Nowadays, the average student is applying to more than a dozen colleges. The increasing number of applications is made possible by the Common Application, a standard application used by over 400 colleges and universities. I, too, applied to many colleges using the Common Application. But what questions does the Common Application ask, and why?

When I applied for colleges using the Common Application, I was asked my race, religion, and marital status but certainly nothing about my gender identity or sexual orientation. But soon, the Common Application may change to include optional questions about gender identity and sexual orientation.

On gut instinct, LGBT people may be concerned about how this information could be abused. But it could also be extremely beneficial for LGBT applicants.

Changing the Common Application to include a gender category would allow transgender students to have a place in a system that currently excludes them. Currently, the application requires students to mark “male” or “female.” Applicants are asked to check the box that’s consistent with their birth certificates. Even with the new proposed changes, applicants will have to reveal their sex, because colleges use demographic data collected to meet federal reporting requirements and because single-sex colleges need to know applicants’ sex to determine their eligibility. But the new proposed Common Application would also include an option to add a word that “better describes their identity beyond male or female.”

The proposed application would also have a drop-down menu for sexual orientation, including gay/lesbian, bisexual, straight/heterosexual, or another identity that could be written in by the applicant.

Colleges use demographic data to recruit students and improve services offered to the students. Demographic data is typically used to reach out to students to tell them about programs and services offered by the college. And outreach to LGBT students is now becoming a standard part of the recruiting process at many schools.

The information on prospective students’ sexual orientation and gender identity could help the student by showing which colleges are welcoming. Colleges could use the information to inform prospective LGBT students about LGBT resources on campus. It could also help to increase existing LGBT resources by giving colleges the motivation — better LGBT resources would lead to more LGBT students, and colleges could easily track how many LGBT students apply.

The Common Application is following the lead of other colleges, including Duke University, which already has a space for students to fill in gender identity on their application. The proposed changes will likely — hopefully — lead to other colleges adding similar content to their applications.

Photo credit: Brian Turner