At many colleges, it's a standard part of the recruiting process once applicants are admitted. Current students who share individual traits or academic interests help reach out to prospective students with similar backgrounds or interests. So the young woman who expresses an interest in engineering will hear from a female junior in engineering. A black admit might hear from a black student, and so forth. The idea is that these students may be uniquely well positioned to answer questions and to make the case that the college is a good place to be a female engineer, a black undergrad, or whatever.
This year, the University of Pennsylvania is applying the idea to admitted applicants who are gay. Several experts on college admissions say that they do not know of any other colleges that have taken this step. [Update: In comments below, an official of Dartmouth College describes such an effort there.] Outreach to gay applicants is different in some key ways from outreach based on academic interests or race and ethnicity. Typically, applications ask about academic interests and race and ethnicity (although that question is optional), and no colleges are known to ask applicants about their sexual orientation.
And while Penn has found ways to reach out to admitted applicants who are gay without asking the question, some advocates for gay and lesbian students are starting to talk about pushing colleges to add such a question (as an option). One group is preparing to petition the Common Application to do so.
Eric J. Furda, dean of admissions at Penn, characterizes the effort there not as something special for admitted gay applicants, but as doing for them what the university already does for many other groups of students. "We are speaking to students on the areas that they are most interested in," he said.
Penn is identifying gay admits through information they provide on their applications -- groups that they are members of, or statements they make about themselves in their essays. One question on the Penn application asks applicants about the communities they would like to be active in at the university, and the answers include academic interests, social and cultural organizations, and -- for some students -- gay life at the university.
Read more at Inside Higher Education