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LGBTQ+ students thrive on safe, supportive college campuses with integrated student bodies.

When parents hear that I specialize in helping LGBTQ+ students find best-fit colleges for their college list, they often ask me, "oh, what's the best one?"

As college counselors know well, there is no one best college.

Our unique students all have different circumstances and considerations in the college search. With LGBTQ+ students, we have those considerations, but we also have some additional considerations to consider so that we as professionals can help them find the best college for them specifically.

Ultimately, an excellent campus for an LGBTQ+ student will meet or surpass expectations in three categories:

  • Safe

  • Supportive

  • Integrated Community

Safe Campus

LGBTQ+ students want to feel confident they'll be safe on their future college campus, both physically and emotionally.

To investigate physical safety, families can use the Annual Security Report (ASR) of a college, which is required by the federal Clery Act. This report shows the crimes that occur on or near campus, including hate crimes. Families can find the most recent ASR for a college by searching online for "[campus name] Clery Act." In addition, the Clery Act requires that colleges keep a regular (ideally daily) crime log, which families should be able to easily access on a college's website.

However, people who are familiar with danger in public spaces, or in communities, know that danger doesn't always look like an immediate physical threat.

Our students' college campus will be their two- or four-year home, and they should feel safe internally when they're there. On their ideal campus, our students know they belong there, and they know they're protected in the case something goes wrong .

Of course, this is much harder to research than the Clery Act reports. It involves talking to current students on campus to figure out how they feel, what has happened in the past, and what has happened next when a student has encountered danger.

Anywhere on earth, we'll find danger. On a college campus, what I want to know is, when something happens, what does the college do about it? Does the college have a procedure, and when they put the procedure into action, what happens next?

As college counselors with limited bandwidth, we won't always be able to find clear, concise answers to our questions about this topic, especially since it changes all the time, but observing it is worthwhile. We can talk to current students on college campuses and ask them their experiences, and take note. When our students see us do step one, they can do step two.

Fortunately or unfortunately, sometimes the answer to the question about safety is easy. Title IX is the federal law that protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and harassment on campus, and some colleges have requested and received formal assurance of exemption to the law. These colleges officially keep the door open to discriminate and permit harassment against LGBTQ+ students. These colleges are always a no-go for LGBTQ+ students.

Discriminatory state laws are stickier -- as they are more nuanced and they change quickly -- but they are urgent. In the case that a state law puts a student in direct harm (e.g. gender-affirming care bans for trans students, non-binary students navigating bathroom bans, and too many more) of course, I can never put my students in harm's way. It's my job to research the changing state laws, all the time, and to help my students navigate a difficult search if they are considering colleges in a state with laws that don't prioritize their lives.

Trans and GNB students and their families should follow Erin Reed's adult risk map and avoid colleges in states that target their safety (as over 90% of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2023 and beyond is targeted at the trans community).

At the same time, I want my students to have the widest range possible of colleges to choose from in their college search. I want to help them find their best campuses, including ones that are affordable and not necessarily in major cities. I encourage my families to strive for nuance in their college search so they don't miss any surprising (perhaps affordable, scholarship-friendly) college fits by narrowing down location too quickly.

Supportive Campuses

Of course, it feels like a low bar to identify only safe campuses. LGBTQ+ students need more than the feeling of safety. They have both needs and preferences, which may relate to:

  • Physical wellness, including sexual health

  • Gender-affirming care, including initiation and medical management of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

  • Gender and sexuality education 

  • Community building

  • Campus safety

  • Campus policies

  • Individual advocacy 

  • Co-occurring conditions 

  • Pride symbols and resources 

  • Mentorship, including alumni programming

  • Navigating college with unsupportive parents

  • Services offered during summer months 

Many campuses support these needs out of their LGBTQ+ resource centers.

Not all colleges have a dedicated resource center to support students. These campuses may fold the services into other centers or even assign this work as a duty to a faculty member on campus. It's important for students in the college search to identify their advocate on campus, whether it is or isn't formally an LGBTQ+ resource center director.

The LGBTQ+ resource center director is an enormously important person for prospective students to meet as they research a college. They should not only make sure that this person is able and ready to support them, but they should also make sure that they connect with this person. The center director is likely to be a student's primary point of contact for major issues related to LGBTQ+ identity or issues, as well as a student's advocate behind the scenes.

Integrated Communities

It's not true that all LGBTQ+ students want a vibrant, noisy, or urban campus environment, but it's easy to say that they all deserve a campus where they can be out in all spaces on campus.

When I research colleges, I talk to current students on campus, and I ask them where they spend their time. If they isolate themselves only to classrooms in certain departments, or if they spend most of their time in the LGBTQ+ resource center, I'll have some follow-up questions about that.

A tactic I've learned: When I visit campuses, I ask a variety of people to guess the percentage of LGBTQ+-identifying students on campus. Of course, no one knows the exact answer in most cases, as there is a lot of work to do around gathering accurate data around LGBTQ+ students on college campuses. However, it tells me a great deal if the tour guide says they think 15% of students are LGBTQ+, and an LGBTQ student leader tells me it's 25%, and the LGBTQ+ resource center director tells me it's 35%... and then I ask individual LGBTQ+-identifying students, who tell me they think 10% of the people around them are LGBTQ+.

And, I'll be concerned if students tell me they're lonely. Who wants to go to college and feel alone?

Can students have it all?

It's sad to say, but I feel confident that very few campuses in the US can claim very high marks in all three categories: safe, supportive, with integrated student bodies.

Schools that are very safe and affordable may not have the support services a student needs, and the community on campus may be scattered.

Schools that offer a high level of resources and support services -- hear, they make those a priority in the budget -- may be able to justify that expense precisely because they realize that students may feel isolated on that campus.

And schools with incredibly vibrant, joyful, queer communities may have trouble justifying the expense of comprehensive resource center services. Or, the schools may be in states with discriminatory, frightening, dangerous laws.

Schools that appear to be all three -- safe, supportive, with integrated student bodies -- likely have overflowing coffers, which comes with its own set of problems. I know well that Tufts is an amazing place for an LGBTQ+ student to live and study. But what do I do with that information when I know that so very few students who want to go to Tufts get to go to Tufts? And even if that school pays for resource center services, how can I call that supportive when they are so ready to shut the door in the faces of my students?

The best college

So, there really is no best college for LGBTQ students. There's work to do.

Want to access my library of free resources for LGBTQ+ students and their counselors? Follow Campus Q now:


Robert Powers (he/him) is the founder of both College Torch and Campus Q 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!


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