Common App Adds Questions for Trans Students

While the questions are optional, they are part of an effort to make the application inclusive.

March 1, 2021
 
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The Common Application is today announcing a series of changes to make the application more inclusive for transgender applicants. The application will:

  • Add a question to provide applicants with the option to share their preferred first name.
  • Add a pronoun question to give students the option to multiselect or add a pronoun set.
  • Shift the presentation of a question from “sex” to “legal sex” to reduce student confusion.

The changes are all designed by thinking of the ways to avoid making certain applicants feel excluded. The last change is designed to replace an earlier effort at inclusion for trans students. The application has asked about "sex at birth." That question ignored that some trans students have had their legal status changed by the time they apply to college. The question was first changed to "sex" and now will be changed to "legal sex."

Jenny Rickard, CEO of the Common App, said that the association told its members that "we would not be neutral" and would look for ways to reach out to a range of populations that have not always felt welcome.

Since then, the Common App ended the question about high school disciplinary records, finding them to frequently be racially biased. And the Common App decided to no longer ask veterans about their discharge status.

The new changes aren't the first time the Common App has tried to be inclusive to transgender students. It added a text box in 2016 where students could voluntarily explain their gender identities. More that 69,000 students did so last year, out of more than one million in all who filled out an application.

But Rickard said a survey of admissions officials found that many of them wanted something more precise, and that some students didn't understand the question.

"We're hoping that students who may not identify as male or female will be able to see that that's fine," Rickard said. She added that most of the admissions officials said they were interested in the information not for admissions, but for when students enroll.

She said that if a Common App member college doesn't agree with the new policies, it need not use the information the questions will obtain.

Keygan Miller, senior advocacy associate for the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, praised the Common App's new policy and said it was not overstating things to say it could save lives.

Transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide at half of the normal rates when their preferred pronouns were used, they (Miller's preferred pronoun) said.

"The big deal here is by adding it as a formal question -- it says I have a space here," Miller said. And if a college shares the information about admitted students with other professionals at a college, it can help them as well. "It affects how they enter the space on day one," they said.

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