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.
LGBTQ Scholarships for Students
Point Foundation TBA
Deadline: January 30 (11:59 PM PST)
Queer Foundation $1,000
Deadline: February 14
Gamma Mu Foundation $1,000-$2,500
Deadline: March 31
Deadline: National scholarship deadline to be announced, chapter deadlines vary
Stonewall Community Foundation $1,500 to $25,000
Association for Queer Anthropology Varies
LEAGUE Foundation Varies
Live Out Loud $10,000
National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) Up to $3,000
Deadline: May 31 (11:59 PM EST)
Pride Foundation Varies
National Organization of Gay & Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals $5,000
Deadline: First Saturday of June (11:59 PM PT)
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 help determine which schools are LGBTQ friendly colleges. Schools with LGBTQ resources and 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 community and culture.
On-Campus LGBTQ Organizations
A college’s extracurricular activities are a reflection of its campus culture. Students who participate in LGBTQ-themed clubs and organizations on their own time are exposed to a variety of social experiences that they might otherwise not experience. These organizations can act as a hub for social activity for freshman and transfer students who live on campus. The presence of the following organizations signal that LGBTQ students are welcome by a large portion of the student body.
Delta Lambda Phi
Delta Lambda Phi was founded for gay, bisexual, and progressive men and is now one of the largest and most inclusive fraternities in the Greek Life community. The presence of this fraternity on a school’s campus is a positive indicator of its inclusivity.
Gamma Rho Lambda
Gamma Rho Lambda is a national sorority for women, trans-women, trans-men, and non-binary students of any race, culture, or sexual orientation. This sorority provides a social support system for all students within the community. It has also been referred to as the first national multicultural lesbian sorority.
Reaching Out MBA
Reaching Out MBA was founded as a networking club for LGBTQ students in MBA programs, but has since grown to include LGBTQ students in any business-related program.
Gender and Sexuality Action Committee
The Gender and Sexuality Action Committee is an outgrowth of the American Medical Student Association’s commitment to LGBTQ advocacy. This committee is dedicated to combating sexism and heterosexism, as well as ensuring equal access to medical care and equality within the medical education field.
Campus Pride is the foremost voice when it comes to LGBTQ campus inclusion and awareness. The organization is involved locally on many campuses, providing support for LGBTQ clubs and Greek society, advocating for the establishment of safe spaces, and encouraging the training of faculty and administrative staff on LGBTQ-related topics.
Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM) is a national, student-led organization that provides a safe space for LGBTQ STEM majors to congregate, network, and work on coursework.
LGBTQ Resource Center
Schools that have a dedicated LGBTQ resource center have a central place where LGBTQ students can socialize, access campus resources, host club meetings, attend special events, and study in a safe space.
Student alliances that are sponsored by a school’s administration offer a variety of social activities and educational opportunities for LGBTQ students and their allies. These may be designed around student majors or interests, or could address the specific needs of each student population.
Colleges that sponsor a P.R.I.D.E week visibly show their support for their LGBTQ students. You should check with a school’s student affairs office or student activities calendar to see if they participate in this annual tradition. Remember that campus scheduling may not follow the typical June timeline.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
In the event of harassment or worse, an LGBTQ-friendly school will have an effective and immediate policy in place to address the event.
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 LGBTQ friendly colleges 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.
- Explore the school website. LGBTQ friendly colleges make their stance clear, and information about LGBTQ resources and 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.
- 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.
- 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 resources and student services.
- 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.
What are the Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students?
Below, we’ve ranked some of the most affordable colleges for LGBTQ students. All of the schools on this list have received scores of three or higher on the Campus Pride Index, which assesses colleges and universities based on their LGBTQ-inclusive policies, programs, and practices. These schools have also received high marks on the AffordableColleges.com Value Score, which uses a unique methodology to measure a school’s quality, affordability, and student outcomes.
1. University of Central Florida Score: 4.5
Located in the bustling city of Orlando, the University of Central Florida first opened its doors during the space craze of the late 1960s. Since the construction of its campus to its history of unique mascots, everything about the school has emphasized innovation. UCF’s reputation for all things cutting edge has only increased over the years.
One way in which the school’s forward-thinking culture manifests today is in the robust LGBTQ resources the institution offers its students. For example, the school’s Social Justice and Advocacy division administers an active and visible program specifically focused on providing an array of LGBTQ resources for the UCF community and the school’s central campus is home to Pride Commons, a student space tailored to the needs and interests of LGBTQ students.
2. University of Maryland, College Park Score: 4.5
The University of Maryland, College Park is the flagship institution of the University of Maryland system. Located only a few miles from Washington, D.C. and founded in 1856, College Park enjoys a unique and storied relationship with the federal government. College Park places a strong emphasis on providing LGBTQ resources for its students. The school’s Equity Center is a dedicated space for College Park’s LGBTQ students, providing a wide variety of resources and specialized advisory services. College Park hosts its Lavender Graduation ceremony on an annual basis, celebrating the accomplishments of its LGBTQ and allied community.
3. University of Nebraska at Omaha Score: 4
Founded in 1908, the University of Nebraska is today the University of Nebraska system’s most cosmopolitan branch. Surrounded by the state’s largest metropolis, the school’s surroundings ensure that students are always within close proximity to plentiful restaurants, entertainment venues, activities and everything else that city life has to offer.
UNO offers plenty of LGBTQ resources. For example, the school administers a program specifically dedicated to the needs of LGBTQ students, the Queer and Trans Student Services Agency. UNO is also the site of the Queer Omaha Archives and, in 2018, UNO will host the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference.
4. University of North Carolina at Greensboro Score: 3.5
Originally founded in 1891 as a women’s college, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is today a thriving and important part of the state’s third largest city that opens its doors to people of all backgrounds. Located deep in the South, students at UNCG can expect to enjoy all the benefits Southern living entails, including regional food, warm weather, and the wide open scenery of central North Carolina.
UNCG doesn’t skimp on LGBTQ resources for its students. The school’s Office of Intercultural Engagement and the GSU Queer Student Union host a variety of events focused on the interests and needs of LGBTQ students and promote inclusive policies throughout the campus.
5. University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Score: 3.5
The state’s flagship educational institution, the University of Oklahoma opened its doors before the state was recognized by the United States government and today the institution’s distinctive “cherokee gothic” architecture makes the school instantly recognizable. Norman is in close proximity to Oklahoma City (a 20 minute drive north), allowing students to enjoy college town life with easy access to the largest metropolis in the state.
UO’s Gender and Equality Center provides a wide variety of LGBTQ resources and services to its students. The school’s LGBTQ Program Advisory Board oversees events, programs, and policies designed to promote inclusive policies and services throughout campus.
6. Florida International University Score: 3
Florida International University is based in Greater Miami, just a short drive from the celebrated beaches of the state’s tropical southeastern coast. The school has come a long way since its inception: founded in 1943 in a tower on an abandoned airfield with no running water or electricity, today FIU boasts one of the largest student enrollments in the United States.
FIU aggressively works to expand its LGBTQ resources. For example, the presence of the school’s associate director for Multicultural Programs and Services, LGBTQA Initiatives makes FIU one of few universities in the United States with a staff member solely dedicated to the interests of a school’s LGBTQ population.
National LGBTQ 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.
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.
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 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.
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.