When most people think about the typical college experience in the United States, they envision fraternities and sororities. Both known as Greek life, fraternities and sororities are primarily social organizations.
Yet they can also promote leadership, academics, community service, and other important aspects of college life. If you’re a high school student or you’re heading to college soon, you might be wondering: What is Greek life?
Read on to find out what Greek life is and what to consider when joining a fraternity or sorority.
What Is Greek Life?
Fraternities and sororities are an essential part of many college campuses. Each Greek letter organization at a college is part of a national organization that has multiple chapters at universities across the country. Every fraternity and sorority has its own guidelines and traditions each chapter is expected to follow.
Fraternities and sororities use Greek letters because the first academic fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was started in 1776 — a time when the study of ancient Greek was common in higher education. The idea of using Greek letters gained popularity because it created a sense of elitism and secrecy, even as the study of Greek dwindled.
In addition to displaying and wearing Greek letters, fraternities and sororities often have specific membership criteria and secret rituals that can’t be shared.
Fraternities and sororities are primarily available to undergraduate students, though some allow graduate students to join. Regardless, joining a fraternity or sorority is a lifelong membership that offers opportunities to participate in leadership activities long after graduation.
Greek life organizations are governed and supported by larger organizations such as the North American Interfraternity Council (IFC), which unites different fraternities on the same campus. Bringing different fraternities is designed to foster a more inclusive Greek community and ensure it remains a beneficial aspect of college life to all its members.
Similarly, the National Panhellenic Council supports women in sororities across the country. This organization aims to unite sorority sisters through the goals of improving their communities and upholding high academic standards. The National Panhellenic council includes 26 sororities at 670 campuses across the United States.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) is another organization that helps fraternities and sororities unite both on and across campuses. The NPHC advances equality for black men and women in Greek life through communication, workshops, initiatives, and collaboration. The nine largest black Greek organizations belong to the NPHC.
Reasons to Join Greek Life
Greek life organizations can date back decades, offering a rich legacy to those who join. While people traditionally associate fraternities and sororities with social life and partying, there’s often much more to it than that. Plus, many organizations have strict rules on drinking, and some prohibit the consumption of alcohol in chapter houses.
So how can Greek life help with academics? For one, some sororities and fraternities require a certain GPA in order to maintain good standing. This means a student wouldn’t be able to participate in social activities without keeping good grades. Sororities and fraternities also connect you to fellow students with different academic strengths and concentrations, which can provide a supportive study network when you need homework help.
Greek life also offers access to vast alumni networks, which are known to help with job connections after graduation. Membership in a Greek organization can serve as a resume booster too. Since these student organizations usually require volunteering and service projects, being part of one can show involvement in your community. It also shows you have social and leadership skills that are valued in a professional setting.
Greek life is a great way to establish friendships early in your college experience. Greek organizations draw students from a variety of backgrounds, home towns, and majors, so it can be an opportunity to connect with and learn about students who are different from you. Sororities and fraternities often host seasonal fundraisers and formal events, which offer additional opportunities to expand your network and mingle with other students on campus.
Sororities vs. Fraternities
Sorority life fosters a sisterhood in which members support one another academically, emotionally, professionally, and socially. Each sorority is designed to promote friendship and leadership, but each specific organization has its own ideals sisters are expected to hold.
Similarly, college fraternities unite men in pursuit of career and social goals. Fraternity men are part of a brotherhood, and brothers are expected to look out for one another and further each other’s interests. Sorority members and fraternity members bond over secret initiations and often remain friends for life.
Get Involved in Greek Life
Joining the Greek community at your college can greatly enrich your college experience. Before you join, it’s important to consider why you seek membership in a Greek letter organization and what role that organization plays overall in campus life. The three most important things to consider is each group’s commitment requirements, price, and type of community.
All fraternities and sororities have some kind of rush process for prospective members. This experience includes multiple events where students can learn more about each organization and decide which ones are their top choice. Meanwhile, current members of each Greek organization evaluate each potential member to see if they’d be a good fit.
Once a person is offered a bid to join, they undergo a pledging process in which they learn about the history of the organization and are required to attend certain events. This can be an intensive and time-consuming process, so it’s important to plan for it so you don’t neglect your academics.
Sororities and fraternities cost money to join. These include membership dues, which tend to be around $400 per semester but can vary. Living in a sorority or fraternity house also costs money, and some prices include in-house meal plans. Other sororities or fraternities may charge an initial enrollment fee for new members.
Hidden costs also exist. For example, participating in recruitment as a new or participating member may require you to purchase formal or themed outfits. Brothers and sisters are also required to represent the organization in lettered clothing, hats, bags, and other apparel, and the price of these items can add up.
Kinds of Greek Life
Lastly, consider if there’s a certain type of Greek organization you’d like to join. For example, you may be interested in joining an organization primarily for Latinx communities, African-Americans, or Asian communities. Other fraternities and sororities unite students based on common interests or areas of study, such as art, music, mathematics, medicine, or sociology.
Additionally, certain fraternities and sororities are primarily focused on academics and less on social life. These institutions are known as honor societies, and they require a high GPA both before joining and throughout college.
Understanding Greek Life Before You Join
Many people who join Greek life look back on their experiences fondly. From lasting friendships to leadership skill-building and career advancement, joining a Greek letter organization offers a myriad of lifelong benefits. Still, these organizations cost money and require a significant time commitment.
It’s important to have clear intentions for joining so you know what to look for before you sign up. For more information on choosing the right college for you and maximizing your college experience, visit College Rank for curated lists on campuses, majors, and more.