College is a time when young people are finding out who they are. They’re exploring new interests, forging career paths, and finding their place in the world. For some college students, this also means discovering new information about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. As society progresses, LGBTQIA+* youth are becoming more comfortable declaring their true identities at an earlier age. However, they may still see college as a place where they can enjoy more freedom of expression. Or maybe they want to deepen their involvement in the LGBTQ community – perhaps take on a leadership role.
Unfortunately, not all colleges are created equal when it comes to protecting the rights of queer students. Fortunately, there are also plenty of schools that go above and beyond expectations to foster a environment that is safe, supportive, and active in its commitment to the queer community. Keep reading for more information about the 25 that define “LGBTQ-friendly” at its very best!
The 25 Best Value LGBTQ Friendly Colleges Methodology
What makes a college “LGBTQ-friendly”? One could easily come up with dozens of factors to consider, from administrative policies and campus safety ratings to academic programs and student life activities. Still others might point to student survey results, campus resources, or outreach programs as equally important considerations.
So rather than try to build our own all-inclusive ranking from the ground up, we conducted a meta-analysis of other top rankings of universities for LGBTQ students. In doing so, we took care to select sources with unique methodologies.
LGBTQ Colleges Rankings and Ranking Factors
The Princeton Review: a ranking that relies on surveys asking students how strongly they agree or disagree with the statement, “Students treat all persons equally, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”
College Choice: a dual-purpose ranking that combines factors like LGBTQ policy inclusion, resources and services, healthcare and counseling with traditional “top college” metrics like retention rate, average graduate salary, and academic reputation.
Taken together, the scores that each college received from the websites above accounted for 50% of our total ranking. So where did the other 50% come from?
Location and Affordability
Municipality Equality Index: a report by The Human Rights Campaign that scored 137 U.S. municipalities** on their LGBTQ-friendliness, using factors like relationship recognition, employment practices, and city services and programs.
Net Price: a measure of affordability calculated by the National Center for Education Statistics that assesses both tuition rates and fees, other expenses (e.g. cost of living), and average financial aid packages.
After a lot of collating and calculating, we determined our final selection of the 25 best value colleges for LGBTQ students. Our ranking includes a little of everything, from campus-wide culture and outreach programs/activities to academic excellence, community support, and affordability.
*Throughout this article we use various forms of the queer acronym, including LGBT, LGBTQ/+, and LGBTQIA/+. While our use of acronyms may vary (as do those of the numerous centers, programs, and organizations we reference) our commitment to inclusivity is as consistent and strong as the queer spectrum is wide. **Some of the colleges we considered are not located in one of the municipalities included in the report. In those cases, we used the score of the closest available city, or (if enough data was available) the average score of two nearby cities.
For an affordable university for LGBTQ students with a grassroots bent, look to the University of Washington Seattle. The school's Q Center is almost entirely student run, giving you the chance to shape programming to current needs while gaining valuable leadership and organizing experience. Like many universities on this list, UW's Q Center runs a mentoring program, trains allies to host Safe Zones, and offers a diverse assortment of LGBTQIA+ events throughout the year. But UW separates itself from the pack with a nearly unbeatable net price of less than $10,000, making it one of the most affordable options on this list.
One of the nation's top LGBTQ friendly colleges, SDSU boasts an impressive array of services and programs. For one thing, the school operates a brand new Pride Center where students can gather in a safe space to socialize or study. You can even sign up for a campus job at the Center, where options range from academic mentor to peer educator. And no matter your interests, there's likely a student group that will appeal to you. Many of them, such as Aztecs Out in Business, give queer students a chance to bond over hobbies and goals completely distinct from their sexual orientation and gender identity. What's more, chapters of queer sororities and fraternities provide nationwide networking opportunities.
The LGBTQ community at MIT has something of an activist core; they spent months developing a comprehensive set of recommendations for improving the queer experience at the school. And they didn't act alone: with a nod to intersectionality, the group collaborated with other minority groups and communities to ensure their recommendations made sense for everyone. The group also proactively invites queer students with their "You are welcome here" campaign, which asks faculty and staff to post rainbow signs that affirm their commitment to inclusivity. So if you're looking through this best LGBTQ colleges ranking for a school that's constantly pushing itself to do better, MIT could be a great fit.
Harvey Mudd shares its Queer Resource Center with the other six colleges in the Claremont Consortium, making it a great place to meet students you might not otherwise encounter. The Center's physical space includes a lounge, computer center, and library with hundreds of LGBTQIA+ movies and books to borrow. This top college for LGBTQ students also hosts plenty of workshops, panels, performers, and speakers, and it encourages community involvement by providing regular ally training and support. And if you're looking for a job or internship that incorporates work for the queer community, the center lists plenty of openings and opportunities to consider.
Penn holds the distinction of running one of the oldest and best college LGBTQ programs in the country. For 30 years, the school has supported its queer community with social events, student groups, and myriad other resources. One such initiative is the peer mentorship program, in which trained upperclassmen provide guidance as their mentees work through gender and sexuality issues in a completely confidential environment. Penn also designates SafeZones throughout campus. When you see the distinctive sign, you know that anyone who works in that area has chosen to undergo training so they can provide a safe space for anyone who needs it.
UMass - Amherst's historically named Stonewall Center offers up a broad range of support and resources for its LGBTQIA+ community. And thanks to the school's clout, this top university for LGBTQ students manages to bring stellar speakers to campus (Linda Sarsour was a guest). But the school doesn't rely on star power alone. Rather, the Speakers Bureau often lets students themselves do the talking, running panels that seek to dispel myths and providing a forum for discussion among all campus members - faculty and staff included. And for anyone who wants to incorporate their identity with their academic work, Amherst partners with four other colleges to offer a certificate in Queer and Sexuality Studies.
With its comprehensive approach to queer activism and inclusion, UCLA easily earns a spot on this top LGBTQ colleges ranking. Beyond the typical offerings of an LGBTQ resource center, UCLA also provides topical programming and resources that address present-day issues. Attend an intersectional hate crime workshop, for example, and learn how racial minorities and queer youth all too often become victims of violent, bias-motivated acts. What's more, UCLA's myriad "affinity spaces" and campus groups (Queer Fandom Fanatics, the Ace Space) let you spend time with queer students who both accept your identity and share your hobbies and interests.
Thanks to its focus on expanding opportunities in the community at large, Southern Oregon University hosts one of the best college LGBTQ programs for students who want to make a difference. First, an extensive alumni network encourages them to make connections with recent grads, while events and speakers highlight ways to participate in crucial social justice work. But these efforts don't come at the expense of individual growth. In fact, SOU encourages all students to develop enhanced self-awareness and self-knowledge. For those in the LGBTQIA+ community, The Queer Resource Center is the go-to source of support and information. Currently, it is working with resident life staff to develop more queer-centric programming for the campus as a whole.
The University of Oregon's LGBTQIA+ support programs are so well-integrated into campus culture that the school even has a branding guide for using its rainbow bar in marketing communications. At this affordable college for LGBTQ students, you'll find multiple housing options (including gender-inclusive housing and a scholars community focused on learning) plus plenty of outreach programs (including visiting days for prospective students and panel discussion). The school is also home to a robust queer-ally coalition that demonstrates the benefits of including the broader community in conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity. Finally, a chapter of the gender-neutral Theta Pi Sigma brings an opportunity for leadership and philanthropy to ambitious students.
With the knowledge that the transition to college can be difficult even when you're not part of a minority group, Tufts started its Team Q program to help queer students during their first year. As part of its initiative, this top LGBTQ friendly college trains peer leaders who serve as mentors and organize social events for freshmen and transfers. Team Q even organizes trips, including an annual retreat to Provincetown. The support doesn't end after freshman year, though. Tufts also hosts discussion groups for the larger campus community, and it provides a confidential space for students who are questioning their identity and could use an empathetic ear.
UC - San Diego's LGBT Resource Center outdoes the competition with the sheer breadth of its programs, helping to make the school one of the best universities for LGBTQ students. No matter your interest, UCSD likely has a program or group to support it. Queer student leaders can attend the Q League Leaders' Summit to hone their community-building skills, while anyone doing research on LGBT issues will appreciate the Rainbow Lending Library and its impressive collection. You can also find major-specific groups for queer students in many disciplines, from pharmacy to engineering.
For students who aren't out to their families, UC - Santa Barbara's Rainbow House could be immensely helpful. This supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ students tones down its "theme" on move-in day, instead presenting itself as a neutral living environment. If you are out to your parents, you might appreciate this top college for LGBTQ students' family orientation event, held as part of UCSB's annual Spring Insight orientation. The school also offers a robust set of resources to bring your queer identity into your studies, including help finding a study-abroad program and assistance with securing LGBTQ scholarships.
Through the Gender Identity, Expression, and Sexual Orientation Resource Center, Washington State University promotes "education, empowerment, and engagement" for its LGTBQ community. In particular, WSU recognizes that starting college offers you a chance to redefine, reinvent, or even just re-center yourself. As such, the university has created an inspiring "It Starts Now" program that encourages new students to embrace their gender identities and sexualities in a non-threatening environment. By motivating young people on campus to share their stories of self-discovery, WSU hopes to create an accepting and inclusive culture — which is just one of the reasons why it earns a spot on this top LGBTQ colleges ranking.
At UConn, the Rainbow Center provides both academic and social support in what it calls a "home-like" environment. But don't mistake its casual atmosphere for a less than genuine commitment to promoting diversity and acceptance. In fact, this top college LGBTQ program was integral in pushing UConn to adopt more gender-inclusive policies across the board. For the past 10 years in a row, the school has even hosted the noteworthy True Colors conference for queer people of color. Discussion groups, a lecture series, movie screenings, and lots of comprehensive resources round out the support available to LGBTQIA+ Huskies.
PSU's Queer Resource Center knows that individual stories can be powerful tools for changing minds. That's why it started a Queer Speaker's Bureau, where students can request a panel to share their stories with classrooms, student groups, faculty members, and more. Panels wrap up with a question and answer session, making them interactive and informal while also inviting thoughtful discussion. This affordable LGBTQ friendly college also has plenty of traditional programs available, including educational seminars and other helpful resources. What's more, PSU supports and an all-gender housing option that matches roommates without regard to gender.
At U of M, support for queer students isn't limited to the school's campus. Indeed, the university is equally devoted to pursuing equity and access for LGBTQ students in the Twin Cities at large. For example, the Transgender Commission works to build community and promote trans-friendly policies. Back on campus, Sexuality and Gender Ambassadors educate their peers and faculty members and work to engage the student body in important LGBTQIA+ issues, while a mentorship program encourages one-on-one support. And like a few other schools on this top LGBTQ colleges ranking, U of M helps connect students with relevant scholarships that can ease their financial burden.
The top college LGBTQ program at Williams has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Back in the 1970s, it operated as a closed - and somewhat secretive - group for gay students. Today, the Williams community supports its LGBTQIA+ students with extensive social and educational programming, helpful resources, and a Pride Peers initiative designed to provide more personal support. Pride Peers receive comprehensive training that enables them to support incoming freshmen with any questions or issues they might have. Plus, it's a great way for new students to see a friendly, welcoming face as they start their college career!
Beyond just celebrating diversity, UIC also seeks to challenge heteronormativity in everything it does. It's also one of the most affordable universities for LGBTQ students, with a net price of less than $12,000 for undergrads. The school offers gender-inclusive bathrooms, provides holistic health care services, and makes sure that name changes are as painless as possible. You can also get involved in the Safe Zone program, which works to establish intersectional and inclusive spaces both on campus and around Chicago and can even provide guided workshops. The current Safe Zone initiative highlights collaboration and seeks to create even more inclusive experiences for all students on campus.
For trans students in particular, Boulder offers a safe haven dedicated to inclusivity. The school places no limits on housing for trans individuals, and it even wrote a guide for students who are preparing to transition while studying at Boulder. This top LGBTQ friendly college also hosts the TRANSforming Gender Conference, which features keynote speakers from the trans community. The conference also leads interactive sessions like "Ask a Trans Person," during which cisgender students can ask questions in a safe and judgment-free space. Other programs at Boulder include safe-zone training, peer education, and lots of social events to help buoy and strengthen the school's LGBTQ+ community.
Montclair State University's LGBTQ Center may be relatively new (it opened in 2009), but it's quickly helped the school scale great heights on LGBTQ/higher education rankings. One central aspect of its program is the Stonewall Suites living community, which offers open housing and an inclusive environment for queer students across the spectrum. Stonewall Suites even hosts group events to help members learn how to address complex issues in the LGBTQ community. This affordable college for LGBTQ students also gives out Pride awards and hosts an annual "lavender graduation," where members of the community and their families can celebrate their achievements in a special ceremony.
The comprehensive programs at UW - Madison move beyond simply supporting queer students to providing real opportunities. For example, the LGBT Campus Center connects students with relevant jobs and paid internships. Another example is the Queer Emerging Leaders Program, which provides ambitious undergrads with a 13-week, leadership-focused curriculum that counts as academic credit. This top LGBTQ friendly college also acknowledges the intersection of sexual orientation and gender identities with disabilities, and it strives to offer an inclusive selection of programming that's accessible to all. Lastly, Madison provides plenty of resources for queer students about coming out, enjoying healthy relationships, and navigating campus to ensure a positive collegiate experience.
The abundance of so-called "Q*mmunities" at Ohio State help make it one of the best universities for LGBTQ students in the country. This progressive approach highlights what many queer programs lack - an awareness that LGBTQ+ individuals are much more than their sexual orientation. Students of faith, for example, can join the "Spiritual Q*mmunity" to discuss religious ideas with their peers. Similarly, the "Students of Color Q*mmunity" explores the intersection of race, sexuality, and gender, while the "First Year Q*mmunity" gives freshmen a safe place to acclimate to life on campus. The school also hosts frequent leader development opportunities and social/educational events for both queer students and their dedicated allies.
It's probably no shock that four UC system schools earned a spot on this affordable LGBTQ colleges ranking. And yet, each has something different to offer. For example, UC - Davis is one of the few colleges (in California or elsewhere) to maintain an "Out List," where faculty, staff, and graduate students can publicly list themselves as LGBTQIA+. The reason? So undergrads in search of support can easily find someone to talk to - maybe even one of their own professors! The school's resource center also offers health services, counseling, support groups, and even Rainbow House, a campus housing community for queer students and allies.
With an abundance of campus organizations related to LGBTQ+ issues, Wash U fosters a uniquely supportive - and active - environment for queer students. These clubs run the gamut from peer mentoring opportunities and support forums to groups focused on advocacy and education. The school further demonstrates its support through an annual award ceremony, which honors LGBTQ+ students and recognizes noteworthy achievements in the community. But that's not all; Wash U's LGBTQIA Campus Life also hosts a free two-day retreat each year. This top college LGBTQ program, which emphasizes leadership development, provides an opportunity for participants to meet other community members and discuss both shared and individual experiences.
Given that CampusPride.org (which uses a complex index to rank schools) includes Indiana University as one of the best colleges for LGBTQ students, it's no surprise we've included it on our list, too. Through its LGBTQ+ Culture Center, the school offers comprehensive resources and support for queer students and their families. There's a dedicated LGBTQ+ library, a training program for allies who want to better support their queer friends, and multiple niche student groups for different identities (ace, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming, for example). And if you need financial support to afford an education at Indiana, the Culture Center can help connect you with loans, grants, and scholarships available through myriad queer-supporting organizations.
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 25 top LGBTQ friendly colleges!
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