Applying for college is an intimidating time. You’re stuck writing essay after essay, you need to take exams, pay application fees, and the list goes on and on. But for LGBTQ+ students, the list of new challenges might be longer. Finding the right college that meets all their academic needs and is supportive of their identity is, unfortunately, harder than it should be.
To hopefully make the process a little easier for LGBTQ+ students looking to attend college, I’ve laid out a few important steps you can take to ensure you’re picking the right school.
Challenges LGBTQ+ college students face
LGBTQ+ students may face numerous challenges in their college careers, including:
- Harassment. According to GSLEN’s National School Climate Survey, 90% of LGBTQ+ students experience harassment or assault based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity.
- Securing housing. Some LGBTQ+ students face harassment in their housing situations in college. Transgender students, in particular, can have a difficult time getting assigned housing that matches their gender identity, and it can be uncomfortable to ask the school to change housing.
- Finding fair athletics. College athletics typically fall into two gendered categories: men and women. This can get messy for trans and non-binary students who often have to fight to be included in sports and extracurricular activities.
- Getting correct financial assistance. For students who don’t have a healthy relationship with their parents, the FAFSA can be difficult, especially if they can’t qualify for independent student status. A financial aid office that understands and is sympathetic to that situation isn’t always easy to find.
Filling out the FAFSA alone
When you’re applying for college, you’ll have the same fate as all that came before you: You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the number one way to get government funding for your education. This is the first route any student should take before applying for private loans.
For LGBTQ+ students, many of whom don’t have family support when it comes to applying to college, filing the FAFSA out can be incredibly complicated, since most of the form involves filling out your parents’ or guardians’ financial information. LGBTQ+ students who may have issues with their families won’t have easy access to this information.
One of the only ways around the parental portion of the FAFSA is to declare yourself an independent student. Emancipated minors, as well as married students and homeless youths can file as independent students. As this type of filer, you’ll go through the regular FAFSA, but you’ll skip the parental portion.
Read more: What is an independent student on the FAFSA?
What if I can’t declare myself an independent student?
If you don’t meet the requirements of an independent student — say, you’re not in contact with your parents, but you were never officially declared emancipated — there’s a place you can report special circumstances on the FAFSA.
Unfortunately, this won’t guarantee you’ll get the financing you’re expecting, so you’ll want to make sure to contact the financial aid department at the colleges you’ve been accepted to and ask what they can do, if anything.
Scholarship opportunities for LGBTQ+ students
For students who identify as LGBTQ+, there are numerous scholarships available that can help you pay for your education. While many of these scholarships won’t cover your whole tuition, any little bit you can get will help.
A few specific scholarships include:
- LEAGUE Foundation scholarships — The League Foundation offers a few different scholarships for LGBTQ+ students ranging from $2,500-$4,000. Students need to be graduating high school seniors the year they apply.
- The Out to Innovate™ scholarships — LGBTQ+ undergraduates and graduates who are studying in a STEM field can apply to three different scholarship options ranging from $2,000-$5,000.
- Pride Foundation scholarships — LGBTQ+ students who live in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington can apply for the Pride Foundation scholarships. There are over 60 scholarship options, but you’ll only need to fill out one application to apply for them.
- The Aritzia Scholarship — This scholarship, founded by Aritzia, a fashion retailer, offers LGBTQIA students (four per year) one-time scholarships of $5,000, which will be paid directly to the schools.
- Traub-Dicker Rainbow Scholarship — Established by Peggy Traub and Phyllis Dicker, this scholarship supports students who identify as lesbians in their pursuit of a college degree. Several students get one-time scholarships of $4,000. These scholarships are paid directly to the schools.
- Little Bird Scholarship — LGBTQ+ students who are also undocumented immigrants, refugees, and individuals seeking or granted asylum can apply for the Little Bird scholarship. Students can get $18,000 to be dispersed over two years of school.
- Levin-Goffe Scholarship — LGBTQ+ or intersex students who are also undocumented immigrants and studying in New York City can receive $25,000 for up to two years of school as long as they’re rising sophomores in college.
This is a small sampling of scholarships available. If you’re a high school student, ask your guidance counselor to look into other options and they can compile a list. A simple Google search can lead you to state-specific options as well.
Finding a queer-friendly college
When you start looking for schools, you’re of course interested in the education it provides and the extracurriculars you want to take part in. But as an LGBTQ+ student, you have a few more factors you have to think about. You’ll want to make sure your school(s) of choice are queer-friendly spaces.
A few of the most queer-friendly colleges in the country include:
- Agnes Scott College
- Bard College
- Smith College
- Mount Holyoke College
- Brown University
- College of the Atlantic
- Harvey Mudd College
- Oberlin College
- New York University
You’ll want to consider a few other factors besides the college’s rating, though. Look into the discrimination policies at your top choices, and consider the actual location of the university. Is its off-campus someplace you want to be? Is it in an accepting area? You will have to venture into town more than you likely think, so make sure you’re living in a community you like.
Understanding your rights as an LGBTQ+ student
Even schools with the best intentions can be in the wrong and commit acts of discrimination against students. You have rights in certain situations, including:
- Freedom of expression — Colleges cannot tell you that you can’t be out or discuss LGBTQ+ rights on campus. Public colleges have to abide by the constitutional right to expression.
- A right to privacy — A college cannot out you without expressed permission from you.
- Title IX protections — Title IX protects students who are victims of sexual violence or harassment. LGBTQ+ students are also covered under this as well. Schools have a responsibility to respond to acts of violence in a timely manner, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or the victim. Title IX also protects transgender students’ rights to fair and equal educational opportunities.
Understanding these rights can help ensure that you’re getting equal and just opportunities. If you think the financial aid office or any other office at your university has violated any of these rights, you can report this to the ACLU which can help you start a case.
Resources once you’re a student
Many colleges have started dedicating resources to the LGBTQ+ community, offering help to students who have long faced discrimination in higher education. When looking into colleges, the most supportive schools will have the following:
LGBTQ+ resource centers
Many colleges have LGBTQ+ centers that are designed to help LGBTQ+ students exist comfortably on campus. When looking into schools, do a quick search and see what the school has to say about a resource center like this.
If you have specific questions, you can even email the contact. In my experience, they’re more than happy to answer questions from curious potential students.
Many colleges have clubs for LGBTQ+ students. These range from support groups to activism clubs. My college had over a dozen options to choose from, which made me feel a lot more comfortable as an LGBTQ+ student. It made me feel like my university recognized the importance of having groups like this.
Supportive campus events
College campuses have speakers from all kinds of backgrounds to give students an understanding of different communities. You’ll want to make sure your school includes LGBTQ+ individuals in the mix.
One of the only core courses required by my college was a social justice class. There’s great importance in being able to understand other people’s points of view and understanding social justice issues that pertain to different communities. Many schools have gender studies, women’s studies, and queer studies programs. If you’re interested in studying these issues professionally, find out the exact options your schools of choice offer.
LGBTQ+ students will want to make sure to choose a college that not only supports their identity but has the right resources to help students flourish. Make sure to take advantage of the many scholarships available to LGBTQ+ students, and understand the rights you have as a student. Plus, take advantage of the resources your school does offer. They’re there to help!