Top College Choices by Student Sexual Orientation

Top College Choices by Student Sexual Orientation

Kyle Fassett – Students belonging to marginalized sexual orientations frequently lack social and cultural capital (Baez et al., 2007; Windmeyer, 2006). This can prove to be a barrier to attend college and ultimately achieve a degree (Williams Institute, 2017). Moreover, institutions often struggle to recruit LGBQ+ students due to lack of resources or systems in place to facilitate their admissions process. With more and more students coming out before college, it is important to consider the visibility of LGBQ+ students on campuses (Cegeler, 2012; Schlanger, 2017). 

Data from the 2017 administration of the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE) and 2018 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) were paired to examine what differences exist between students selecting their top institution, and which social factors influence selecting these institutions. On BCSSE, students were asked if they were attending their first through fifth choice institution as well as if they were attending college with one or more friends. Based on a sample of over 18,000 students approximately 12% identified as LGBQ+. Findings revealed:

  • Students who specifically identified as queer were more likely to attend their top choice for college in comparison to their peers who identified as straight.
  • Students who identified as bisexual, lesbian, queer, and questioning were more likely to attend college without any close friends compared to their counterparts.

There may be significant implications for enrollment management and student affairs divisions. Since queer students are attending their top college choice, how can we assure their expectations are met regarding their experience? Coming to college with a predictably limited support network, how can admissions and student affairs entities work together to create experiences for students from marginalized sexual orientations? In providing overviews, could enrollment management officers describe incoming student cohorts beyond intellectual accolades and discuss the identities of students to assist faculty and administrators in preparing? Moreover, could institutions create affinity groups during admissions or orientation processes where current students with similar identities can connect with incoming students?

This research was presented at the 2019 Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) conference in Portland, Oregon. To learn more, you can find the full paper and presentation on


  • Baez, J., Howd, J., & Pepper, R. (2007). The gay and lesbian guide to college life. New York: The Princeton Review.
  • Cegler, T. D. (2012). Targeted recruitment of GLBT students by colleges and universities. Journal of College Admission, Spring, 18-23.
  • Schlanger, Z. (2017). A teen health survey crucial to US public policy is finally asking kids about their sexual orientation.
  • Williams Institute. (2017). LGBT proportion of population: United States.
  • Windmeyer, S. L. (2006). The advocate college guide for LGBT students. Alyson Publications.