When it comes to Greek life, students are pretty divided about joining a fraternity or sorority. Some students know they’re going to pledge, others are sure they want to skip it, and the rest haven’t made up their minds yet.
For many, it’s a matter of personal preference. Maybe a student’s mom, dad, or sibling was in a fraternity or sorority and the experience sounds exciting, or perhaps it’s an opportunity to try something new and branch out. Everyone’s reason for deciding to rush is different.
To add another layer into the decision-making process, fraternity and sorority culture is very different depending on the school you attend. Greek life dominates some colleges, while others may not have a single fraternity or sorority on campus. Much like picking a school, the decision to participate in Greek life all comes down to personal fit.
What is Greek Life?
Traditionally, fraternities and sororities are undergraduate organizations designed to provide academic and social support. Greek life has a rich history, with student organizations dating back to the late 1700s. Phi Beta Kappa Society is generally recognized as the first Greek organization. Now, over nine million students and alumni belong to Greek-letter student organizations.
While Hollywood and TV shows stereotypically paint Greek life as a constant party, there’s much more to belonging to a Greek-letter organization than just social functions. Fraternities and sororities are known for their philanthropy, with Greek organizations across the country raising over $7 million each year for various charities. Greek-letter organizations also stress the value of education, with many requiring members to maintain a minimum GPA to remain active in the chapter.
Of course, there is always the social aspect. Fraternity and sorority chapters host mixers, formals, and functions throughout the year for members and non-members alike to socialize, network, have fun, and meet new people. For students going to a school far from home where they might not know anyone, the prospect of making new friends through joining a fraternity or sorority can be a major draw.
Greek-life organizations can also be a great support group for students transitioning into college life. Not only is it an easy way to make new friends, but older members serve as mentors and can give helpful advice and support to new members who may be struggling to adjust to campus life or classes. When it comes to academic success, the research surrounding the role Greek life plays is mixed. While students who join fraternities and sororities have, on average, a 20% high graduation rate than their non-Greek peers, another study posits that joining Greek life reduces your GPA.
How Do Students Become a Member of a Fraternity or Sorority?
The rush process varies from campus to campus, but generally, it’s broken down into a few steps, starting with rushing. “Rushing” is when students become acquainted with the different fraternities or sororities on campus, and the process can range from very formal and structured to informal and casual. Sorority rush tends to be more formal, with different themes and requirements for each day.
Normally, rush occurs at the beginning of the fall and/or spring semester, and it lasts about a week. During this time, students meet with different fraternities and/or sororities on campus and get to know the members and the organization’s values, which can focus on things like philanthropy, leadership, or religion, to decide whether or not to pledge. At the same time, the members are getting to know the students, too, and also figuring out whether or not they would be a good fit for their particular chapter.
When the rush process is over, the members of the different fraternity and sorority chapters will meet and decide whether not they want to extend a bid, or invitation, to students who they think will pledge their organization.
Once a student accepts a bid to a certain organization, the pledging process begins. This can range from a couple of weeks to an entire semester. During this time the pledges get to know the members of the organization, as well as those joining with them, and the organization’s traditions, values, history, etc. At the end of the pledge period, the new members are officially initiated into the chapter. Different organizations have a variety of initiation traditions, which are usually kept secret.
What to Consider When Choosing a Fraternity or Sorority
There are a lot of factors that go into deciding whether or not to rush, and ultimately join a fraternity or sorority.
The most obvious factor is the time and monetary commitment. Rushing and pledging take up a lot of free time, and if a student is balancing a tough course load while adjusting to the responsibilities of living on their own, rushing and pledging might not be feasible. If you’re interested in pledging but concerned about making time for it during your freshmen year, reach out to the Greek organizations that sound like potential best-fits to see if it’s possible to rush in the spring or even as a sophomore.
Being a member of a Greek-life organization can also be costly. Most chapters require dues that are paid every semester or academic year, and these can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, not to mention paying for various social functions, trips, and other fees that can come up throughout the year. If a student decides that participating in Greek life is for them, they’ll need to know the cost and how to budget throughout the semester.
Students should also consider what they want out of a Greek life experience. They need to ask themselves: “How will this enhance my college experience?”
For some, it’s the opportunity to meet new people and make a close group of friends. For others, it’s knowing they’re surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals who can offer social and academic support while transitioning into college life. Others join to gain access to a post-graduate network of “brothers” and “sisters” who can serve as a helpful resource once they graduate and start looking for a job.
Get the Right Fit
Just like the college search process, joining a fraternity or sorority is all about fit. If someone is still unsure, there’s no harm in giving it a try. If they don’t like it, then they don’t have to commit. Sometimes testing the waters is the best way to gauge whether or not the Greek-life scene is for them or not.
Students who are interested in rushing need to make sure that they are choosing a specific sorority or fraternity for the right reasons. Just like college applicants shouldn’t apply to Ivy League schools solely for name recognition, students shouldn’t choose a fraternity or sorority based on its reputation. Instead, use the research skills that you honed during your college search to uncover more about each Greek life organization on your best-fit list.
In the end, it’s about where students will feel most comfortable and thrive, and whether it’s in a Greek-life organization or in another club or activity on campus, students have a way of finding their own niche at their best-fit schools. If you’re currently getting ready for college and searching for some additional insights on campus extracurricular activities that align with your personal goals, our team of college admissions experts can help you prepare for freshmen year, and beyond.