College Guide for LGBT Students

By Jennifer King Logan | Updated 9/20/2021

Over the past 20 years, many colleges and universities have taken active steps to become more inclusive and welcoming to people of minority sexual and gender identities. The 2020 Campus Climate Survey conducted by the Association of American Universities shows that college environments, resources, and policies have and continue to improve overall for these student groups.

However, many LGBT students face significant obstacles in earning college degrees. Some schools do not offer the type of support, resources, or training needed to create an inviting campus climate. For example, the same AAU survey showed that 18.9% of LGBTQ college students experienced sexual harassment that created a hostile learning environment, which interfered with their academic achievement.

Group of students huddled around a laptop working and laughing

We've created this resource guide to help LGBT students address some of these common barriers. With the help of our expert, Dr. Brandon Haddock (they/them), LGBT Resource Center Coordinator at Kansas State University, we'll offer advice on selecting the best colleges for a student's needs, identifying resources and avenues of support, and discovering financial aid opportunities expressly designed to assist LGBT students.

Meet Our Expert

Dr. Brandon Haddock

Dr. Brandon Haddock

LGBT Resource Center Coordinator at Kansas State University

Dr. Brandon Haddock has served as the LGBT Resource Center Coordinator at Kansas State University since 2010 and also serves as the advisor for the university's Sexuality and Gender Alliance, Gender Collective, and oSTEM student organizations. They work with administration, faculty, staff, and students to increase inclusivity and provide K-State’s LGBTQ+ community with a positive, safe environment on campus. Dr. Haddock is a recipient of the Campus Pride Voice and Action National Advisor Award which recognizes the significant contribution and profound impact of professionals on student leaders in the LGBTQ and ally movement for equality. They received their doctorate in 2016 from Kansas State University and their master's and bachelor's degrees from Missouri State University.

What should LGBT students look for in a college

For all prospective college students, the process of conducting a college search can seem overwhelming because there are so many factors that should be considered. Students need to examine the majors and concentrations available at each school, in-state and out-of-state tuition fees, other expenses, full-time versus part-time schedules, for-profit versus non-profit schools, and traditional versus online programs.

After completing the initial research, students typically narrow down their options to the schools that are most likely to meet their needs and then explore each school in depth. In-person visits are ideal, but if that isn't possible, students may need to take online virtual tours found on college websites. Either way, when researching different options, students should feel free to ask as many questions as they need. College representatives have been trained to explain every aspect of the campus, so students don't have to shy away from asking for more information, even if the questions seem awkward or difficult.

LGBT students may want to look for schools that are making a visible effort to support people of minority sexual and gender identities.

As they consider different possibilities, LGBT students may want to look for schools that are making a visible effort to support people of minority sexual and gender identities. Not all schools are as LGBT-friendly as they could be, so students may want to explore the following characteristics within the context of the top schools on their list in order to find the campus that will make them feel safe and valued.

Sexuality and Gender Identity Policies and Programs

Ensuring that a college is committed to non-discrimination is a top priority. "When I was looking at graduate programs," Haddock recalls, "I immediately went to each school's non-discrimination policy and looked for sexuality and gender identity as a protected identity within their non-discrimination clause."

In addition to this essential quality, prospective students may also want to establish what type of training is provided to faculty and staff, and what procedures are in place for reporting and addressing issues should they arise. Even something as seemingly simple as changing a student ID to reflect the way a transgender or gender nonconforming person presents can be difficult at some schools, but this can be determined in advance through research. Students may also want to confirm that a school includes education and sensitivity training in their new-student orientation programs.

LGBT Life

All students want to know that there will be spaces where they feel welcomed and where they can connect with a supportive community on campus. Haddock advises LGBT students to conduct an online search to confirm that both the school and the surrounding community they're considering are LGBT-friendly: "Are there things happening that might raise a red flag?" If not, they suggest checking to see if the school offers an LGBT resource center or community center, and if there are student-led pride organizations, events, and programs. A school that supports a vibrant, active LGBT community will make that visible on their website, Haddock notes.

A school that supports a vibrant, active LGBT community will make that visible on their website.

Gender-Inclusive Housing

For LGBT students who plan to live on campus, it's important to check the school's policies regarding housing, Haddock says, including gender-neutral bathrooms and showers. Above all, LGBT students need to feel comfortable, safe, and respected in their home-away-from-home.

Healthcare and Counseling for LGBT Students

College is a time of personal growth and self-discovery for many students, and for some this may require additional counseling and support. Some LGBT students may have experienced discriminatory behavior from healthcare providers in the past, so they may want to check with a prospective school to ensure that counselors and healthcare practitioners will welcome LGBT students, respect their privacy, and treat them with dignity. Similarly, students may want to check with the health clinic to confirm the facility can address any specific healthcare needs.

Online Students

Even those students who plan to take all or most of their classes online should still consider these characteristics before choosing a school. If students aren't able to visit the school personally before making a selection, Haddock recommends looking at the school's website and printed materials carefully. "Representation matters," they say, "so online students need to see that their identities are being affirmed in the materials they're given."


Common Barriers and Ways to Overcome Them

Both educators and organizations within the LGBT community have conducted studies to identify the most common obstacles faced by LGBT students. Haddock has observed some of these problems firsthand, and they offer the following suggestions and solutions:

Feeling Ostracized

Feelings of isolation, not belonging, or not being visible are all common among minority students. LGBT students often report something more—a feeling that they are deliberately ostracized and ridiculed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2021 study conducted by the Trevor Project showed that 75% of LGBTQ youth have experienced discrimination at least once in their lifetime. This situation can be even more pronounced if a student has chosen to attend a college with a particularly conservative administration, student body, or faculty.

Haddock urges LGBT students who feel as if they don't fit in to make the effort to find a community where they feel welcomed and respected. Haddock admits that resources, such as an LGBT office or center, may not be immediately visible so it may take some effort to locate these on campus. Students may need to ask peers or faculty members or search the school's website to find resources. They also note that some schools have established safe zones. "When individuals see those safe zone stickers around campus, they know that that individual is a safe, affirming person to talk to."

Haddock acknowledges, however, that not all schools offer these resources. "Some individuals may be attending an institution—maybe because their parents chose that institution for them—in which they're not able to reconcile the multiple identities they hold until they're out of the environment. My advice would be to seek out resources that may be available outside of their institutions. There are several national organizations, and there may be local support systems," they advise. "I challenge individuals to explore those places and those environments because it can help them understand their own belief systems better."

Feeling Unsafe

Despite many schools' efforts to create a safe environment for all students, some LGBT students have reported that they have been the victims of harassment and violence based on their sexual or gender identities, a situation Haddock describes as "heartbreaking." A 2019 study conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU) of more than 181,000 students revealed that 22.8% of transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming students experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, and a much larger percentage of LGBT students have reported feeling at risk.

Haddock advises any student who feels threatened or uncomfortable in any way to speak up by contacting a trusted faculty member, staff member, or the LGBT office on campus. "My recommendation to students would be to learn to use their voice," they say. "I know how difficult that can be, so they must learn to do it in a safe manner so that they're not endangering their physical health, their mental health, or their academics." They assure students that faculty and staff members will stand by their side while they get the help they need.

If an incident occurs, Haddock encourages students to file a report with the LGBT office, the administrative office, or the campus police. "Even if the event does not meet the criteria for an actionable offense, they can help you."

Dr. Brandon Haddock
"My recommendation to students would be to learn to use their voice. I know how difficult that can be, so they must learn to do it in a safe manner so that they're not endangering their physical health, their mental health, or their academics."

Dr. Brandon Haddock

LGBT Resource Center Coordinator at Kansas State University

Suffering from Anxiety and Depression

Many students go through periods of depression and/or anxiety during their college experience, and LGBT students are no exception. Research shows that LGBT students experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, most likely due to previous discriminatory treatment and harassment. Also, some students decide to come out while in college, often because they have the freedom to explore their true identities for the first time. This experience can be filled with intense emotion and anxiety about how friends and family members will react. Trying to focus on academics during these periods of extreme stress or depression can be challenging.

Mental health issues should not and do not have to be endured alone, Haddock reminds students, and these services are readily available on or through most campus healthcare facilities. "Most universities have counseling services. I would say that it's very rare that you see an institution that does not have access to physical and mental healthcare."

Feeling Disconnected in the Online Environment

For a variety of reasons, students opt to pursue their degrees online. Attending school virtually is ideal for some, but for others it can lead to feeling disconnected from peers and faculty.

Haddock offers two pieces of advice for online students who want to feel more connected. First, they advise spending more time interacting with peers and faculty online in a friendly, casual way, just as they would on campus. The other is to remember that on-campus services, such as an LGBT resource center, are available to online students, so they can reach out and request help, even local assistance. "I've had phone calls from individuals who are taking online classes, and I've been able to connect them with resources in their own spaces," they explain. "There is a network of LGBT professionals across the country, and we talk to one another. I know that I can reach out to my colleagues and ask for help."


Advice for High School Students

In their role as an on-campus advisor, Haddock has frequent opportunities to talk with LGBT high school students. They say that even before they head to college, they can take the following steps to improve their educational experience:

Ask questions. "Don't be afraid to speak up or to reach out to individuals," they advise. "Not just in the educational realm but in the social realm, find people who will be essential to your growth and to your success."

Connect with mentors. "Think about what you need in terms of support, and find someone who can be a mentor to you. This may be a faculty member or someone else. Find individuals who have life experiences and educational experiences that you can learn from, who will help you be successful."

LGBT Scholarships

Many organizations, from the federal and state governments to colleges and private organizations, offer scholarship funding specifically for LGBT students. The more grant and scholarship money students can obtain, the less they'll have to pay out of pocket or borrow in student loans, which then decreases the amount of interest they'll owe after graduating.

All students—whether they're earning their degrees traditionally or online at an accredited college or university—should start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA). This application is used to determine each student's eligibility for federal financial aid, such as Pell grants, as well as grants and scholarships sponsored by state governments and the schools themselves. With this in mind, the FAFSA is the appropriate form to use to apply for the numerous LGBT scholarships sponsored by universities such as Eastern Michigan University, University of Colorado Boulder, Washington State University, Wayne State University, Texas State University, Penn State, and many others.

Filling out the FAFSA can be time-consuming and complicated, but it is well worth the effort. Recent data indicates that about 86% of first-time, full-time students at four-year colleges received aid, and a total of about $242 billion in financial aid was awarded to college students in the 2019-2020 academic year. LGBT students and their families can ask their high school or college financial aid office counselors for help in submitting the form, and the FAFSA website provides additional information.

Group of students huddled around a laptop working and laughing
Group of students huddled around a laptop working and laughing

Some students may also want to apply for privately funded LGBTQ scholarships. Each of these financial aid opportunities requires a separate application, but the more time and energy students devote to a scholarship search, the more money they can receive that won't have to be paid back.

We've divided our list of college scholarships for LGBT students into two sections—one with very broad eligibility criteria and the other with more specific criteria. Some programs require applicants to demonstrate financial need or academic achievement, and almost all require a proven track record of community service, often to the LGBT community. Note that the Point Foundation and the Pride Foundation programs encompass dozens of individual scholarships, many of which have their own eligibility requirements.

General Scholarships for LGBTQ+ Students

Point Foundation Scholarship Program

The Point Foundation operates one of the largest scholarship programs for LGBTQ students, and has granted more than $35 million in awards since 2002.

Award Information
  • Number of annual awards and award amounts vary
  • One application is used to apply for the Point Foundation's 23 individual scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Be "out" as a member of the LGBTQ community
  • Be a full-time, on-campus student at an accredited university in the U.S.
  • Demonstrate financial need and academic achievement
  • Have a record of service and leadership within the LGBTQ community
Application Information
  • Late January deadline
  • Standardized test scores may be required
  • Finalists will be asked to submit an additional video essay

Point Community College Scholarship Program

The Point Foundation has awarded more than $35 million to LGBTQ students since 2002. It runs two separate sets of scholarship programs, one of which is exclusively for community college students.

Award Information
  • Number of annual awards and award amounts vary
  • One application is used to apply for the Point Foundation's 16 individual scholarships for community college students
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Be "out" as a member of the LGBTQ community
  • Be enrolled in an accredited community college in the U.S.
  • Have one or two years left to complete either an associate degree program or to finish preparing to transfer to a four-year school
  • Demonstrate financial need and academic achievement
  • Have a record of service and leadership within the LGBTQ community
Application Information
  • May deadline
  • Required documents include transcripts and a resume

Traub-Dicker Rainbow Scholarship

Managed by the non-profit Stonewall Foundation, the Traub-Dicker Rainbow Scholarship was created to support lesbian women pursuing a college education.

Award Information
  • $1,500-$3,000
  • An average of five recipients annually
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as a lesbian woman
  • Be enrolled as an undergraduate or graduate student at an accredited university in the U.S.
  • Demonstrate academic achievement
  • Show a history of service and leadership within the LGBTQ community
Application Information
  • June deadline

Gamma Mu Foundation Scholarship Program

Dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ community primarily in rural or underserved areas, the Gamma Mu Foundation has awarded more than $2 million in college scholarships and grants for other non-profit organizations over the past 20+ years.

Award Information
  • $1,000-$2,500
  • Number of annual recipients varies
  • One application is used to apply for multiple scholarships within the Gamma Mu program
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as a gay man under the age of 35
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have been accepted as an on-campus undergraduate or graduate student at an accredited university in the U.S.
  • Demonstrate financial need and academic achievement
  • Show personal and career goals that align with Gamma Mu's mission
  • Show a history of involvement within the LGBTQ community
Application Information
  • March 31 deadline
  • Required documents include a resume

League Foundation Scholarships

The League Foundation is dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ high school students, and has awarded more than $315,000 in scholarships since 1996.

Award Information
  • Average award is $2,000
  • Four or five awards given out each year
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Be an openly self-identified member of the LGBTQ+ community
  • Be a graduating high school senior
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have been accepted at an accredited college or university
Application Information
  • April deadline
  • Required documents include high school transcripts, two letters of recommendation, two personal essays, and a detailed list of community service activities

Specialty Scholarships for LGBTQ+ Students

Ramblers Scholarship

Founded in 2016 by the New York Ramblers Soccer Club, this scholarship supports student athletes within the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

Award Information
  • $2,500
  • Two recipients per year
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community or an ally of the community
  • Be a student athlete
  • Have been accepted at or be enrolled in an undergraduate program at an accredited college
  • Demonstrate financial need and academic excellence
  • Demonstrate service to the LGBTQ+ community
Application Information
  • June 1 deadline
  • Required documents include transcripts, five brief essays, two letters of recommendation, and list of honors and extracurricular achievements

Out to Innovate Scholarships

This set of scholarships is designed to encourage and support LGBTQ students who are interested in studying STEM subjects or STEM-related teaching.

Award Information
  • $1,500-$8,000
  • Number of award recipients varies
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community
  • Have completed at least two years of college at an accredited U.S. institution
  • Be majoring in a STEM subject or STEM-related teaching
  • Have a GPA of at least 2.75
  • Demonstrate their service to the LGBTQ+ community
Application Information
  • June deadline
  • Required documents include transcripts, financial documents, letters of recommendation, and an essay

Inclusion in Digital Marketing Scholarship

Intuitive Digital Marketing has recently created this scholarship to encourage students from underrepresented groups to pursue a degree related to marketing.

Award Information
  • $3,500
  • One recipient per year
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as a member of an underrepresented student group, such as a minority or a member of the LGBTQ+ community
  • Be entering their third or fourth year in a marketing, web design, digital marketing, or similar program at an accredited college
  • Have a GPA of at least 2.75
  • Demonstrate their service to the LGBTQ+ community
Application Information
  • July 30 deadline
  • Required documents include proof of enrollment, a letter of recommendation, a portfolio of work, and an essay

Pride Foundation Scholarship Program

Since 1993, the Pride Foundation has awarded more than $6 million in scholarships to LGBTQ college students across the Northwest.

Award Information
  • Award amounts and number of annual awards vary
  • One application can be used to apply for about 60 individual scholarships
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as an LGBTQ student or ally
  • Be a resident of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington
  • Be enrolled in any undergraduate or graduate program at an accredited college or technical school
  • Show leadership potential and service to the LGBTQ community
  • Demonstrate significant financial need
  • Some of the Pride Foundation scholarships may have additional criteria; for example, many scholarships are for individuals studying particular subjects
Application Information
  • January deadline
  • Required documents include an application with essay questions

LGBT Chamber of Commerce Foundation Scholarships

In the State of Texas, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce Foundation provides scholarships to be used toward any type of post-secondary education or training.

Award Information
  • Award amounts and number of annual awards vary
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as an LGBTQ student, family member, or ally
  • Be a resident of Texas and a student at a Texas-based college, technical school, or vocational school
Application Information
  • May deadline
  • Required documents include a Texas driver's licence, school transcripts, and two letters of recommendation

Hampton Roads Pride Scholarships

Hampton Roads Pride has been supporting Virginia-based LGBTQ+ students with scholarships since 2002.

Award Information
  • $1,600
  • Up to four recipients per year
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as an LGBTQ+ student or ally
  • Be a resident of Virginia
  • Have been accepted to or be enrolled in an accredited post-secondary educational institution in the U.S.
  • Have a minimum 3.0 GPA
Application Information
  • April deadline
  • Required documents include transcripts

Audria M. Edwards Memorial Scholarship

Created in memory of Audria M. Edwards by her children, this scholarship for Oregon and Washington residents is funded by donations and other fundraisers.

Award Information
  • Award amounts and number of annual awards vary
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as an LGBTQ+ student or family member
  • Be a resident of Oregon or Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, or Wahkiakum counties in Washington
  • Be pursuing an undergraduate degree at an accredited college
  • Demonstrate a commitment to serve the LGBTQ+ community
Application Information
  • April deadline
  • Required documents include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an essay

eQuality Scholarships

The eQuality Scholarship Collaborative has provided more than $1.7 million in scholarships to LGBTQ+ students in Northern and Central California over the last 30 years.

Award Information
  • $6,000
  • Each year, awards go to 10-15 high school students, two community college students, and five undergraduates
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Be a resident of Northern or Central California OR pursuing a medical degree at an accredited California college
  • Be pursuing an undergraduate degree at an accredited college
  • Show a history of serving the LGBTQ+ community
  • Demonstrate financial need, academic achievement, and leadership abilities
Application Information
  • January deadline
  • Required documents include transcripts, proof of acceptance or enrollment, and proof of residence
  • Finalists will be asked to participate in a live interview

Live Out Loud Young Trailblazers Scholarship

As part of its mission to inspire and empower LGBTQ youth, Live Out Loud provides scholarships for graduating high school seniors in the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Award Information
  • $5,000
  • Number of recipients varies
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Identify as an LGBTQ+ student who is graduating high school
  • Be a resident of the Tri-State area of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey
  • Intend to enroll at an accredited college, technical or vocational school
Application Information
  • March 15 deadline
  • Required documents include an essay and two letters of recommendation
  • Finalists will be asked to participate in a live interview

The 49 Fund

Sponsored by the Central Florida Foundation, the 49 Fund honors those who were killed during the 2016 attack on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Award Information
  • $4,900
  • Up to 10 scholarships awarded each year
Eligibility
Applicants Must
  • Be "out" as a member of the LGBTQ community
  • Be a Central Florida resident
  • Be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program at an accredited college in the U.S.
  • Be a full-time student with a minimum 2.5 GPA
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Show a record of service and leadership within the LGBT community
Application Information
  • February 15 deadline
  • Required documents include transcripts, financial records, a copy of the college acceptance letter, a letter of recommendation, and an essay

Additional Resources

LGBTQ+ students and allies may find useful information and resources on the following websites:

  • GLSEN Network: The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network is an advocacy group of more than 1.5 million K-12 educators who have united to support LGBTQ+ students through research, activism, and resources for college-bound students.
  • American Indian College Fund: The AICF takes a proactive approach to partnering with sponsors and assisting them in raising additional funds for scholarships.
  • Human Rights Campaign: With more than 3 million members and supporters, the Human Rights Campaign is a political advocacy group fighting for equal rights for all and particularly for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Out & Equal: The Out & Equal team works with Fortune 1000 companies to enhance diversity and inclusion, especially for LGBT employees, in the workplace.
  • The Trevor Project: : Most importantly, the Trevor Project provides a hotline and other counseling options for LGBTQ youth who are in crisis or contemplating suicide. The website also offers resources and information for LGBTQ students, families, and allies.