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What is Greek Life in College? Is it Right for You?

What’s Covered:


Greek life has been a subject of intrigue for centuries. There are films, books, and other media surrounding the secrecy and selectivity of these societies, which have been around for centuries.


However, Greek life is also highly controversial. Hazing and discrimination, among other troubling practices, have led some to wonder if Greek life truly belongs at institutions meant to prepare young adults for their futures.


Wondering if Greek life is right for you? Keep reading to learn about Greek life in college and what it means for your college experience!


What Is Greek Life?


Greek life dates back to the 18th century, when John Heath and some friends founded Phi Beta Kappa, now a collegiate honors society, while studying Greek at The College of William and Mary. Though not a social fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa started out as a secret society, eventually evolving into a prestigious undergraduate honor society. Later on, during the 19th century, the first sorority was created at Wesleyan College in Georgia, called The Adelphean Society.


Today’s fraternities and sororities primarily consist of national organizations with localized chapters on different college campuses. But while the majority of campus Greek life constitutes chapters of larger societies, there are some local organizations as well. Among these societies are also Greek life organizations affiliated with certain ethnicities or cultures, as well as service-oriented fraternities and sororities. In addition to facilitating social activities for members, fraternities and sororities focus on cultivating strong leaders, building meaningful connections, performing community service, and providing professional development opportunities.


In many cases, fraternity or sorority members in a specific chapter live together in houses on or around campus. The national societies are governed by national councils, including the Interfraternity Council and National Pan-hellenic Council. Additionally, colleges typically have their own layer of governance through an on-campus office of Greek life. Many colleges have events solely dedicated to Greek life, such as competitions between houses and philanthropy days. Members are generally required to pay membership dues and additional fees to fund the organizational activities. 


Greek Life’s Controversies


Greek life has been the subject of a number of controversies over the years. In fact, last year many “Abolish Greek Life” movements cropped up at colleges and universities across the country, with hundreds of members leaving the societies at schools like Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, Emory University, Duke University, and others. 


The reasoning behind the movements? According to many students, the hierarchical nature of Greek life made its historically exclusionary, racist and misogynistic culture resistant to attempts at reform both at the national and local level.


Hazing is another controversial and often dangerous element of Greek life, with incidents that have led to student injury and in some extreme cases, much worse.


Pros of Joining Greek Life


The Social Life


The social aspect of fraternities and sororities is usually the biggest draw for many college students, after all they essentially give you a built-in circle of friends. Not only will you meet new people when you ultimately pledge a society, but you can also develop deep relationships during the rush process, even if you don’t end up joining a house.


Furthermore, fraternities and sororities host parties, events, and activities for members. Often, they’ll co-host events with other Greek life organizations on campus, giving you exposure to new people regularly. 


The Networking


Because many Greek life organizations are national societies with long, illustrious histories, they have successful alumni in a wide variety of fields. This can be enormously beneficial for your professional life in addition to your social life. 


Many members are eager to help their brothers and sisters, even if they attended different colleges. You could land internships and jobs as a result of connections you wouldn’t have otherwise.


The Leadership Opportunities


Greek life organizations also provide opportunities for members to gain leadership skills. There are leadership positions within chapters, as well as the larger councils at the colleges that govern the activities of individual fraternities and sororities. You could even become involved at the national level after graduating, serving in paid or unpaid positions to coordinate programs, oversee involvement, or act as liaisons for specific chapters.


The Activities


You’ll never be at a loss for things to do when you’re a member of a fraternity or sororities. There are constant events and activities, whether formals, competitions with other Greek life houses on campus, or community service outings. That’s not to say college students aren’t already busy, but these activities can offer a nice reprieve from studying. 


Cons of Joining Greek Life


The Cost


Greek life is expensive. Membership dues alone can run up to thousands of dollars per semester. And that’s on top of other expenses such as event tickets and swag, which you’ll usually be expected to purchase. Service-oriented fraternities like Alpha Phi Omega have these fees, too, but they tend to be somewhat less steep than Greek organizations dedicated to social activities.


The Hazing


Despite many colleges and national Greek organizations’ efforts to crack down on hazing, it remains one of the most toxic aspects of Greek life. Hazing is a grueling process that can take a big toll on your mental and physical health if taken too far.  


The Time Commitment


Greek life is extremely demanding. You’ll be expected to attend chapter meetings, events, and activities, which are often required of members. And with your other commitments, particularly your schoolwork (and job, if you have one), it can get overwhelming and leave little time for anything else. This is especially true when you’re rushing — a period when you’re probably still adjusting to the rigors of college.


The Stigma


Greek life is the subject of a lot of controversy, and not without good reason. Fraternities and sororities have a demonstrated history of discrimination and exclusionary practices. If you choose to join, others may judge you and your decision, even if your individual organization hasn’t been associated with the negative aspects of Greek culture.


How to Find the Best Fit College


At some colleges and universities, Greek life is a huge part of the college culture. Others don’t have any fraternities or sororities on campus at all. In either case, while Greek life may play a role in your college decision, it shouldn’t be the only factor you consider. You should also pay attention to qualities like size, location, programs offered, and more. 


To find the best fit or fits for you, check out CollegeVine’s school-search tool. Plus, you can find out your real chances of acceptance with our chancing engine. Both tools are free!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.