As a prospective student, it’s your job to find a college where you can thrive. This is particularly important for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ). Additionally, not all universities create supportive environments for students who identify as intersex, pansexual, asexual, questioning or have a non-conforming gender identity. College is challenging and expensive for everyone, but if you’re LGBTQ, the campus climate can make– or break– your experience.
It’s important to figure out where you’ll flourish. To simplify the process, we’ve compiled a guide to choosing an LGBTQ-friendly college as well as an extensive list of relevant scholarships.
Finding LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges
LGBTQ students are an increasingly visible population, including at least 6.4% of self-identified young Americans. According to a recent Gallup poll, American youth are three times more likely to identify publicly as LGBTQ than their senior counterparts. Numbers in universities may be even higher. A recent American College Health Association survey of 90,000 students, found that 8.1% identified themselves as either gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or questioning.
Despite the fact that 60% of surveyed LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, there are indications that public acceptance is increasing. According to survey findings, an overwhelming 92% of LGBTQ adults have said that society has become more supportive of them over the past decade, and while fewer than 60 universities had LGBTQ student centers in 2006, there are now nearly 200.
There isn’t one formula to help you find the perfect school. In addition to looking for solid academic programs in your major, you should also examine LGBTQ campus life and statistics. Different regions have distinct laws and politics, and according to the above Gallup poll, identification as LGBTQ is more common in the eastern and western regions of the U.S. However, even in many conservative areas of the nation, college campuses have been a standalone oasis of LGBTQ support, so don’t rule out any schools based on one variable.
Schools are rapidly improving their campuses for LGBTQ students, with students themselves often leading the charge. LGBTQ activism began in the 1960s and ‘70s, but many student groups and national organizations that dominate the scene today weren’t established until the 1990s or 2000s. Today, while many schools do have such student organizations, they’re not stopping there. The University of Memphis is one example of students advocating for the next step, by creating an office of gender and sexuality on their campus.
What to Look For in a College
According to TIME Magazine, colleges suffering from stagnant enrollment are beginning to see LGBTQ students as a new market, and have begun catering to the LGBTQ population. When searching for a school, consider its professed attitude toward LGBTQ students and search for inclusive efforts made by the school. The “Prospective Students” section of college websites is a great place to start. Reach out to someone attending the school for a good sense of these big-picture questions; even if you can’t talk to a current student, there are other things you can look for to spot LGBTQ-friendly colleges.
1. Political Activism and Awareness
Search the school’s website for any student-sponsored LGBTQ organizations on campus. Read about these organizations and browse their social-media accounts. Research mechanisms of support that these student organizations offer members and read about issues they’re working on. Many LGBTQ student organizations actively engage in improving LGBTQ campus life, so studying their current campaigns—like MIT’s You Are Welcome Here campaign—can tell you what a school might have or lack.
2. Social Outreach and Programming
Research any events, dedicated weeks or social happenings involving the LGBTQ community—like the recent University of Madison Diversity Forum or Ohio University’s International Drag Show. These can be speaker series, group discussions, concerts, art shows, drag shows, poetry readings, participation in national LGBTQ events (like Pride) and more. A full calendar and a vibrant social scene can indicate a friendly and inclusive environment.
3. Support Structures and Statistics
It’s also important to check the school’s website or ask an admissions officer about LGBTQ support groups or gender-neutral housing options. Even if you don’t think you’ll need these resources, it’s great to know what’s available. Campus Safety offices are also valuable places to look. Ask for statistics about any crimes against LGBTQ students, reports of discrimination or campus ordinances prohibiting harassment. Additionally, check out the surrounding neighborhood to see if you’d have the opportunity to join a larger, off-campus LGBTQ community, like those found here.
4. Academic Environment
Search for LGBTQ faculty members, and while checking the course catalog, search for courses or academic majors exploring LGBTQ themes, like San Diego State University’s LGBT major. Relevant courses might deal with diversity or gender studies, sexuality, and the self. Good places to look are in the sociology, gender/diversity studies, psychology, history and philosophy departments. Even if you’re not interested in taking these classes, their presence or absence can indicate a school’s cultural sensitivity.
5. Campus Vibe
Often the best way to get the sense of a place is to visit. Pay attention to the vibe you get while walking around campus. Notice how safe you feel. Attend a class to see if you can imagine yourself there on a daily basis. Most importantly, whether you visit or not, reach out to current students about LGBTQ life on campus and their experiences.
The transition to college is challenging for everyone, but minority groups are particularly vulnerable. A new environment brings out the best and the worst in people; it’s simultaneously threatening and exhilarating. Always know your rights and research local discrimination laws and campus ordinances. More universities now offer on-campus LGBTQ resource centers or student organizations. If not, there are still national or regional organizations. You can usually find on-campus groups and services through a school’s student-services center, student-resources office, or services for new students.
Spotlight: LGBTQ Student Centers
LGBTQ Student Centers provide support, education and a welcoming community. To see which schools have professionally run LGBTQ student centers, consult this helpful map, which lists around 200 centers nationwide.
Community and National Organizations
Even if your school doesn’t have a LGBTQ student organization or center, local organizations can provide a supportive community. If not, there are still major LGBTQ alliances across the country that encourage students to become a part of their network. Involvement with these organizations is personally beneficial and deeply rewarding. In addition to helping you learn your rights and educate others, these organizations provide mechanisms for reporting abusive or discriminatory behavior on campus. Here are a few organizations supporting LGBTQ students:
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or “GLSEN”
An organization for parents, students and teachers, GLSEN focuses on creating safe school environments for LGBTQ students. The organization supports student organizers around the country in projects like Day of Silence, Ally Week and creating Gay-Straight Alliances. Local chapters enact GLSEN’s mission in their communities.
Campus Pride supports LGBTQ student organizations in working toward a society free of bigotry and hate. It creates this change by developing student networks and offering useful online resources, including a Campus Pride Index ranking LGBTQ-friendly colleges.
Out for Work
Out for Work’s mission is to prepare LGBTQ college students to “transition from academia to the workplace.” Out for Work can help you find work or internships while studying and a full-time job after graduation. Alumni participants give back to the next generation of students. Connect by joining, registering for a conference and attending events.
Trans Student Educational Resources, or “TSER”
Run by youth, TSER aims to make educational environments friendlier for transgender and non-conforming-gender students using advocacy and empowerment. They also focus on education and hold workshops and events. You can report any concerns about your school to this organization, and TSER maintains a database of nationwide youth-focused conferences.
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, or “GLAD”
GLAD fights for full legal equality for LGBTQ people and those living with AIDS. A great resource for students based in the New England area, GLAD uses litigation, advocacy and education to achieve its goals. Their tool kits for knowing your rights are particularly handy, and the free and confidential GLAD Answers hotline can help with any legal or rights-based inquiries you have.
Scholarship Opportunities for LGBTQ Students
Support for LGBTQ college students is also available through scholarships from a number of organizations. Some welcome all LGBTQ applicants while others focus on empowering particular subsets. Now that we’ve discussed how to find the right college, take a look at some scholarships that can help you get there:
Point Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Full-time undergraduate or graduate students of any age and financial background at an accredited four-year institution.
Deadline: January 19
Pride Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: LGBTQ students in particular academic fields or geographical areas, or those with certain cultural identities.
Amount: Various, as The Pride Foundation grants access to more than 50 scholarships with one application.
Deadline: January 11
Queer Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: High school students who partake in an essay contest on queer studies and youth education.
Deadline: February 14
Gamma Mu Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Gay U.S. men younger than 35 who study full-time for bachelor’s, graduate and associate degrees—or undertake technical or vocational training.
Amount: $1,000 to $2,500
Deadline: March 31
Trans Student Educational Resources Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Gender-diverse applicants demonstrating financial need who’ve experienced oppression and contributed to the transgender community—regardless of GPA, year in college, major and documentation status.
Amount: $500 to $2,000
Deadline: May 20
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or “PFLAG,” National Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Members of the LGBTQ community and allies, including non-U.S. citizens who are graduating seniors who have an interest in serving the LGBTQ community and will be studying at accredited U.S. institutions.
Amount: $1,000 to $5,000
Deadline: May 31
Colin Higgins Courage Award
Who Can Apply: LGBTQ youth activists who demonstrate a history of activism, community-building, and transforming experiences with bigotry into opportunities.
Deadline: February 27
National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals Scholarships
Who Can Apply: LGBTQ students pursuing undergraduate or graduate studies in “STEM” fields: science, technology, engineering or mathematics, who have completed two years of post-high school education, have a 3.0 or higher GPA and support the LGBTQ community.
Deadline: First Saturday of June
Traub-Dicker Rainbow Scholarship
Who Can Apply: LGBTQ students (high school seniors, undergraduate or graduate) who identify as women and are committed to community service, academic excellence and making a difference.
Amount: $1,500 to $3,000
Deadline: Contact for the latest application deadlines
Gene and John Athletic Fund Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Emerging LGBTQ athletes continuing their education while pursuing a career in sports—professional or recreational.
Amount: $2,500 or $5,000
Deadline: Contact them to check the latest application deadlines
League Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Graduating LGBTQ high-school seniors accepted to an accredited U.S. institution, with significant community service and a GPA above 3.0.
Fund for Lesbian and Gay Scholarships, or “FLAGS”
Who Can Apply: Lesbian, gay and bisexual students with financial need who are active in the community, as well as 10th and 11th graders planning to pursue post-secondary education.
Live Out Loud! Educational Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Graduating LGBTQ high-school seniors from New York, Connecticut or New Jersey who are pursuing college degrees.
Deadline: Beginning of March
Pride Center of the Capital Region Scholarships
Who Can Apply: LGBTQ graduating seniors with demonstrable commitment to the LGBTQ community. One scholarship is for students majoring in visual arts, broadcasting, journalism and related fields.
Deadline: May 4
Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Asian and Pacific Islander women and transgender people in college studies or vocational training, as well as high school seniors.
Deadline: February 12
Who Can Apply: Current LGBTQ students who plan on participating in a high-quality study-abroad program who meet the general criteria for Fund for Education Abroad scholarships.
Amount: $10,000 for one year; $5,000 for one semester; $1,250 for summer
Deadline: January 18
Finally, check out opportunities specific to LGBTQ students at your university or in your state, like the eQuality Scholarship Collaborative’s awards for California students studying medicine or nursing. Specific academic fields also have opportunities, like the National Gay Pilots Association scholarships. You can find more LGBTQ scholarships in the Human Rights Campaign’s scholarship database and the Campus Pride Scholarship Database.