Ah, spring! Time of flowers, birdsong and, for many of us parents and our children, college visits. My own son went through the college admissions process a couple of years ago. While I am in no way an expert on the topic, I thought I’d share a few things we found helpful.
Visit widely and virtually. Most campuses are now open again for in-person tours, so take advantage of them if you can—but supplement them with virtual ones if you can’t, or to get an initial sense of a place. Also, take notes during the visits, virtual or not; after you’ve seen a few places, they can start to blur. I tried to write down a lot so that my son could focus simply on the experience of being there, although he took some of his own notes as well.
Know that you’re not the first. The media often makes it seem as if LGBTQ+ parents are a newfangled thing—but there have been out LGBTQ+ parents since the mid-20th century, with several generations of our children growing to adulthood and many applying to college. You may still be one of few LGBTQ+ families on a college tour—but you’re hardly the first to be going through this process. Your kid is just as worthy of being there as anyone else’s.
Let your child lead—and know that having LGBTQ+ parents may not be the part of themselves they want to lead with, either when they meet people on college tours or in their admissions essays. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are ashamed of their family; it may, in fact, mean they take it so for granted that it doesn’t feel worthy of special note, or that they want to define themselves first by another aspect of their identity. Alternatively, maybe they’ll want to show up wearing a “Queerspawn” button and ask for a tour of the campus LGBTQ+ center. Either way, it’s their call, and we parents need to respect that.
Take advantage of free tools. Many high schools offer their students free access to one of several online college planning platforms. These are invaluable for finding colleges that fit specific characteristics (including how much financial need is typically awarded), finding scholarship opportunities and much more. They can also help students manage application-related documents like teacher references, depending on how the school has chosen to use the service. Whether or not your child intends to take standardized tests (more colleges are making them optional), another good starting resource is the College Board website (collegeboard.org), especially its BigFuture college-finding section.
Track things yourself. While many of the above services allow students to make lists of the colleges they’re interested in, along with deadlines and such, it may also be a good idea for your child to keep their own separate records, especially if there are specific details they want to track beyond what the platforms allow. My family used a shared Google Sheet, but a paper notebook could do as well.
If your child is interested in finding LGBTQ-friendly colleges, the annual Campus Pride Index (campusprideindex.org) is useful, although as with any college rankings, should be supplemented by what you learn yourself from college visits. You may also want to look at HRC’s Scholarship Database (hrc.org/resources/scholarships), which lists scholarships for LGBTQ+ students as well as for others who are interested in studying or advocating for LGBTQ+ equality (though obviously not all children of LGBTQ+ parents fall into these categories).
Some essay tips: There are many online resources for writing admissions essays (search “college essay help”) by folks more experienced than I am; my one main comment is that the essays should not be a restatement of your child’s academic accomplishments, but should instead focus on showing who they are as a person. This can be difficult for students used to writing impersonal, objective essays for high school classes—reading sample essays online and brainstorming possible topics for themselves may be helpful.
Also, while many colleges use the Common App or Coalition App essay prompts, many also require their own additional essays. Before they start writing, it’s also helpful for your child to collect all the prompts from wherever they are interested in applying so they can plan to show different parts of themselves in the additional essays than they do in the Common/Coalition one, for the colleges that require both.
Start working on essays early. It’s helpful for students to start drafting admissions essays in the summer before their senior year. Once school starts in the fall, it can be harder to find the time, especially if they are interested in applying through early action or early decision options, which are often due November 1—that deadline creeps up quickly. Regular admission deadlines, typically in January, offer more time, but can make for busy holiday seasons if there is still work to be done. Your child should also plan time to get feedback on their essays from trusted others, such as guidance counselors, teachers, or relatives or friends who went to one of the places where they are applying (or a similar one).
Evaluating and applying to colleges can be stressful. This is also a time, however, to celebrate how much your child has grown, who they’ve become, and the new possibilities that are opening to them. Keep that in mind if the process starts to become wearisome for either you or your child.
Congratulations on reaching this milestone!
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, with a searchable database of 900+ LGBTQ family books, media, and more.