How to Pick a Queer-Friendly College

by Alyssa Sileo

Hello LGBTQ+ high school juniors and seniors! If your goal after graduation is to attend a college or university, you’re probably doing lots of Googling, spreadsheets, sorting through promo mail, and scheduling campus tours.

It is also very important to do your research to make sure the places you are applying to are queer- and trans-friendly.

You deserve to live your life to the fullest at the college you choose. It’s the responsibility of any good college to protect and cherish their students for the brilliant, genuine human beings that they are. Unfortunately, not every institution has embraced this thought system when it comes to advocating for LGBTQ+ students. But there are incredible colleges and universities out there that are on the right side of history and are actively working to make sure queer and trans students feel safe and awesome during their educational journey.

Especially if you are not out or feel you’re not out-enough at home right now, college can be your chance to learn the most about yourself and your identity.

While I am not a college admissions expert, I just went through the application process myself, so I’m going to show you what sources I utilized. The first thing I confirmed for myself with any university on my radar was that they would support my queerness. First off: my identity comes into play with my theatre and advocacy work a lot. Also, after having a wonderfully-out high school experience, I wanted to make sure my college gave me that and more.

Colleges accept you as a student, but you must remember the person making the final decision about what’s next (to some degree, because I know money plays a role in this all), is you. Be proud of the institution you choose, and make sure it’s unabashedly proud of you, too.

I encourage you to keep in mind these three things:

  1. Online LGBTQ+ friendly college lists: There are so many of these master posts in existence, with provided examples to prove the point they deserve a spot on these lists. If a school appears on several lists, then you can guess it’s a good bet.
  2. What the school’s website says about LGBTQ+ life on campus: Zoom right to that “student life” tab on the front page and see if you can spot a Gay-Straight Alliance or any other kind of student group that is all for gender and sexuality equality. Sometimes school websites have pages listing their values and some colleges come right out and say that they welcome LGBTQ+ identities.
  3. The school’s location: There’s a reason I didn’t look at schools below the Mason-Dixon line. The most westward school I considered was one in the Philadelphia area. (And come to think of it, the southmost school I applied to was that same Philadelphia-area school.) Lots of this was to do with my choice of major. Of course theatre exists everywhere, but I knew what theatre scene I wanted to immerse myself in. Also, I’ve been a Northeast gal since day one and intend to stay that way a least for a while. But I’m also aware of trends of LGBTQ+ friendliness sufficiently existing within this corner of the USA. Your school’s location may play a huge role in what it offers its students in regards to safety and inclusivity.

There are also some things that I’ve found can be little flags to signal LGBTQ+ friendliness on campus.

  1. The choices of majors and minors at the school: While the existence of women’s studies, gender studies, and theatre majors is not the key to queer and trans positivity on campus, I’ve found it’s a decent indication that arts, expression, and progressivism are things that are valued on campus to some degree. There are queer and trans people studying and working within every single discipline ever, but, as a queer person going into both women’s and gender studies and theatre, I can confidently say I know I’m going to find people like me within those classrooms because these fields are dominated by queer people, so naturally, I won’t be alone. Same thought process of awareness goes to seeing what classes the school offer. There’s no guarantee that the “gender and sexuality” course they offer will be non-problematic (i.e., contain nothing but writings by cis-het white men…*groan*), but the fact that they offer one of these courses is something to note.
  2. Religious affiliation: the fact that a school has a tie to a faith is not a foolproof way to tell its stance on queer and trans students, but, as aforementioned, it’s something to be aware of as you apply and consider attending, especially if you’re a person of faith and intend to continue practicing with queer- and trans-positive congregations. For example: my future college has a Methodist affiliation and a (super-progressive) theological school on campus AND is one of the most queer-friendly campuses I have ever encountered. It actually makes me excited for the culture and cross-section of LGBTQ+ advocacy and faith-based movements.

Just like how good admissions teams holistically review applications, thoughtfully considering every aspect of their academic and personal history that a student puts forward, holistically review what you find after these five steps, taking into the account of queer and trans graduates who have been through the process.

No matter the outcome of where you end up, if choice was a big or little part of your future alma mater: you will find fellow LGBTQ+ kids on your campus. You will find opportunities to be yourself in ways that weren’t available in high school. And you very well may find chances to make things better on campus for future queer and trans students.

Best wishes to you all — the college application journey can be a harrowing journey, but I hope with all your heart that you fall head over heels for your future home. I sure know I’m in love with mine!

About the Author:

Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a member of the Drew University Class of 2022, she studies theatre arts, women’s and gender studies, and Spanish. She’s a proud NJ Thespian Alumni and member of their state chapter board. She is the leader of the international performances network The Laramie Project Project, which unites worldwide productions and readings of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play and encourages community-based LGBTQ+ advocacy. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the cannon.