LGBTQ Students and College Affordability

Evaluating potential colleges is a thrilling, if nerve-wracking experience for most students. It’s exciting to select a major, explore different campuses, and contemplate your first taste of independence—but the process can also be a little scary, particularly if you self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ). While a 2013 study conducted by the Pew Research Institute reported that 92% of LGBTQ adults feel more accepted now than they have in the last decade, the stigma of non-heterosexual orientation endures, and it’s natural to feel apprehensive before moving into a new environment.
According to the Pew study, the median age for Americans to come out as part of the LGBTQ Community is 20, right in the middle of the college years for most students.

The Association of American University’s 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct reported that 60% of LGBTQ students reported incidences of sexual misconduct and harassment; comparatively, only 45% of their heterosexual classmates did the same. These numbers echo a 2003 study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which found that 43% of college students felt that their school environment was homophobic. Compounding the issue is that many young LGBTQ adults don’t realize their sexual orientation until they’re in their late teens.

Amidst these trends and the societal fallout from the 2016 Presidential election, incoming LGBTQ freshmen may feel particularly sensitive about their school’s ability to provide a supportive and safe learning environment.

For some LGBTQ students, a lack of familial support can also lead to emotional and financial obstacles to attending college. Fortunately, many colleges across the country are LGBTQ-friendly. These schools have developed programs that address the unique needs of LGBTQ students, including scholarships, alternative housing, inclusive curricula, campus life presence, healthcare, counseling, and more. Our guide to LGBTQ colleges breaks down the individual components that make a campus LGBTQ-friendly, and is intended to help you navigate potential schools.


Scholarships for LGBTQ students

Point Foundation

Overview As the largest provider of LGBTQ scholarship opportunities, the Point Foundation offers a number of valuable resources for college students. Point scholarships are awarded based on academic performance, financial need, and community participation in support of LGBTQ issues. Applicants who have limited or no social support networks are given special consideration.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount Varies
Deadline Interested students can apply online between November and January; recipients are announced in June.

Queer Foundation

Overview The Queer Foundation’s Effective Writing and Scholarships Program awards a scholarship to the winners of its annual essay contest. Winning essays are also implemented into high school curricula as an LGBTQ social awareness tool. Scholarship funds go to students planning to study queer theory.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount $1,000
Deadline Essays are due in mid-February of each year.

Gamma Mu Foundation

Overview A non-profit organization dedicated to LGBTQ awareness and support in rural and underserved areas, Gamma Mu awards two need-based scholarships to eligible LGBTQ college students. Gay men who demonstrate academic performance and financial need may apply for the Gamma Mu Scholarship, and all LGBTQ students may apply for the Folisi & Goodwin Scholarship in Memory of Ray Williams. Gamma Mu does not award scholarships for online degree programs.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount Between $1,000 and $2,500
Deadline Applications are accepted online through March 31.

PFLAG

Overview Formerly known as the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG is a large advocacy organization. Graduating seniors who identify as LGBTQ or allies are eligible for need-based financial awards. Scholarships are awarded nationally and locally, and interested students are encouraged to check their local chapter network for opportunities.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount Varies
Deadline Applications for the national scholarship are due May 31.

Stonewall Community Foundation

Overview This public organization is based in New York City, and serves the LGBTQ population in the greater metro area. Several granting bodies offer academic scholarships through Stonewall, some of which are geared toward particular interests of LGBTQ students. Students interested in the Harry Bartel Memorial Scholarship, the Traub-Dicker Rainbow Scholarship, the Gene and John Athletic Fund Scholarship, or the Levin-Goffe Scholarship are invited to apply.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount From $1,500 to $12,500.
Deadline Ongoing

Association for Queer Anthropology

Overview The annual Kenneth W. Payne Student prize is awarded to undergraduate or postgraduate students who demonstrate academic achievement in anthropological studies with an LGBTQ slant.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount A $400 cash prize will be awarded to the recipient during the AQA’s annual meetings in the fall.
Deadline Research papers and visual media presentations may be submitted through June 1.

LEAGUE Foundation

Overview Once an offshoot of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual United Employees of AT&T, the LEAGUE Foundation is now an independent national scholarship organization devoted to helping LGBTQ students and their families. Graduating seniors who have a strong community service record and at least a 3.0 GPA may apply online for one of five LEAGUE scholarships, the Laurel Hester Memorial Scholarship, or the Matthew Shepard Memorial Scholarship.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount Varies
Deadline Applications are accepted from January until April, and winners are announced in July.

Love Out Loud

Overview This non-profit organization focuses on improving the educational experience for LGBTQ students of all ages in the New York tri-state area. Graduating seniors in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey are invited to apply for one of three annual scholarships. These awards are extended to LGBTQ youth who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and community service within the LGBTQ community; academic performance and financial need are also taken into consideration.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount $10,000
Deadline Applications are due January 15, and awards are announced in March.

National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association

Overview Kay Longcope, the first openly gay reporter to ever work at the Boston Globe, advanced LGBTQ awareness throughout her career as a journalist. The Kay Longcope scholarship seeks to continue her legacy by awarding an annual scholarship to an LGBTQ student of color. Though it is not strictly required, recipients generally major in journalism or communications. Scholarships are awarded based on academic performance and reporting ability. Interested students must submit five work samples in any media, and complete an assigned reporting project.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount $3,000
Deadline Application packages are due May 31.

Pride Foundation

Overview This regional association serving the LGBTQ community in the Pacific Northwest offers more than 50 scholarship to eligible applicants. Awards are based on academic performance, financial need, cultural identity, community service record, or a combination of these factors. Each scholarship carries its own requirements, but all are awarded to area LGBTQ students and allies.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount Varies
Deadline Only one online application is required, and it must be submitted by January 13th.

National Organization of Gay & Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals

Overview National Organization of Gay & Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals: LGBTQ students who plan to major in STEM fields may be eligible for one of two academic scholarships awarded by this professional organization. To be eligible, you must have junior or senior standing, a 3.0 GPA or better, and a history of activism and community service.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount $5,000
Deadline Applications are due the first week of June.

Tidal Wave Scholarship Fund

Overview Maintained by active members in the Pride celebration scene, the Tidal Wave Foundation awards multiple scholarships per year to eligible applicants. Out LGBTQ students, or children of out LGBTQ parents, must demonstrate financial need and a minimum GPA of 3.5 for consideration.
Visit Official Webpage
Award Amount $1,000
Deadline Applications are due on May 15.

Assessing a School’s LGBTQ Community

When you’re looking at potential colleges you should try to find a place where you can comfortably spend the next few years of your life. This can be a tall order for any high school senior, and even more so for LGBTQ students. Fortunately, there are a few indicators that can signal how LGBTQ-friendly a given school is. Schools with LGBTQ clubs or curriculums that cover LGBTQ issues are generally pretty accepting. Visible signs of acceptance, like rainbows, pink triangles, and designated safe zones, are another way to measure a school’s LGBTQ culture.

On-Campus Organizations

Outside of the classroom, a college’s extracurricular scene reflects its campus culture. Students who actively participate in LGBTQ-themed clubs and organizations can pursue a variety social experiences, allowing students to meet classmates they otherwise might not. For new freshmen and residential students, these organizations can be a primary hub of social activity. The presence of the following organizations on a college campus signals that the LGBTQ student population is welcomed.

  • Delta Lambda Phi While there are many inclusive fraternities, Delta Lambda Phi is one of the largest. Founded as the first fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men, the presence of a DLP chapter on campus is a solid indicator of a school’s inclusivity.
  • Gamma Rho Lambda Gamma Rho Lambda is DLP’s counterpart for LGBTQ women. This social organization was founded as a lesbian sorority, but now welcomes all women, regardless of their sexual orientation.
  • Reaching Out MBA Reaching Out MBA began as a networking club for LGBTQ MBA students, but has since grown to envelop any postgraduate LGBTQ business students.
  • Gender and Sexuality Action Committee The American Medical Student Association’s Gender and Sexuality Action Committee is an outgrowth of this organization’s commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.
  • Campus Pride Campus Pride is a notable voice in LGBTQ campus inclusion and awareness. Their involvement on a local basis delivers support for LGBTQ clubs, Greek society advocacy, the establishment of safe spaces, faculty and administration training, and much more.
  • oSTEM oSTEM, or Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is a national student-led organization that provides a space for LGBTQ STEM majors to congregate and network.
  • LGBTQ Resource Center A dedicated LGBTQ resource center on campus offers a central point for LGBTQ students to socialize, access resources, host club meetings, attend special events, and study in peace.
  • Student Alliances School-sponsored student alliances offer social activities and education for LGBTQ students and their allies. These may be designed around student majors or interests, or could address specific student populations.
  • P.R.I.D.E. Events Campuses that sponsor a P.R.I.D.E. week are campuses that support LGBTQ students. Check the student affairs office or student activities calendar for acknowledgment of this important tradition in the LGBTQ community, and remember that campus scheduling may not follow the typical June timeline.

LGBTQ Initiatives

A good way to explore a school’s commitment to LGBTQ issues is to examine how this support helps students. Most colleges claim to welcome students from every walk of life, but some don’t foster the kind of support that all students need. If a school puts its money where its mouth is, you’ll see evidence of it in its policies and infrastructure.

  • Gender-Neutral Housing

    Sometimes called rainbow housing or unity housing, gender-neutral housing removes many of the limitations that are common in traditional college dorms. This allows LGBTQ students to live and study in a comfortable and harassment-free space. Some students even enjoy bathroom arrangements that offer more privacy than a traditional dorm.

  • Housing Exemptions

    Schools that don’t offer designated gender-neutral floors or buildings should make housing exemptions available to LGBTQ students, either by allowing them to board with gender-neutral roommates, single rooms, or off-campus accommodations. All dorms should have policies in place to combat homophobia and protect LGBTQ students from it.

  • Gender-inclusive bathrooms

    Gender-inclusive bathrooms are fortunately becoming more common on college campuses today. Older schools sometimes require retrofitting to accommodate these facilities; consequently, not all bathrooms may be gender-inclusive. Campuses that make the effort will have at least a few strategically-located restrooms.

  • LGBTQ Awareness Training

    Staff in all student service areas, from the dorms to the cafeteria, should be trained in LGBTQ awareness and able to recognize the unique needs of these students.

  • Diversity Employment

    Paid LGBTQ staff in student health care centers, counseling centers and career advising offices clearly demonstrate that a school is sensitive to LGBTQ students’ needs.

  • Anti-Harassment Policies

    In the event of harassment or worse, an LGBTQ-friendly school will have an effective and immediate policy in place to address the event.

LGBTQ Academics

Schools that are truly dedicated to LGBTQ inclusivity have an academic curriculum that reflects their stance. Not only are its faculty and campus staff welcoming, but the school also approaches LGBTQ issues from a pedagogical perspective. Many schools have expanded their women’s studies departments and developed LGBT Studies programs that focus on sexuality and its political and social implications. While formal degree programs are relatively rare, some schools do offer them. More commonly, LGBTQ studies are offered either as minors or specialty tracks in conjunction with another degree program. Graduate certificates in the discipline are also a popular option.

LGBTQ students may also find that distance education meets their needs. Geographically isolated students who may not be able to attend an LGBTQ-friendly school in a progressive city may be able to enroll in its online degree program. Similarly, the LGBTQ college student who wants to focus solely on academics without the social pressures of campus life may also find distance education appealing. In either of these scenarios, a student can benefit from an LGBTQ-friendly school’s accepting atmosphere.

Steps to Take

For LGBTQ students exploring potential colleges, taking a few extra steps in the process can shed light on any school’s approach to inclusivity.

  1. Explore the school website. LGBTQ-friendly schools make their stance clear, and information about LGBTQ student life should be readily available. If you have difficulty determining whether a school maintains a dedicated resource center or offers services geared toward LGBTQ students, consider that a red flag.
  2. Consult the Campus Pride Index. This valuable resource is considered the gold standard for evaluating LGBTQ-friendly colleges. Participating schools voluntarily submit to an assessment; Campus Pride then evaluates each school and ranks it against an eight-point scoring system based on its inclusivity standards.
  3. Campus visits are ideal for a true representation of the school’s atmosphere; ideally, all aspiring college students should attend a campus orientation and tour if possible. Tours are generally led by trained student volunteers who are prepared for questions about student life; don’t be shy about asking for details on LGBTQ student services.
  4. During your campus visit, stop by the LGBTQ resource center. Is it well-staffed and inviting? Are students taking advantage of its services? Is there evidence of ample educational, networking, and social opportunities for LGBTQ students?

As you narrow down your list, consider the elements of an LGBTQ-friendly school covered above. Evaluate the campus presence of LGBTQ organizations, the dedicated resources the school has provided to LGBTQ students, the school policy around LGBTQ issues, and its academic offerings.


National Resources

In addition to the comprehensive resources already detailed in this guide, the following list may help you find the college experience that suits you best. Use these links to learn what to look for in a college, discover your rights as a member of the LGBTQ community, explore new avenues for activism, or connect with other LGBTQ students.

GLSEN

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network is a leader in advocacy for LGBTQ students. Started by a group of teachers concerned about the effects of bullying on their LGBTQ students, GLSEN is now a national organization dedicated to the fight for safe learning spaces for all students. Though its focus is primarily for K-12 students, GLSEN’s website is a comprehensive resource for LGBTQ students of any age. Its sections on public policy and current research, along with its webinars on current hot topics, may be of particular interest to college-bound LGBTQ students.

Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness

Hosted by the American College Personnel Association Foundation, this coalition of educators and administrators advocates for LGBTQ inclusion on college campuses across America. Resources on its website include listings of Ally and Safe Zone programs on campus, education on transgender issues, information on HIV and AIDS awareness, and links to training for educators and administrators. Perhaps its most useful contribution to college-bound LGBTQ students is its database of graduate students, faculty, and educational professionals who are currently conducting research in LGBTQ studies.

Trans Student Educational Resources

Managed entirely by trans students, TSER is a national organization dedicated to raising awareness of transgender issues. TSER is perhaps most well known for its popular teaching tool, the Gender Unicorn infographic. TSER’s work has influenced policy in U.S. women’s colleges and helped establish the first national fellowship program for trans youth. It hosts popular workshop series on issues that impact transgender students.

What Should LGBTQ Applicants Look for in a College?

Robert Franek is the Senior Vice President of Content Development at The Princeton Review. An out gay professional, he is a frequent contributor to the The Huffington Post’s Voices blog series. In this article he delivers his personal thoughts on the college application process and how LGBTQ students should best approach it.

Lambda Legal

This national non-profit organization is dedicated to achieving equality for the LGBTQ population in America. It stands behind some of the most notable civil rights cases in LGBTQ history, including the nation’s first HIV/AIDS discrimination case and most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of gay marriage. Its role in Brandon Teena’s murder case in 2000 was featured in the film Boys Don’t Cry. Lambda Legal advocates extensively for gay and trans students; a dedicated segment of its website is filled with educational materials and resources for LGBTQ youth.

BiNet USA

BiNet is a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of bisexual Americans. It produces the popular BiCast podcast series, promotes inclusion and influences public policy. BiNet also provides education, and has presented training on bi issues to GLAAD, The Williams Institute, the LA LGBT Center, and the White House.

National Center for Transgender Equality

NCTE is a national organization that is dedicated to transgender equality. Based in Washington, D.C., this nonprofit seeks to influence public policy that affects the trans community. Its notable activities include the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, which is focused on improving conditions for transgender prisoners, and the Trans Legal Services Network, which provides legal support for the transgender name and gender change process. The NCTE website delivers comprehensive, accurate information on your legal rights as a trans person.

COLAGE

Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere was founded in 1988 by a group of teens who realized they were not alone. Today it is a national student-run nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the recognition of families led by LGBTQ parents. COLAGE’s awareness programs include Family Week and twice-yearly national programs. It serves as an active networking resources for students with LGBTQ parents.

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives

Maintained by the libraries of the University of Southern California, the ONE archives contain the largest collection of LGBTQ materials in the world. ONE’s special programs promote art and explore artistic expression within the LGBTQ community. ONE regularly hosts lectures, workshops, performances, and discussions on notable topics, and new exhibits of archived materials are regularly offered. The archive is open to public viewing on the USC campus, Tuesday through Saturday of most weeks.