campus life

The Common Application Isn’t Gonna Ask Prospective College Students If They’re Gay

From gender neutral housing to setting up GSAs, queer college students have a lot on their minds. One thing they won’t have to do before setting foot on campus? Wonder whether they should answer the Common Application’s questions about their sexual orientation and gender identity. A push to add those checkboxes to the application — which is used by more than 400 schools in the U.S. — has failed.

With some universities actively trying to recruit more LGBT students to ensure diverse campuses, the idea of voluntarily asking high school students looking to become underclassmen about their LGBT status sounded like a fine idea. After all, the applications ask whether you’re a dude or a lady, your race, and most invasive of all, your GPA!

Having hired an outside consultancy, the Common Application’s board decided now isn’t the time to start adding such “invasive” questions, relays Inside Higher Ed.

The statement adopted by the board of the Common Application left open the possibility that the questions might yet be added at some point in the future, calling for an additional review “later this decade” that would evaluate, among other things, “evolving cultural norms.” The board document cites several reasons for rejecting the new optional questions. “Many admission officers and secondary school counselors expressed concern regarding how this question might be perceived by students, even though it would be optional. One common worry was that any potential benefits to adding the question would be outweighed by the anxiety and uncertainty students may experience when deciding if and how they should answer it,” says the statement.

Further, the Common Application notes that it has just added — under a menu of activities that students could indicate they participated in while in high school — a category of “LGBT,” so students can indicate their activism on behalf of gay rights. Such activism is growing in high schools, frequently through gay-straight alliances, and the Common Application statement acknowledges this. “While advocacy falls short of confirming an applicant’s sexual orientation, it will help members identify applicants who may benefit from targeted outreach efforts. Applicants also have the opportunity to report personal information of any kind in their application essays and/or the Additional Information section,” the statement says.

Maybe that’s a decent compromise? Participating in your high school GSA or volunteering at a LGBT center doesn’t confirm you’re a gay, but it does confirm you’re in tune with the community. And it’s high time colleges recognize the importance of such involvement. But while admissions officials could likely assume a huge chunk of applicants who mark the “LGBT” box are, indeed, LGBT, it’s still not the explicit confirmation some were hoping for.

As for your trans status?

On the issue of gender identity, the rejected proposal would have continued to ask students to report their legally defined gender, but would have also given applicants the chance to indicate if other terms more accurately described them, so that students who identify as a different gender than is on their birth certificates, or who identify as transgender or without a traditional gender, could indicate as much.

The Common Application statement says that the addition of other categories would “disrupt members’ abilities to comply with federal reporting guidelines” and that very few colleges have sought the information. However, the statement says that the organization will add a new question box (a feature throughout the application that provides additional information for applicants on questions they might have) that would specifically tell applicants that they are welcome to provide additional information elsewhere about their sex or gender identity, beyond what is collected for federal reporting requirement.

Well, now that’s just bullshit. Your “legally defined gender” would stay the same, to match the requirements of “federal reporting guidelines,” but enabling students to cue the school into the gender they are most comfortable with, or at least the pronouns they prefer to use, would be an initial way to zero in on prospective students who don’t fit the normal M and F checkboxes.

The solution for applications who want to make sure admissions officials know they’re gay? Your personal essay. Submitting your coming out story to some liberal New England school should still work just fine.