All right, if you’re here, I figure you know that LGBTQ+ students have their own set of factors to consider in the college search beyond all the typical ones like the location, programs, and price. You also probably know that some campuses are creating safe, supportive, well-integrated environments more or less successfully than others. And now you’re at that point where you’re ready to reach out to students and staff at the colleges and ask them the important questions.
When I research a college or visit a campus, I try to ask all the questions I can, hearing the different perspectives of students and staff there and exploring the answers conversationally. However, it’s my full-time job to do that. As a busy student with lots of colleges to research in a short time, you'll probably want to select your top 5-10 most relevant questions and focus on those.
Keeping to my 5 Ps framework of the LGBTQ+ college search – People, Places, Policies, Personal, and Pride – let’s dive into the major questions you might want to ask college students and staff as you conduct your initial college research.
What are the LGBTQ+ clubs and organizations on campus, and what are their activities?
How would you describe the personality of the LGBTQ+ community on campus?
How many out students are on campus, approximately? How easy is it to find them on a random day?
Are out faculty members visible, accessible, and eager to mentor students? Some additional questions:
Is the LGBTQ+ resource center director a friendly and tireless advocate for students?
Is there a campus organization that aligns with my intersectional identity?
How can students take on leadership roles within the LGBTQ+ community on campus?
Are there opportunities for students to engage in LGBTQ+ rights activism, advocacy, or social justice initiatives?
Are there enough resources on campus for students relative to the size of the greater population?
Generally on campus, where do LGBTQ+ students congregate?
Do students spend time at the LGBTQ+ resource center? What happens there?
What do students do off campus, and how often?
Where do LGBTQ+ students live and sleep? Some additional questions:
Where do parties occur, and are those spaces safe?
Are LGBTQ+ welcome in all spaces on campus?
What are the situations where an LGBTQ+ student would need to leave campus?
How easy is it to access all-gender restrooms?
Is gender-inclusive housing available?
Is there an easy process for changing names and other identifiers in campus systems?
Where do LGBTQ+ topics appear in the curriculum? Is there an LGBTQ+ Studies major or minor? Some additional questions:
What is the protocol for a significant roommate conflict?
Can trans students participate in all activities on campus, including athletics?
Is the administration receptive to student concerns and open to making changes?
Are the college’s statements and communications affirming and LGBTQ+-inclusive?
What LGBTQ+-inclusive trainings do faculty and staff receive?
Are there any scholarships or project grants for LGBTQ+ students?
Is campus health knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ health topics, and do they provide affirming care?
How does the college direct or support students needing gender-affirming care?
What LGBTQ+-inclusive mental health services are available, and what are the limitations on them?
How do LGBTQ+ state and local policies affect the student experience? Some additional questions:
Is gender-affirming care covered under the university’s health insurance?
Are there any specific supports or programming for trans and gender-expansive students?
Do students receive personal, individual attention from peers and campus staff?
Where would an LGBTQ+ student find a mentor on campus, off campus, or in the alumni network?
Is the college prepared to help a student with unsupportive parents?
Are Greek organizations LGBTQ+-inclusive?
Are faith-based spaces LGBTQ+-affirming?
What are the LGBTQ+-inclusive events and traditions on campus?
Are flags and other pride symbols prominent on campus, and is that generally reflective of attitudes on campus?
What is a recent experience where a student felt unsafe, and what happened next?
Do students feel like they can be their authentic selves openly on campus? Some additional questions:
Do any students receive ally training on campus?
Do faculty tend to use students’ pronouns, and do they correct themselves when they use pronouns incorrectly?
Do any students come to the LGBTQ+ resource center or other safe space to “get away?”
Do students feel comfortable speaking their mind?
Who should I ask, and how do I find them?
Once you identify what you want to know, consider whether the question is best addressed to a current student or the LGBTQ+ resource center director. (If there is no center director, you can ask an adjacent staff member, or, if you must, an admissions representative.) Often, college students’ perspectives are most helpful because they are real, current, and disconnected from the college’s recruitment priorities; and student perspectives are especially valuable if you gather a few answers and compare them.
The best way to find and reach current students is personal outreach. You can send a nice message or email to a student you relate to on social media or in the student newspaper. You can also ask the LGBTQ+ resource center director to connect you to a current student leader who shares your interests. The best way to reach out to the LGBTQ+ center is either directly (the contact information is usually on the website) or through an email connection your regional admissions representative can make (which, tangentially, is also a great way to demonstrate interest in the admissions process later).
When you ask your questions, you don’t need to press anyone too hard to answer. A lot of the time, a non-answer, such as a shrug or a change of subject, is actually a telling answer.
When you get answers from students or staff, make sure to write them down in a notebook so you can review them later. Choosing a college is an enormous decision, and you want to make sure not to make it off of vague feelings. That said, your gut and heart are also valid voices in the room. It’s okay to take a reading on how you’re feeling and include that, too, in your notes. You may even notice that changing over time, or notice patterns about things that make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable at different colleges.
When you’re ready, share your findings with your school counselor, college counselor, or other trusted guide. The next step after conducting your college research is to decide which schools you want to make the trip to and see in person. Your campus visit will be a chance to take a formal tour, verify your research, meet the LGBTQ+ resource center, strike up conversations with current students, and see if you feel the fit as you walk around campus.
One last thing! As you visit colleges, keep your eyes peeled for red flags that could mean an unsafe or unhappy experience. You can download my resource 10 College Campus Red Flags for LGBTQ+ Students and bring it along with you on your visit to help you remember what to look for.
Robert Powers (he/him) is the founder of College Torch and a college consultant who specializes in helping LGBTQ+ students discover and apply to safe, happy, supportive colleges. If you're the parent of an LGBTQ+ teen or college student, you can join College Torch's Parents of LGBTQ+ College-Bound Students community on Facebook.
You can also find Robert on LinkedIn!