America’s Most Popular College Application Is Now Trans-Friendly
Every fall, high school students across the United States begin the tedious process of applying to college. From writing personal statements to submitting test scores and grade point averages, there’s plenty to stress about. But for transgender applicants, simply checking the box for “male” or “female” can give pause.
That all changed on Monday, thanks to announcements from the Universal College Application and the Common Application about a change in the way they ask about gender. For the 2016–17 school year, both standardized application forms—which can be sent to more than 600 colleges collectively—will feature updated language that allows applicants to disclose gender identity in greater detail.
“A gender identity field on applications indicates that schools should take this information seriously and gives them the opportunity to address and assign students appropriately,” Gabe Murchison, senior research manager at Human Rights Campaign, wrote in an email to TakePart. “Transgender applicants will feel welcomed and included, which is especially crucial for young adults in the process of joining a new community.”
On the Universal College Application, which can be sent to 44 colleges, the question asking for an applicant’s “sex” will be updated to ask for “legal sex,” with the options being “male” or “female.” Applicants will also have the option of answering an additional question on gender identity, with the options being “male,” “female,” or “self-identify,” for which an open text field will be provided.
The Common Application’s question asking for an applicant’s “sex” will now ask for “sex assigned at birth” and will include a text field in which applicants can discuss their gender identity freely. Universities can also ask for information about gender identity on supplemental application forms unique to their school.
“We want to make sure that all students have the ability to express themselves in the ways in which they feel most comfortable,” Gil Villanueva, chairman of the Common Application’s board of directors and dean of admissions at the University of Richmond, said in a statement.
Adding more detailed questions on gender also saves transgender students the burden of having to notify the schools when their gender shows up incorrectly, according to Murchison.
“That’s an intimidating phone call to make, and not all schools are receptive,” Murchison said. “As a result, steps in the college admissions process that should be cause for celebration—like acceptance letters, campus visits, and housing assignments—may end up reflecting the wrong gender.”
The Common Application’s adoption of more inclusive questions on gender comes after years of requests by advocacy groups. The most recent was in August, when 25 LGBTQ youth and higher education advocacy organizations wrote an open letter to the Common Application suggesting that it add questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.
Though they finally addressed concerns about gender identity, neither the Common Application nor the Universal College Application added questions on sexual orientation in the recent bout of revisions.
Murchison suggested this was likely because information on gender and sexual orientation are used differently in the admissions process.
“Gender information is used throughout the college admissions process, from federal financial aid to campus visit housing to salutations on letters. Ensuring that transgender students are categorized correctly at each of these stages is important for their safety, well-being, and even their ability to attend college,” he wrote, adding that information on sexual orientation is typically used to track diversity and equity on campus.
“Because there are different motivations than those driving changes to the gender questions, it’s not surprising that they might be considered separately,” Murchison wrote.
In August, the University of California system opted to add more inclusive questions on gender, changing the application form for its nine undergraduate campuses to include six gender identity options: male, female, trans male, trans female, gender queer/gender nonconforming, and different identity. The decision was based on a desire to better understand the demographics of incoming classes so the campuses could determine where to dole out resources and support.
Growing inclusiveness of the transgender community on college applications and on campus signifies “a historic shift” in how we look at gender, Jonathan Burdick, dean of admissions at the University of Rochester, said in a statement from the Universal College Application.
“That’s kind of exciting, I think, to be living in a society on the cusp of a new, more sophisticated degree of understanding about what it means to be a human being,” he said.