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Articles / Applying to College / Tips for Applying to College as a Trans Student

Tips for Applying to College as a Trans Student

C Written by Carolyn Allison Caplan (she/her) | March 31, 2022
Copy of Articles & Guidance

Choosing where to apply and applying to college is hard enough, but when you’re trans, non-binary, genderfluid, or genderqueer, the college admissions experience can be especially tough. If you or someone you love is in one of those groups, you know that these students face additional challenges at home and at school – and that certainly extends to college admissions as well. I’m not only an admissions professional, but also a mother of three children. My middle child is trans, and I’ve learned a lot by watching and supporting her as she has navigated transition and her law school applications and experiences. (She is currently a student at Berkeley Law!)

In honor of Transgender Visibility Day today, here are some tips for our trans, non-binary, genderqueer, and genderfluid friends on applying to college.

Four Things to Consider When Applying to College As a Trans Student:

When and How to Use Your Preferred Name

Many colleges ask for your preferred name on applications. Starting in 2021-2022, the Common App now provides the option for students to:

  • Share their preferred first name.
  • Select multiple pronouns or add a new one.
  • Report their “legal sex” instead of “sex”

If your name hasn’t been legally changed yet, you might need to use it on some parts of your applications though, including test-score submissions, transcripts and on any financial aid forms. This can ensure that all your paperwork and files don't get lost or disorganized. If you mark your preferred name in the application, it’s most likely fine to use it in your essays, letters of recommendation, and other more personal parts of the application, but as with all things college admissions, check with the colleges where you’re applying to confirm so your paperwork doesn’t get discombobulated..

State Laws in the States You’re Applying

I got this amazing advice from a fellow mom of a nonbinary child: “It’s worth checking the state laws where the college is located—the most supportive campus in the world can’t help your student if the state doesn’t guarantee access to health care, makes name/marker change incredibly difficult, etc.” If you are moving to a new state for college, consider choosing a state with a trans-friendly environment, and laws that reflect that.

Ask Specific Questions During the Admissions Process

Be sure to ask colleges specific questions when doing your research or reaching out or on tours/visits/info sessions. The more specific your questions, the more you’ll be able to get a sense of how inclusive and welcoming the environment is for trans students. Write down your questions before attending information sessions. If you’d prefer to ask these questions in private, reach out to admissions to set up a time to talk to an admissions officer one-on-one. You may want to ask:

  1. What options are there for gender-inclusive housing?
  2. What is the nondiscrimination policy for trans/queer students?
  3. Are students allowed to change their names on campus records/ ID cards?
  4. What resources and opportunities do they have to support trans/queer students?
  5. Do the schools' health clinics and health plans cover trans medical care – if that’s something you are interested in?

College Essays: To Come Out or Not to Come Out?

You don’t have to write about being transgender in your essays, but you certainly can if it’s a story you want to tell. But coming out is a lifelong and personal process, and it’s up to you to decide what you share, when, and with who. If there is another topic you’d rather write about, you should not feel like you don’t have the space to share about other things that are important to you. Also, if you choose not to write about your transition in your personal essay, but you’d like to address your journey, you can use the Additional Info section to write about your experiences with transitioning there. Essays may not be your only chance to discuss your gender identity. Both the Common App and the Coalition App provide space for students to describe their own gender identity. In 2020-2021, almost 70,000 students provided clarifying information in this box in the Common App box, which was one of the reasons they decided to add more space for students to share pronouns and other gender information the following year.

If you’re worried that being trans might hurt you in admissions, ask yourself this question: Do I want to attend a college that would deny me because of who I am? There are many colleges that are known for being trans-friendly environments; view a list here.

"Your lives matter. Your voice matters. Your stories matter." ~ Laverne Cox

Take care. Be yourself. Love who you are.

Looking for college suggestions?

View the college collection a created for a list of colleges that are known for having trans-friendly environments:

Written by


Carolyn Allison Caplan (she/her)

Carolyn Allison Caplan (aka AdmissionsMom) is an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) focused on using mindfulness in the college admissions journey. She is also a mother of three college graduates (Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Tufts) and a sought-after voice on topics related to the college admissions process. She earned a College Counseling Certificate (w/Distinction) from UCLA and is a member of HECA | IECA | TACAC | NACAC.

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