Trans and Nonbinary Student Resource Guide

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portrait of T.J. Jourian, Ph.D.
By T.J. Jourian, Ph.D.

Published on September 17, 2021

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What Does It Mean to Be Trans or Nonbinary? | Barriers to Success for Trans and Nonbinary Students | Factors to Consider for Gender-Inclusive Colleges | Helpful Resources


College often feels overwhelming for new students. For many LGBTQ+ students — especially trans and nonbinary (TNB) indiviuals — these struggles may be heightened. It can be difficult to know what to expect from your new surroundings, and many TNB learners must overcome additional barriers to achieve academic success.

In a 2019 Association of American Universities survey, 1.7% of respondents identified themselves as trans, nonbinary, or questioning. However, that figure may increase further in the coming years given the rising number of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in younger generations.

Read on to learn about common barriers faced by TNB students, as well as factors that TNB students should consider during their college search. This guide also provides a list of helpful resources that can make acclimating to school feel less overwhelming.

What Does It Mean to Be Trans or Nonbinary?

Transgender or trans refers to anyone whose gender identity and/or expression differs from what is socially or culturally expected based on the assigned sex at birth. The term "nonbinary" encompasses a spectrum of genders outside of or beyond the man/woman gender binary. Some people may use the term "nonbinary" to describe their gender, while others may use terms like genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, pangender, neutrois, and many more.

While the word nonbinary is relatively new, nonbinary people have existed across histories and cultures around the globe. Some — but not all — nonbinary people are also trans. The nuance between the two terms varies across individuals and communities. The important thing to know is that there is no one way to be or "look" trans, and there is no prescribed way to be or "look" nonbinary.

Barriers to Success for TNB Students

TNB students face various barriers and challenges impacting their college-going experiences, including those listed below. Like the term "nonbinary," the umbrella term "trans" also encompasses multiple genders, and it's important to remember that barriers and challenges vary across gender identities and expressions.

It is also important to examine challenges and barriers with an eye towards intersectionality and variance. Obstacles are often intensified for TNB students of color, TNB students with disabilities, low-income TNB students, trans women and femmes, and undocumented and international TNB students.

Despite (and because of) these and other challenges, TNB students tend to be resourceful and creative in navigating campuses and the surrounding communities. These students often rely on each other, on- and off-campus communities and resources, and TNB alumni for support and assistance.

Four Things to Consider When Searching for Gender-Inclusive Colleges

The responsibility to improve and make campus environments, policies, initiatives, and curricula more TNB-inclusive is on colleges and universities. However, TNB students can also take the following measures when looking for gender-inclusive institutions.

Helpful Resources for Transgender and Nonbinary College Students

Explore common experiences and challenges of LGBTQ+ college students and learn how you can ensure your campus supports and affirms LGBTQ+ students. As a prominent minority group, we've outlined a wide range of LGBTQ+ scholarships and financial aid opportunities available for college students. As states implement harmful anti-trans legislation, colleges must do all they can to support and advocate for trans college students.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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