The burden of paying for college and adjusting to college life can be tough enough – but it only gets harder for LGBTQ students, who may be ostracized for being different. This guide aims to reduce the stress of college for LGBTQ students by assisting with one key element: financial aid. Read on to find scholarships and other financial aid for LGBTQ students – plus learn expert tips for overcoming hurdles during the application process, such as gender identification and parental estrangement.
There are numerous organizations that understand what it’s like to identify as an LGBTQ student. Many of those organizations have stepped up to provide financial assistance in the form of scholarships, grants and awards, all designed to make college life a little easier for LGBTQ students. Here are just a handful of the scholarship option out there.
As with any financial aid program, applying for a LGBTQ scholarship is not as easy as filling out a form and dropping it into the mail. Many LGBTQ scholarship programs require a great deal of information to narrow the candidate field. These steps give LGBTQ students a firm idea of what to expect from the scholarship application process, and why it’s a great idea to get moving on it early.
LGBTQ and other organizations providing scholarships are often bombarded with applications. That’s part of the reason they will throw out any application that arrives after the deadline – no exceptions! Keep a calendar of deadlines and never miss a single one.
When: From the very start!
Research should begin very early, as there are numerous scholarship opportunities to wade through. First, pay close attention to the requirements – is the scholarship only designed for transgender students, for example, or is it open to all LGBTQ applicants? Then calculate which scholarships produce the greatest financial payout for the smallest amount of time spent on the application.
When: At least 1 year in advance of scholarship deadlines
Does the scholarship require a transcript? A letter from a guidance counselor or teacher? Financial information? Make sure you have all the information necessary for each scholarship, recognizing that finding those documents could take some time.
When: At least 6 months before deadlines
Many scholarships require at least one letter of recommendation. These letters can be a great asset, but they take time to write. Long before the scholarships are due, get in touch with those who might give you recommendations (such as LGBTQ community leaders) and ask them to start on letters.
When: At least 6 months in advance of deadlines
Great writing takes time. Students may go through several topic ideas before finding the right one. Once written, the essay must be proofread and edited by another set of eyes. Nothing is worse than having a great story upstaged by a glaring typo or a poorly worded sentence.
When: At least 3 months before deadlines
Now that all those letters of recommendation are in, the essays are done, the application is filled out and all pertinent information has been gathered, double-check the requirements for each scholarship and make sure the packet is complete. Then drop it in the mail and cross your fingers for a great outcome.
Transgender individuals should answer the question about gender (male or female) based on their gender at birth. This question is used to trigger the question about Selective Service registration. U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are male age 18-25 are required to register with Selective Service to be eligible for U.S. federal student aid. Selective Service bases gender on the assigned gender at birth.
A student with same-sex parents usually has one biological or adoptive parent. Sometimes the other same-sex parent adopts the child, sometimes not. If the biological or adoptive parent dies, and the surviving parent never adopted the student, the surviving parent is treated the same as a surviving stepparent, since the surviving parent's status as a parent was through his or her relationship to the biological or adoptive parent, not through his or her relationship to the student.
The practical implication is that a surviving stepparent is not considered a parent for federal student aid purposes (e.g., not eligible to borrow from the Federal Parent PLUS loan program), so the student becomes independent if there is no known surviving biological or adoptive parent.
LGBTQ students who are estranged from their families should contact the financial aid office at the college to ask for a professional judgment review. Usually, the college financial aid office will perform a dependency override to treat an otherwise dependent student as independent, eliminating the need to get information from the student's parents.
A dependency override is common when there is a hostile home environment or where it is dangerous for the student to have contact with his or her parents. The financial aid office may want letters from people who are familiar with the student's situation, such as teachers, guidance counselors, police, social workers, clergy, etc.
Going through the financial aid process can be difficult for anyone. However, LGBTQ students and their families may be faced with a unique set of challenges when applying for financial assistance.
Many financial aid application forms, including the FAFSA®, require students to list their gender. For many LGBTQ students, this is easier said than done. In addition to instigating insensitivity to gender issues, listing gender can require students to ignore their own gender identity, which is an unfair situation for any student.
In order to apply for financial aid, most students need to submit their parent’s financial statements, including tax returns and bank documents. Parents who are unsupportive or hostile toward their LGBTQ child might refuse to cooperate. This can be particularly challenging for students under 24 years old, who are required to file the FAFSA® as dependents.
If a student needs a loan, some institutions might require the parents as a cosigner. If the student doesn’t have a strong relationship with an understanding, caring parent, asking them to become a cosigner might be impossible.
In situations where LGBTQ students are able to comfortably state their sex as “male” or “female,” data inconsistencies could arise and significantly delay the processing of financial aid, particularly if the student has changed names or sex on government issued identification cards or documents. Students who can’t afford or don’t have parental permission to officially change their names or sex might be forced to out themselves when applying for financial aid, discouraging them from applying at all.
When applying for non-governmental financial aid, the FAFSA® is often still required as a part of the overall application. Even if it isn’t, LGBTQ students may be put in situations where they either have to hide their LGBTQ status or be true to themselves and risk a prejudiced scholarship or financial aid committee that may hold their gender status or sexual orientation against them.
This article has only scratched the surface of the scholarship and financial aid options available to LGBTQ students. For additional and more in-depth information, check out these resources.
Campus Pride is a leading resource for LGBTQ students and promoter of LGBTQ student rights on college campuses. Campus Pride’s website also includes a comprehensive LGBTQ scholarship database.
This organization has the simple goal of promoting LGBTQ equality in higher education.
Fastweb is a large and comprehensive source of scholarships and advice for students.
This is the primary source for information about federal student aid. It is run by the U.S. Department of Education.
Human Rights Campaign is a major national organization for advancing LGBTQ civil rights.
Their mission is to achieve equality for LGBTQ individuals. The organization also offers internships and fellowships to students.
PFLAG is a nationwide organization of family members and allies of LGBTQ individuals that works to improve civil rights. LGBTQ individuals and their families can obtain support from any of the PFLAG local chapters.
Point Foundation encourages LGBTQ students to achieve their educational goals. One of the ways the Point Foundation does this is to provide scholarships and mentoring opportunities.
The Pride Foundation works to advance LGBTQ individuals’ rights, especially through financial assistance, including grants and scholarships.
This is an online source that facilitates the college experience with scholarships (including LGBTQ scholarships), internships and career and academic information.
This office will be able to provide information on financial aid options available to students as well as answer questions and provide general assistance when applying for financial aid.
Depending on the school, there will be specifically tailored LGBTQ resources available, such as counseling, issues that students should be aware of and information about the LGBTQ student population and school policies.
This student group will be an invaluable resource not just by answering questions or pointing LGBTQ students in the direction of assistance, but by also providing social support to LGBTQ students.