Greek Life

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When it comes to Greek life, some students know for sure that they want to participate in a fraternity or sorority. Other students are sure they don’t, 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 maybe it’s an opportunity to try something new and branch out. Everyone’s reason for deciding to rush is different.

Fraternity and sorority culture varies from school to school. While Greek life dominates some schools, elsewhere its presence may be minor, or even non-existent. It fits into campus life in different ways, but at the end of the day, much like picking a school, rushing, pledging, and joining a fraternity or sorority all come down to personal fit.

What is Greek Life?
Traditionally, fraternities and sororities are undergraduate organizations designed to provide academic and social support. Greek-letter student organizations date back to the late 1700s, with the Phi Beta Kappa Society generally recognized as the first. Today, over nine million students 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 is often a big 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. Students who join fraternities and sororities have, on average, a 20% higher graduation rate than those who do not go Greek.

It’s All Greek to Me
How do students become a member of a fraternity or sorority?

The rush process varies from campus to campus. “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 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
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 takes 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. For those who are worried about whether or not to rush during the first semester of freshman year, they should consider holding off until the spring if it’s an option. Some schools even allow students to rush as sophomores.

Being a member of a Greek-life organization can be very expensive in some cases. 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, rushing and ultimately pledging a certain 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.

Just like a student wouldn’t choose a big name school if he or she didn’t feel at home, don’t pledge a Greek organization just because of the name or because it’s the “one everyone wants.” The reason to rush and pledge a fraternity or sorority should be focused on the student’s preferences and expectations, not any one else’s. Greek life is meant to enhance the college experience. It’s not a requirement!

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.

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