How to Decide Where to Go to College as a Transgender Student
March 11, 2021
The 10 most important factors to weigh as a transgender or gender-variant student starting the dreaded college search.
With thousands of colleges and universities across the U.S., finding the “right" school is a challenge for pretty much everyone. But for transgender and gender-variant students, the task is even more complicated.
In addition to weighing cost, selectivity, location, and other considerations now standard to the college search process, transgender and gender-variant students must also face additional barriers and prejudices—particularly as it relates to housing, healthcare, and mental health support on campus.
According to The New York Times, “nearly 150,000 American teenagers from 13 to 17 years old — or one out of every 137" would self-identify as transgender if properly surveyed. In other words, all colleges (whether they know it or not) probably have transgender or gender-variant students among their population, and the smartest campuses are the ones prepared to accommodate these students.
The road to transition is different for everyone. Some “come out" during or before high school in an open and public way. Others transition at the same age, but in “stealth" mode—preferring to keep their transgender status a secret to avoid harassment. Many prefer to come out in college, when they are away from family and friends.
As a result, colleges and universities must prepare to accommodate trans-students at any stage in their transition. At a minumum, this means providing mental health programs and services that specifically address these needs. Because transgender and gender-variant students often face extreme levels of discrimination and bullying, nearly half are prone to depression and anxiety and need mental health support. By some estimates, over 41% of the transgender population has attempted suicide at one point in their life.
For transgender and gender-variant students starting the dreaded college search, the below considerations will help narrow your search:
- Does the school have specific written policies protecting transgender students?
- For those who have not yet legally changed their name, does the college allow transgender students to use a chosen name other than their birth name?
- Does the university have gender inclusive bathrooms – especially in the athletic center (if athletics are important to you)?
- Does the school provide transgender sensitivity training programs for faculty and staff?
- Are there peer mentoring programs to introduce new trans-students to on-campus programs and resources?
- Does the school offer student health insurance programs that cover HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and gender confirming surgeries?
- Is there an onsite therapist that specializes in working with transgender and gender variant students?
- Does the university offer an open housing policy that matches transgender students with students who are open to rooming with them?
- Are there active student support groups that support transgender students?
- Is there an onsite resource center to connect transgender students to employment, community based organizations, health care providers, etc.?
As you refine your search, consider whether you want to be a little fish in a big sea, or a big fish in a little sea (there are pros and cons to a small college or large university setting that may or may not have anything to do with on campus transgender supports). It used to be that the trans-friendly academic settings were generally in the larger coastal universities—but that is no longer the case. Advocate published this list of the top 10 Trans-friendly colleges and universities, and Campus Pride has a list of schools that provide gender-inclusive housing.
Another concern among transgender students is finding the financial resources to attend college. Fortunately, there are many wonderful scholarships available to the LGBT community to fund higher education. Some are specific to a field of study such as athletics, others are specific to a geographical region, or specific to a given college or university. The Human Rights Campaign provides a comprehensive list of scholarships for those needing financial aid.
Reach out to the schools that interest you, speak to the Director(s) of LGBT Resources, and ask if there are grants or scholarships that may help. Many schools provide protections for transgender students and work vigorously to build a supportive community where students can excel academically and thrive socially.
Finding a trans-friendly school is no longer a barrier to higher education, now that you know where to start.