LGBT+ students feel more comfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender at university than at school, a report suggests.
But more than one in 10 are unsure about how “out” they can be when they start as freshers this term, according to a survey by admissions service Ucas.
The findings come as thousands of students are arriving at university campuses over the next few weeks.
A survey of 3,000 university applicants who identified as LGBT+ suggests only 47% said their experience being LGBT+ at school or college was positive, while 41% said their experience was neutral and 12% said it was negative.
While around one in eight LGBT+ students reported having a negative experience at school or college, that figure rises to 17% for transgender students – most of whom attributed bullying as the main reason.
Transgender students are more likely to have lower attainment at school and higher rates of mental health conditions, the report with Stonewall suggests.
Overall, 64% of LGBT+ students are comfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender at school, while 82% are confident about being more open about their identity at university, the report suggests.
However, more than one in 10 LGBT+ students are unable to say how open they will be as they take the next step into higher education.
Some reasons cited included concerns about experiencing more transphobia and needing more time to feel comfortable.
The report suggests that LGBT+ students are more than four times more likely to declare a mental health condition than non-LGBT+ students (13% v 2.9%).
Transgender students (22%) were the most likely to declare a mental health condition in their application compared to non-LGBTQ+ applicants.
Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said she was “encouraged” that many LGBT+ students see the transition to university as a “moment of liberation” where they can be more open about their identities.
She said: “Our report highlights that whilst significant progress has been made, there is still work to be done by all of us to create an educational environment where LGBT+ students can feel free to be themselves, and experience education without fear of discrimination or being treated differently.
“This is especially the case when it comes to accommodation where students are suddenly living with strangers and working out how open they feel able to be.”
Ms Marchant added: “For employers and universities who are meeting this cohort of students for the first time, our report highlights the varying support needs of LGBT+ students, with mental health in particular a prominent concern and a key part of their decision making process.”
Eloise Stonborough, associate director of research and policy at Stonewall, said: “At the turn of the millennium, teaching about LGBTQ+ subjects in schools was still illegal – this trailblazing research highlights the great progress made since then, with schools and colleges promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion.
“As a result, we are now seeing LGBTQ+ students thrive, with more students feeling confident to be out at university.
“But the report shows that many lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer young people continue to struggle at school.
“With under half of LGBT+ students (47%) who took part in the survey describing their experience at school or college as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, there is still more that we need to do to ensure that all LGBTQ+ students are taught in an environment that allows them to fulfil their potential.”
Shane Simpkin, LGBT+ rep at the National Union of Students (NUS), said the findings on mental health show that institutions need to ensure their students are provided with “tailored and relevant support – such as information, advice, mental health support, and specific services on campus and online”.