Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Young People


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 counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.


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