Harvard University is considering asking prospective students whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the university’s newspaper reports.

William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions, said the university would not be using the question to favour LGBT students in the application process, but that they wanted “to send a positive signal to students”.

He told the Harvard Crimson: “I think this campus is really welcoming to all students and that’s the signal we want to send.”

Students will be providing feedback on the proposed question in the next months, with other possibilities including an optional essay about their experience of being LGBT.

Elmhurst College, a liberal arts college outside Chicago, Illinois, was the first to ask potential students the optional question on the application form.

About Elmhurst’s form, Shane L. Windmeyer, of Campus Pride told the Chronicle of Higher Education: “By standardizing this question, we can match students up with resources and start to communicate with them.

He expects many schools to follow Elmhurst’s lead, saying, “In the next 10 years, we’ll look back and ask why colleges didn’t make this change much sooner.”

The Common Application system, which is used by 400 schools, declined to include a similar question on their forms.

A statement said: “Many admissions officers and secondary school counsellors expressed concern regarding how this question might be perceived by students, even though it would be optional.”

Earlier this year, Harvard hired a director of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life.

The position was created in April after a students’ group complained that there were not enough resources for LGBT students.

At Harvard last year, books were damaged by urine in an incident which was originally treated as a hate crime.

The university concluded a bottle of urine had been knocked over, but it was not clear where the urine had come from.