Top LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges for 2018-2019

Find Schools and Learn What They Are Doing to Welcome LGBTQ Students

In a survey of more than 10,000 students identifying as LGBTQ+, the Human Rights Campaign found at least 40 percent said they didn’t feel their community accepted them. Steps have been made in recent years to create a more inclusive world, but LGBTQ+ students must still ensure any college they attend embraces these communities and works diligently to support them. Keep reading to learn what to look for in prospective schools and see what our expert has to say on the subject.

Most LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges & Universities

Interested in learning about the most LGBTQ-friendly college and universities in America? The following ranking shares concrete, actionable information for students looking to make informed decisions while also offering interesting facts about school culture and inclusivity.

  • Methodology

    To find the most LGBTQ+ schools for 2018-2019, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offered the most notable balances of academic rigor, LGBTQ student support and affordability. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows:
    General criteria for schools on this list:

    Accredited, not-for-profit 4-year public or private institution
    The school offers students a professionally run LGBTQ support center staffed by at least one paid professional or graduate assistant directing LGBT resources
    LGBTQ scholarships or scholarship resources are offered
    The school has gender-inclusive housing
    LGBTQ clubs, organizations, and events are offered

    Scoring metrics:

    Average net price
    6-year graduation rate
    Percentage of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the school
    Campus Pride Index Ranking

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What Makes a College LGBTQ-Friendly?

When reviewing prospective colleges and universities based on their openness to and respect for LGBTQ+ individuals, students can look for several signs to make an educated decision. The schools in this year’s ranking made the list based on many factors, including the important factors below. Students should recognize that it’s rare to find one school that has all these factors, but they should look for a school that has the factors that matters most to them.

  • LGBTQ resource center

    More schools now provide specific places on campus where LGBTQ+ students can find resources and support while in school. The University of Louisville’s LGBT Center provides an example of what to look for. In addition to offering several programs and training sessions, the center organizes the annual Pride Week, arranges Speak Out panels, and provides LGBT study abroad trips. While not all campuses provide dedicated centers staffed with professionals, potential students can ask if specific programs are organized on campus.

  • Student clubs or organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ students and their allies

    An abundance of LGBTQ+ clubs and organizations can be a good sign of inclusivity and representation on campus. The University of Chicago serves as an example of what to look for, as it highlights both general student groups and those specific to certain academic disciplines that serve LGBTQ+ degree seekers and their allies. If a prospective school doesn’t have any dedicated groups, consider talking to a student life representative about their openness to starting an organization.

  • Compliant with Title IX

    According to policy provided by the U.S. Department of Education, every college and university must protect all learners – including those who identify as LGBTQ+ – from sex discrimination if they wish to be compliant with Title IX. According to Campus Pride, however, some institutions ask for Title IX exemptions based on the grounds of religion – the organization provides a list of colleges that have received exemption. Before enrolling in any school, speak with the office of student life to learn if the school is compliant.

  • Specific scholarships for LGBTQ+ learners

    In addition to seeking out LGBTQ+ specific scholarships from private foundations and nonprofits, students should also look for scholarships provided to this community by universities and colleges. Kansas University’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and the University of San Francisco both provide examples of what to look for: a number of university-specific scholarships awarded based on leadership, advocacy, financial need and a history of involvement in supporting individuals who identify as LGBTQ+.

  • Inclusive housing

    For students who want to live on campus and get the full college experience, finding a school that provides gender-neutral housing is key. Campus Pride provides a list of 265 colleges and universities in America that have gender-inclusive housing to help students get a sense of where to start their search. The University of San Francisco also offers a school-specific look at what to expect. In addition to providing housing that meets the needs of many students along the gender spectrum, the school also instills community standards to ensure all learners have a safe, restful space to come back to at the end of each day.

  • An affirmative statement on inclusivity

    When reviewing the websites of prospective colleges, it’s always a good idea to see if the school provides a statement on inclusivity as it signals an abiding commitment to ensuring equal access for all. Examples of what to look for include Wesleyan University’s affirmative action and equal opportunities statement and the University of Arizona’s selection of statements and policies surrounding diversity.

  • Gender-neutral bathrooms

    Feeling at home on your college campus is essential, and one of the most basic ways to achieve that is being able to use the restroom or locker room that aligns with your gender identity. At Brown University, the institution has worked to ensure that all students, regardless of their gender identity, have access to personal spaces no matter where they are on campus. Students can read more about Brown’s progress to get a sense of questions to ask prospective schools and what to look for on a campus visit.

  • Mental health services for LGBTQ+ students

    Students use campus mental health services for a variety of reasons while in college, and it’s important for schools to ensure all mental health counselors and psychologists receive specialty training on how to inclusively care for and support LGBTQ+ learners. The University of Maryland provides a range of LGBTQ+ health and sexuality resources, amongst those being appointments for counseling, health and wellness resources, tips for students and visitors to the campus identifying as LGBTQ+, and substance abuse support.

  • Comprehensive healthcare for LGBTQ+ students.

    In addition to all the standard maladies a student sometimes deals with while in school (e.g. sinus infections, colds, strep throat, broken bones), LGBTQ+ learners may require additional healthcare services and it’s important to find a school that covers these services. At the University of Chicago, student health insurance provided by the school covers HIV/HPV testing, psychotherapy and counseling, gender affirmation surgeries, and hormone replacement therapy. Campus Pride also shares a list of colleges and universities that cover transition-related medical expenses.

  • Inclusivity training for students, faculty, and administrators

    Because students spend most of their time in college with faculty, administrators and fellow students, ensuring these people receive proper training on equality and inclusivity is critical to creating a welcoming campus for all. The University of Connecticut’s Rainbow Center provides details on creating inclusive curricula and classrooms for faculty and instructors, Purdue University offers information on supporting the transgender campus community and Northwestern University provides information on LGBT safe space training.

From the Expert

Sara Stanizai is a licensed psychotherapist and the owner of Prospect Therapy, an LGBTQ+ affirming practice in Long Beach, CA. Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals of all genders and orientations, and especially welcomes first-generation Americans. She is also the consulting clinician for Building Allies, an educational organization that offers training on best practices for serving the transgender and gender-nonconforming community. She is a proud graduate of Mount Holyoke College, the first women’s college in the United States. 

What makes for an LGBTQ-friendly college? Are there certain things students should look for?

An LGBTQ+ friendly college will have a large LGBTQ+ population and resources in place that are specifically for this community. It will have affirming practices in the health clinics, counseling centers, financial aid, administration offices. Different genders and orientations are not “an option,” they are the default.

Single-gender campuses throughout the nation are adopting admissions policies that reflect a more inclusive student body. For example, Mount Holyoke College welcomes applications for their undergraduate program from any student who is female or identifies as a woman. Almost any campus can place “safe space” stickers throughout their buildings, but that doesn’t tell you if the infrastructure respects and affirms all identities. There should be language throughout the literature and in policies that reflects inclusive and affirming practices.

When touring campuses, what questions should students ask?

When touring campus, students can certainly ask about any LGBTQ+ and/or allied student or college-run organizations. But it will be especially helpful to ask about the percentage of LGBTQ+ identified students that apply and/or attend the college. Some other questions include:

  1. How does the college support its LGBTQ+ students? What policies are in place in terms of housing, admissions, and on-campus administration? When were these policies adopted, and how has any backlash been addressed?
  2. What is the grievance process for those who feel they have been discriminated against and when was the last issue filed?
  3. What are some of the annual social events for students?

If possible, are there certain people on campus students should try to talk to and get a sense of the culture?

To get a sense of culture, the most helpful people to talk to would be any member of a student-run organization focused on minority communities – including students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, first-generation college attendees, etc. These are the groups that will know if the college puts inclusive policies into action or not. It would also be helpful to shadow a class, talk to an upper level student, a resident adviser, the editor of the school newsletter, or the school radio station.

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