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College Admissions

Choosing a College If You Are Gay

It’s down to the wire for seniors who have a number of offers and still haven’t decided which college to attend. They may be getting phone calls from current students at the colleges that accepted them. If you are a prospective business major, you might be contacted by a student majoring in marketing who wants to tell you about the school’s great internship opportunities with local businesses. A saxophone player may get a call from a student in the jazz band. This kind of outreach has been done for years and helps prospective students feel connected to a college, which makes them more likely to enroll.

What’s new is that in addition to appealing to prospective students based on their interests, some colleges are identifying newly admitted students who may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and letting them know that they will find a welcoming environment on campus. Times have changed, and there are many LGBT friendly colleges, but some campuses are more comfortable than others, and students need to make sure they are choosing a college where they will feel safe and accepted.

While college applications don’t ask about a student’s sexuality, some students write essays that indicate they are gay or are interested in LGBT issues. Admissions officers at the University of Pennsylvania arrange for newly admitted students who have indicated that they are concerned about gay issues or want to be part of the gay community at Penn to be contacted by members of Lambda Alliance, the gay umbrella group on campus, so the prospective students can get answers to any questions they have about LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) life at the school. Students at Penn will find numerous support groups, including Jewish Bisexuals, Gays and Lesbians, Queer Christian Fellowship, Penn’s Athletes and Allies Tackling Homophobia, Queer People of Color, Queer Student Alliance, Queer Undergraduates in Engineering, Science and Technology, and Wharton Alliance.

In the application supplement for Dartmouth College, students can indicate their interest in a number of areas, including gender identity and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied community. If they have indicated interest, students receive information about LGBTQA events and resources. The admission office has also produced a video chat that highlights LGBTQA student life at Dartmouth.

While Penn and Dartmouth do active outreach, they are hardly the only schools to provide a welcoming environment for LGBT students. In addition to private schools like Oberlin College, Ithaca College and American University, a number of public universities, including University of Maryland, University of Michigan, and Penn State University, receive good report cards from the LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, which assesses the quality of life for LGBT students on college campuses. Colleges receive up to five stars for overall campus climate, and for factors such as academic life, student life, housing, campus safety, recruitment and retention for LGBT students. Go to www.campusclimateindex.org to access the rankings and more detailed information about more than 200 colleges.

But don’t just rely on rankings to identify LGBT-friendly colleges. You can look through a school’s catalogue (available on the website) for courses with gay and lesbian themes. When you visit the campus, you can also stop by the LGBT resource center, if there is one. A large LGBT-friendly university may have a resource center with paid staff and support groups. A small college may not have a designated center on campus, but should have a student organization that provides social activities and other campus events. Check the student life section of the school’s website for a list of student organizations, and contact the LGBT organizations to learn more about campus life. If there isn’t an LGBT organization on campus, the school might not be LGBT-friendly. In addition to researching the environment on campus, you need to check out the town. Is there an active gay community in the area, with LGBT-friendly businesses?

While it is important for LGBT students to find a college that provides a safe and welcoming environment, they also need to make sure the college meets their other criteria. If you know you want to study creative writing, an LGBT-friendly college that has no creative writing courses would not be the right school.

The more important you have about prospective colleges, the better. At the LGBT-Friendly National College Fair, students and parents can talk to representatives from gay-friendly colleges around the country.  More information is available at www.campusclimateindex.org.

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